Hello, today I want to talk about doing one thing at a time. I know in this day and age of technology and distraction, we love to multitask. We think it’s possible, and many of us think we’re good at it. But that’s a fallacy. The truth is, we can only really do one thing really well at a time. In order to do more than one thing at a time, we often have to split our attention. And when we do that, we’re never really fully present with either of the two things.
For example, the other night, I was watching TV with my wife. However, it wasn’t really holding my full attention. I didn’t fully care about the show, so I started checking my email and playing a game on my iPad at the same time. In a short period, I looked up, and something had happened in the show that I missed. I didn’t know how we got to where we were. That’s how multitasking works. When you try to pay equal attention to both tasks, you’re not fully aware of what’s going on with either.
Learning to let go of this desire or want to do more than one thing at once and just sticking with fully experiencing what is going on at the moment is the real trick. It’s about being 100% devoted to the present experience, even if you’re doing more than one thing.
In Zen, there’s a story about a Zen master who was asked by a student monk about enlightenment. The Zen master replied, “When hungry, eat. When tired, sleep.” The student was puzzled and said, “But doesn’t everybody do that?” The master responded, “No, when people are hungry, they don’t just eat. They think of ten thousand things.” This highlights the distracted state of mind we often have. In Zen temples, people are not allowed to talk or do anything while eating. When you’re eating, you’re just eating.
I don’t think we have to be that austere and monastic in our homes. For example, I enjoy having dinner together as a family and socializing. The trick is to be fully present even when doing two things simultaneously. While eating and socializing, my attention is primarily on being with my family, listening to them, and being present in the conversation. Secondarily, I’m eating, occasionally tasting the food. Sometimes, I may eat absentmindedly without fully noticing the food, but my focus is on my family.
We need to figure out what’s important. Thinking has taken too pivotal a role in many people’s lives. We have to determine where we want to put our attention in the present moment. If you want to be with somebody, listen to them, and talk to them, do that. If you’re munching popcorn at the same time, that’s okay. It’s not that you must only do one thing. However, you have to figure out what you want to focus on and avoid constantly thinking about unrelated things that aren’t in the here and now. Let go of the past and future, and stick with the present. Try your best to do one thing at a time.
Thank you very much.