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We live in a culture that values being productive. I don’t happen to think that there is anything necessarily wrong with that. After all, productivity doesn’t just include fielding emails. We can produce art, music, and cuisine. We can create gardens and beautiful spaces in our homes. We are productive simply when we care for our bodies and our surroundings. Part of productivity is chasing the dollar, but that isn’t the beginning and end of it.

The challenge, however, is that our love of productivity has led us to become enamored with “multi-tasking.” Multitasking essentially is when you do two things at once, or when you bounce back and forth rapidly between tasks. Most of us multitask in some way every day. We talk on the phone and drive. We work out and read emails. We fold laundry while thinking about all the other chores we have to do.

It sounds like a great idea. Theoretically, by multitasking we can be über productive in half the time. To prove that point, right now I am writing, baking bread and listening to a recording of Handel’s Messiah. The problem, however, is that trying to do more than one thing at a time is exhausting. And that kind of busyness steals the joy from any task you are doing. For example, this moment would be a lot more enjoyable if I was either (a) listening to Handel’s Messiah while sipping a cup of tea, or (b) writing in silence, or (c) baking bread. Doing all three at once, frankly, is a little silly.

Multitasking is what causes us to feel overwhelmed at times. By contrast, there is something about doing one thing at a time that leaves us feeling accomplished and energized. When we do one thing at a time, we are able to do our task well, and we have the pleasure of being able to intensely focus on one thing, sometimes referred to as being “in the zone”.

Given the benefits of doing one thing at a time, it is worth trying to create a lifestyle that allows for that. To that end, below are tips to help you reduce your To Do List and end the multitasking habit.

Simplify, Simplify, Simplify: This is also known as the KISS method (“keep it simple stupid”). I don’t particularly care for the acronym, but the point is a good one. Too often we overcomplicate our lives. We run four times to the grocery store, instead of going once with a list. We juggle bills from six different credit cards, instead using only one. We make dinner reservations that require us to drive during rush hour. We cook 6 appetizers for a party, instead of just one or two in larger quantities. There are a million ways that we can simplify our lives. We don’t have to end up doing six things at once if we make the commitment to being organized and to keeping things simple.

“Wait” Is a Good Word: No one likes to wait – especially children. There are even some grownups who have difficulty being patient. The problem is that if you allow others to continually interrupt you, you end up jumping in and out of your tasks. In order to effectively do one thing at a time, you have to eliminate the expectation that you will meet other people’s needs immediately. It is important not only that others respect your time, but that you value your time as well. As a result, the word “wait” is a good training tool. And interestingly, I find that if you tell people to wait, they will end up just doing the task themselves. Funny how that works!

Silence Is Sacred: This past Sunday, our pastor talked about silence as an alternate means of prayer. Her point was that sometimes we have to be still so that God has the opportunity to communicate with us. That idea resonated with me. We cannot be in relationship with God while we are multitasking and flooded with distractions. Not to put too fine a point on it, but we cannot be available to God if we have the television on while we cook and simultaneously field questions from our children. Fortunately, there are many ways to perform one task at a time and achieve that elusive stillness. One way is to perform basic tasks, like driving, folding laundry, mopping or doing dishes in silence. By doing one task at a time without distraction, we can keep our minds calm and available for time with God.

The beauty of doing one thing at a time is that it makes our lives more peaceful. We are more relaxed and better able to creatively solve any problems that come our way. The key is to make doing one thing at a time a habit that dictates how we approach our tasks every day.

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