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My 7 day single-tasking challenge

Last week, I volunteered to take on a single tasking challenge. Inspired by Geri Hirsch’s blog, I recognised that, like her, I have become very much a full time multi-tasker and perhaps it was time to start doing things in a more focused and mindful way. I was curious about science suggesting that single-tasking is better for your brain, that multi-tasking is a myth, so I wanted to see what the results would be.

Here’s what I learnt.

Day 1  - Friday

So, here I am, committed to 7 days of single-tasking! Straight away I’m in trouble. I’ve got my phone in front with several conversations running across different social media, eight different tabs open on my computer browser, two draft emails open and a word document open that I’ve been trying to proof read for an hour. I‘m even joining in with the office chit-chat…Not an auspicious start right?

I close all the browser tabs down and finish both the emails. Then it’s time to close the email down. I’ll check back in this afternoon. They’ll call if it’s urgent.

I go back to my word document and realise I’m occasionally still checking my phone for notifications…uh-oh. No wonder I can’t focus! The phone is slung into my handbag and I dive into my task, to finish my work before afternoon coffee break and a chat. This feels better already!

A colleague mentions that she leaves her phone in the bedroom after work each night, only checking it once before bedtime as she sets her alarm for the next day. This is so she has quality time with her partner after work, discussing their days or whatever, instead of them being glued to devices in the evenings. She said this happened because in her old job, she was answering texts and emails well into the night, so the removal of the phone reduced the intrusion of work into her home life. Once she stopped replying after 6pm, people stopped trying to contact her!

Taking this on board, I try this tonight too and at first found it very weird not having the phone right in front of me for my usual routine of  online shopping, browsing or emailing family back at home. Having said that, I found a comfort in just ‘being’ without needing to do something with my hands.

Day 2 – Saturday

In Geri’s blog, she mentioned that she would often do thing mindlessly, without even realising – like wiping the bathroom benches while brushing her teeth for example. This resonated with me as I too have been guilty of this - trying to do too many things at once! Today when I brush my teeth, I totally focus on the task. Taking time to watch the foam in the mirror and feel each tooth against the brush with each swish. It was strangely soothing and I started my day as good as if I’d done some meditation! 

Saturday night means date night, so me and the boyfriend dressed up and headed out to the city for a meal. As we walk through town, I’m suddenly aware of how many people walk head-down staring at screens. I make a note to turn off my phone when we get to the restaurant.

Again in the restaurant, I notice just how many people are seated looking at the phone screens. Resisting the urge to do the same, I will myself to take in the interior design elements, noticing small details and hidden delights in every corner of the room. We enjoy a lovely meal, talking and talking and really being with one another ‘in the moment’ over our food and drinks.

Day 3 - Sunday

Today I wanted to get out and about again. Living and working in the city can be overwhelming at times but I enjoy wandering through the old red brick facades and mix of old and new buildings that Manchester offers. It was so very tempting to grab the camera out of my pocket to either take a photo for Instagram, check the time or clear new Facebook notifications…but I resisted and left the phone nestled in my jacket pocket as we roamed the city.  It felt very weird not to be doing something as we walked, including no headphones for Spotify, instead only taking in the sounds of the city and the sights. I really enjoyed the mindfulness of being with the noisy and then quiet streets and views we found. Came home very energised and happy. In fact, I turned all the push notifications off my phone and am working to reduce the amount of checks I do on my phone each day.

Day 4 - Monday

Today I’m ready. I start with a ‘to do’ list, not an unusual job for me beginning the week, but one that is done with a lot more awareness of what is achievable in the right priority order. The day starts and…my carefully concocted plan soon falls away as I‘m back hopping between tasks and people as usual! Gah!

Day 5 - Tuesday

‘Focus Lily, focus’ has become my mantra, so overused today that I’m afraid it will never stop repeating even while I sleep! It does the trick however, keeping me committed to the tasks in front of me. The slight stress I feel leading up to our big event this week, is slowly dissipated as I realise I’m actually getting things done by not hopping between tasks as much as usual.

The afternoon sees me getting the train to London ahead of the lunch with Cary Cooper and partners that we hosted this week. A challenging day waits for me tomorrow, but I’m excited about how I can juggle the tasks of running such an event.

While I’m on the train, I leave my work for a little while and enjoy the foggy countryside view out the train window. The lack of WiFi and phone coverage means that I’m automatically unable to be connected to the wider world and I enjoy the solitude and peace this part of the journey brings me. My mind is racing with all sorts of creativity and I’ve come up with lots of great ideas for next week.

Day 6 – Wednesday

Lunch event day in London! Why did I think this challenge would be a good idea today? Haha! The very nature of my event management role today meant that multi-tasking was unavoidable. Even watching the sessions required me to be transcribing snippets of interest for our online audience so straight away I’m back to my usual tricks.

Day 7 – Thursday

Phew! I’m so ready to go back to my old way of doing things. While I learnt a lot and recognised I have a long way to go in developing my own mindfulness routines, I also found it very challenging to not multi-task! I hadn’t realised just how much of this behaviour has been ingrained in my day to day life, but it was eye opening to say the least. I mostly struggled at work to maintain on single tasks because of the set expectations and practices that come from working in a busy office environment. Ignoring the ringing phone while writing an email was impossible! I did notice that I found it harder to refocus after interruptions like in that case. I’ll definitely try and find a way to get the balance better in the office. I think what can do to make a difference now is to be more selective with my focus. Choosing what mattered in the moment was a better way of working, rather than trying to satisfy all the needs at once or being distracted by interruptions or tech.

I enjoyed the single tasking challenge at home mostly. It was especially nice to switch off the phone and focus on being in the moment – whether that was with my partner, really listening to what friends were saying, the smell of our meals and even the details in the TV we watched. I think this has been the best part of my experience and one I’ll be trying to maintain.

Inspired by Lily? Time for you to take on the single tasking challenge? Let us know on Twitter - tweet @Gooddayatwork


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Guest Monday, 22 January 2018

Cary CooperGood Day at Work®

The new wellbeing resources hub founded by @profcarycooper and Roberston Cooper. Join for FREE and access blogs, videos, downloads, podcasts and more.

Ben MossBen on Twitter

MD of Cary Cooper's business psychology firm, Robertson Cooper - for all things wellbeing, engagement and resilience at work.

Cary CooperCary on Twitter

Professor Cary Cooper, Director and Founder of Robertson Cooper Ltd, Distinguished Professor of Organizational Psychology and Health at Manchester Business School.

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