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[Guest Editor] Jacqui Lewis: Why we all need to stop multi-tasking

In Features, Life, Mind Health, Stories by Nicole Fuge

Mashing has become the new norm. But isn’t multi-tasking good? Jacqui Lewis [who is the author of the book The 14 Day Mind Cleanse] explains why we need to stop.

By Jacqui Lewis

We don’t need more time management; we need energy management.

And the things that deplete our energy, such as being distracted and multi-tasking, must be eliminated.

Mashing (aka multi-tasking) is when we do more than one thing at a time.

“We all have 24 hours in a day. It’s what we eliminate and what we focus on that counts.”

Mashing is now our way of life, mainly because we’re so damn busy and our attention spans have become unbearably short.

  • driving the car + speaking on the phone (hands-free, of course!) = mashing
  • lying in bed + chatting to your partner + checking Pinterest = mashing
  • talking to your kids + checking Instagram + paying for the groceries = mashing
  • relaxing in the sun + reading a magazine + flicking through Facebook = mashing
  • cooking dinner + listening to music + checking emails + shoving a load of washing into the machine
    = mashing
  • going for a walk + taking a work phone call + sending yourself a ‘reminder’ email to take care of
    something later = mashing

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WTF is mashing?

The act of mashing robs us of actually experiencing what is happening. It means that we are never fully present and that we cannot pick up on the subtleties of each moment.

Our instincts don’t kick in, because we’re never quite listening and we move from task to task in a blur.

We all have 24 hours in a day. It’s what we eliminate and what we focus on that counts.

So, notice when you’re mashing, and cut it out. Come to terms with the fact that you will never really do anything properly if you do everything all at once.

Live in the moment, doing one thing at a time, and give each task all your attention. Remember: you’re zapping yourself during peak times when you mash.

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How to reduce mashing

Sit down with a piece of paper and a pen, and quiet your mind and body. Slow your breathing. Rest a minute. Bring your awareness to how calm you feel when you are present.

Now scan the past week or two, and think of anything you mashed together. When did you attempt to increase your productivity in a way that likely just slowed you down?

Acknowledge that you know you’re not at your best when you do X and Y together. Notice the feeling in your body and mind as you are thinking about this chaotic approach, of mashing different tasks.

Write a list of things you know that you are mashing. I want you to be really honest with yourself.

For whatever reason, you may have automatically wired together certain tasks. The intention usually seems logical, but the action of mashing is nonetheless wearing us down, fraying us, and making us distracted and fatigued.

When you finish your list, pin it up somewhere visible.

Catch yourself mid-mash and stop immediately. Pause, smile and then just attend to one task at a time. A single action done well with your full attention is so much more fulfilling.

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Achieve total presence

There’s an ancient Zen story about a monk who wanted to study with an older, very esteemed monk. The older monk refused to mentor him until he did a certain amount of training first.

This training ended up taking many decades.

Finally, the now not-so-young monk completed his studies and travelled three days to see the older monk at his small monastery up in the hills.

When he arrived, it was pouring with rain. He shook himself off, folded his umbrella, removed his clogs and entered the small hall where the head monk was waiting.

He sat in front of him and began to explain all the training he had done: six years in southern Japan, a decade with an esteemed monk in northern Japan, a few years here, a few more years there.

The older monk waited patiently until he had finished talking and then asked, ‘On the way in, it was raining, yes?’ The younger monk nodded.

The older monk then asked, ‘On which side of your clogs did you place your umbrella, left or right?’

The younger monk looked baffled and conceded that he couldn’t quite remember.

The older monk calmly and gently replied, ‘Still much Zen training to be done.’

Time and again, we get caught in the intellectual pursuits of self-development or spirituality and miss the foundations.

The whole point is to be present in our lives, to live every moment of them clearly and in alignment with our higher selves.

Too often this is missed when we delve into tricky philosophies or practices, when the fact is that every moment of our lives is part of our training!

It doesn’t just happen in the yoga studio, or on retreat, or listening to Tony Robbins or Tim Ferriss hype us up about life hacks.

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Today, try paying attention to the here and now

Rather than fretting about the thing that you did an hour ago, or the thing that you must do later, really focus your attention on the present moment.

  • How does your coffee taste, and what does it feel like as it swishes around your mouth?
  • Can you feel the temperature of your tea through the cup you are holding?
  • What does the water in your shower smell like as it trickles down over your body?
  • How does every muscle, every limb, of your body feel as you dry yourself with the towel?
  • Is the towel a little bit crispy because it’s just come off the washing line, or is it soft because it’s been used for a couple of days?
  • What does your pillow feel like?
  • What does the outside breeze on your skin feel like?
  • How does the texture of paper feel when you pick it up?
  • What is the sound of your knife and fork hitting the ceramic plate?

Really dive into each experience today, and relish it. Imagine that today is your last day to enjoy what it means to be a human on earth, before you leave the planet forever.

So, you want to suck as much out of each moment as possible.

Carry your attention – beautiful, pure and clean – with you into every moment of each day. On which side of the clogs did you place your umbrella? Can you recall it minutes or even hours later?

Text from The 14 Day Mind Cleanse by Jacqui Lewis. Murdoch Books RRP $24.99.