The Zen Of Small Tasks

We live in a world where multitasking is lauded and encouraged. But aren’t we missing something here? The more things you do at the same time, the less you are able to do all of them WELL. Technology has created a general distractedness among all of us. We are never doing just one thing at a time. If you are not doing something with 100% of your focus, then you are usually not doing something 100% right. Something always seems to get lost. Maybe technology can do something 100% right all the time, but the human brain isn’t capable of it, especially when our focus is all over the place. Because we are able to do many things quickly, I don’t think much thought is put into doing them correctly or with much skillfulness.

I often think there is also a general unwillingness to do the small tasks, the things that people feel are “beneath” them. How often when you ask someone to do something small, they are dismissive about it or they rush through it? It doesn’t have enough importance or enough kudos given for the time spent. Pride in doing something well is lost in this extreme timeliness. Everyone appears to be looking over their shoulder at what next thing is coming their way, losing enjoyment in the moment that they are having right now. How many people do you know that are never satisfied at where they are at the moment, who they are with and what they are doing? The NOW is being forgotten. I often walk past tables of teens in the food court at the mall. The table is silent, as they are texting or sending photos to whoever isn’t there, instead of enjoying the company of who is there.

How many meetings do you sit in where people are preoccupied with their phone and are not absorbing much of what the speaker is talking about? Things have to be explained more than once because people are never really hearing what is happening in the now, but worrying about what is going to happen next. This just leads to more meetings where things have to be explained again, simply because no one was really taking it all in fully the first time. The mistakes that are made aren’t because we don’t know what we are doing, it’s usually because we don’t hear everything that is needed to do the task. We miss out on enjoying our successes or learning from our failures because everyone is fast-tracked to the next task.

What’s the solution? Do you have to completely unplug? People complain about how much stress they are under and how they have no time. I think the technology does more for us, but it also makes us feel like we have to constantly be doing more which is a cycle that creates more stress. I believe in the zen of small tasks. If I have to proofread something, that is all I am doing. I do it with my full and careful attention and when I am done, I know that I have done a thorough job. Whether it’s sweeping a floor, writing a thoughtful thank you note, or simply cutting up vegetables for dinner, I make a point to do it with full focus. It brings about a certain kind of meditation, it slows us down and relaxes us. And we end up doing it right the first time. How many times have you cut yourself while cutting those same vegetables because you were also talking to someone on speaker phone and listening to the tv or music at the same time? Mindfulness is an art that seems to have been lost. I think you can be more efficient and get more done correctly by doing less.

Don’t we owe it to ourselves to take the time to do the small tasks, these things that are the building blocks to something bigger, and to do them whole-heartedly?

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