By Holly Small
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The other morning I was getting dressed for work, with my phone in one hand texting a photographer about a client photo shoot planned for later in the day, coffee cup in the other, with my mind on everything other than what I was doing at that particular moment in time. Now tripping up the stairs and spilling my coffee was one clue that I needed to stop and be a tad more present, having to run up the stairs 5 times because each time I went to grab my shoes I walked down stairs without them was another clue, but the mysterious disappearance of my morning coffee was the thing that really did it for me.

I walked around the house…ok if I am being honest I stormed from one room to another….in search of the vanishing coffee cup. Suddenly Mum’s words started ringing in my head ‘baby slow down, you have too many files open’. I stopped and thought “wow Holly, take a breath.” I calmed down, re-traced my steps, even the ones that seemed utterly silly, and eventually went to the fridge where I found my coffee cup sitting on the top shelf. My morning caffeine hit was nice and cold, but I found it.

It’s amazing how easy it is to lose sight of the present moment. With so much going on in our modern, busy lives, there’s a lot of emphasis on time management which is often centred around effective multi-tasking. Now I am happy to claim that I am one hell of a multi-tasker, but in recent years as I have become more and more focused on ‘living presently’ I have recognised the pitfalls of this so called efficiency skill.

Multi-tasking is great in theory, but when you are not focussed on what you are doing you are going to make mistakes, miss important details and likely achieve half the result than if you had your full attention on the job at hand.

I often watch my fiancé working away on his computer. He is a very talented graphic designer, but not so great when it comes to maintaining focus. He will have his design program open, along with itunes where he’s downloading the latest Flume album, and Facebook and Skype messages pinging away in the background. Now while he is adequately multi-tasking, the number one task becomes merely one of many and ends up taking twice as long to complete.

Focusing on one task at a time, and I mean putting your full attention on the task at hand will always produce a superior result. If you haven’t read Mum’s blog on applying mindfulness in daily life, do yourself a favour and have a read. There’s some excellent tips on being fully in the moment even when completing the most mundane of tasks, but these tips really help you to get a grip of what it means to be truly focused.

Now, all this being said, I am a massive advocate of maximising time and multi-tasking does, sometimes play a role in this. Multi-tasking works when one task doesn’t impede another or distract you to the point that your attention becomes completely scattered.

Self-development is a huge area of focus for me and vital to maintain balance in my life but it is unfortunately the easiest to neglect. It requires time to either read, sit and reflect or mediate without any external distractions and when there is just so much to get done, it can be a challenge to allocate this time. So this is where multi-tasking does work for me. I do a bit of driving for work – I may be in the car for an hour or so at a time so during that time I find a podcast that will serve me either creatively or spiritually, will motivate me or make me think outside the square. Of course it’s imperative to keep your eyes on the road and focus on your surroundings (which is why we definitely don’t recommend meditating behind the wheel – meditating and multi-tasking do not go hand in hand) but you can still absorb what you’re listening to. On a two hour round trip, I’ve managed to get two hours of self-development time into my day instead of listening to nonsense on the radio or making pointless phone calls. I often do the same while I am on the treadmill or going for a run outside. Other times I simply practice mindfulness in these instances where I purely focus on what I am doing whether it be driving or running – I focus on my breath and put my attention on the feel of the leather steering wheel or on my feet as they connect with the pavement. It’s a great way to centre and when I arrive at a meeting or back at office I feel calm and energised.

When I get to the office, I allocate time to go through emails, I dedicate blocks of time to get certain tasks done and focus on each one individually. On the days I don’t do this, and check my emails as they drop into my inbox and flit between job to job I usually finish up feeling like I’ve been inefficient and it’s reflected in the quality of my work. If I had followed the focussed approach the other morning, I wouldn’t have spilled my coffee, I would’ve enjoyed it while it was still hot and I wouldn’t have been late to work or felt frazzled because I started my morning in scattered chaos because I was trying to multi-task.

This week I ask you to take a look at the way you handle your tasks – are you completely immersed in what you are doing or are you thinking about everything else at the same time? When you get dressed in the morning, is your attention on the clothing, the textures, the colours or are your throwing on your outfit while munching on a piece of toast trying to avoid getting vegemite on your white sweater as you pull it over your head? Try to maintain focus on everything you do this week, slow down and be mindful of where your attention is. I’d love to hear how you go – if you start recognising certain behaviours, if you get frustrated with yourself or if you start to feel a greater sense of satisfaction throughout the process. Shoot me a private message on Facebook if you’ve got something to share.

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