It’s just after 8 on a Sunday morning. I’ve stumbled into the kitchen, groggy-eyed, and been given a freshly-made cup of tea. I accept the chai and immediately ask, “What can I do? How can I help?”
Auntie Rebecca looks at me knowingly. She eyes my very-American self and says, “There is an African saying: you cannot blow mucus and laugh at the same time. Sit, relax, enjoy. Then we will worry about work.”
Okay then! Mucus-blowing aside, Kenyans are master single-taskers. I’ve found them to be mindful at a level that we have long since left behind in the States. When they drink chai, they drink chai. When they sit by the fire, wash clothes, chop vegetables, talk with one another…they are simply sitting by the fire, washing clothes, chopping vegetables, or talking with one another. No matter the task, they are doing only that one task.
While this means things don’t get done at the Wonder-Woman-level speeds I’m used to, I’m consciously taking on my own adventures in single-tasking. In the past few days, I’ve planted potatoes, read chapters of Twelve by Twelve, napped, edited photos, pulled up overgrown kale to make room for more, held kids tightly, answered e-mail, extracted a hefty Tickle Tax from kids on the bus, and eaten meals with singular focus.
This moment: never before, never again. Then this one, and then this one.
You don’t have to sink into a multi-month-long Kenyan adventure to experience single-tasking, so here are quick ways to single-task in your day-to-day life. I promise you’ll feel clearer and less stressed after giving even one of these suggestions a try!
Forget browser tabs.
Remember 1998, when we were so fascinated by all the things the internet could do — and it could do only one thing at a time? Remember when browser tabs didn’t exist?
I didn’t. Then I landed here. The internet in Kenya is so slow that browser tabs are entirely useless (dividing teeny bandwidth into tabs = even teenier bandwidth) so forced internet single-tasking happens. Focusing on just one thing at a time means I check e-mail faster, catch up on Facebook goings-on more easily, and blog more quickly than when I’m bouncing between five to ten browsers.
Put your phone in airplane mode.
If you need an hour to write, to work on projects, to edit photos, or to catch up on a meeting with a vendor, this is the quickest shortcut to sanity I know. Just put your phone in airplane mode and voila! You are no longer available.
When you find that this practice makes you feel lighter and lets you breathe more deeply, feel free to create “office hours” in which you are unavailable at regular times each week.
Take a true break for meals.
A true break, meaning you take twenty minutes to sit down and eat. Not eat and watch TV, or eat and check e-mail, or eat and play Angry Birds, or eat and get caught up on homework…just eat.
I’m famous for scarfing down food while going about my day at home, but the choice to fill my plate and then chat with the kids when they get home from school has slowed me down considerably on this front.
Instead of using the shower as a time to process your eight-thousand to-do’s, consciously use the shower as a time to simply be. This doesn’t take any more time than stressing yourself out whilst bathing, but it does end with you feeling more refreshed.
As I’ve recently learned, showering consciously is effortless if you’ve gone for five days without one — the pure joy of water and soap is enough to keep you focused on the present moment. 😉
Turn your computer off when you’re done with it.
Adding a conscious close to your day by turning your computer off will increase your single-tasking power tremendously. Work done, you’re free to turn to the next task at hand. (Talked about this issue a bit more in how to work from home without losing your mind if you’re curious…)
I’ve resisted each of these practices over the past few weeks. But. The more I sink into them and allow myself to take on just one task at a time, the happier I’ve felt here in my home away from home.