The Power of Presence

Do you often find yourself sitting in front of the TV, phone in hand, gaze down, shoulders rolled forward?

Me, too.

In fact, I was just doing it.

And, when I set my phone down to look up at the screen so I could finish watching the documentary I pulled up (Small is Beautiful), I felt a literal weight release from my shoulders. The thought that, oh I can actually pay attention to this documentary.

Though our brains love multi-tasking because we perceive it as getting more done in the same amount of time or less (and some people are known to excel at it), the fact of the matter is that multi-tasking prevents us from experiencing true presence. In fact, multi-tasking is the very opposite of mindfulness.

When you’re attempting to tackle two tasks at once (either simultaneously or switching between them), chances are that you’re not actually focused on just one or just the other. Take task-switching for instance, each time you switch tasks, you increase cognitive load and the time it takes for you to drop into whatever the next task is. This is because it takes time for your brain to settle into the task at-hand and shift gears away from what you were just having it do. With simultaneous tasking, you’re either focused on one thing or the other. If you’re flipping through Facebook while watching a movie, you’re either listening to the moving while your eyes numbly scroll down, or your reading your Facebook feed as your hear background noise.

I missed out on a good 30+ minutes of Small is Beautiful because I wanted to thumb through my personal emails; a task I now only tackle two times a day at best. Which means, I can keep watching from where I left off, or I rewind back to catch up to the story line. But do I have the time? It’s already 10 p.m., and I still want to read, make tea, and take a bath.

You see where I’m going with this? Probably, but I have it spelled out for you here:

What good is your brain when it’s half-working on two tasks? It’s not.

Though you get a mental high from trying to do all the things at once, you actually become less inefficient. It likely takes the same amount of time as, if not longer than, doing the tasks in succession.

For that reason, I turned off my email alerts.

That little flag at the top of my screen stopped me dead in my tracks, because I felt compelled to switch gears and respond to whatever someone was asking me in that moment. Then, I’d switch back to what I was doing previously, only to take another five minutes to settle back into it.

So, though that little (1) bubble is haunting me right now (I see it down there hovering over Outlook as I type this), I’m not looking at it or responding until I’m done here.

In yoga, we often teach the idea of presence. And, it’s easier said than done while standing on our yoga mats with the expectation that we shouldn’t talk for the next 60 minutes. The true yoga is taking it off the mat and practicing the here and now with each breath, second, minute, and hour. Presence is paying attention to the task at-hand–the social copy that needs to be written, the project timeline that needs to be updated, the conference call I need to sit on, the meeting I need to lead. Take each second at a time and each task one at a time. You’ll find that you actually get more done that way.

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