The Joys of Single-Tasking

Mondays at the mill.  Two patients on tables. Ten or so browser windows open on the computer and promising elucidation on everything from new-fangled scientific discoveries, to tips on being a “Modern Dad”; from patient scheduling software to… what’s this- “Paper airplane design”??  Each of these bright & shiny opportunities seducing me with potential–

I have so much to learn! What can I accomplish today! Faster! More options needed!

But only for a moment because now the ring-ringing and I’m on the phone scheduling a new patient while in the kitchen making a sandwich and jotting down “things to buy” on the fridge door…”What’s that you say?” I ask the sandwich since I’m only half-concentrating on my phone conversation as I enter her appointment time underneath “butter” and above “laundry detergent”.  Then back to the computer and answering emails while thinking up quirky blog posts…oh sh*t, almost forgot the patient in room two.

Ah, multi-tasking.  That ever seemingly-effective yet troublingly superficial way of experiencing the nitty and the gritty that make up our life.

There is a better way, however.  One that my wife in her infinite wisdom has christened, “Washing the Dishes.”

For most of us, the day usually brings forth a basin-full of dirty dishes and God, we just want to blast right through ‘em.  “So much to do, so little time,” drives our little White Rabbit.  And all of it so mind-blowingly important.  Thus we venture forth and grab a fistful of cutlery marveling at our ability to wash a bowl, a cheese grater and a spoon simultaneously.  Or a saucepan, that juicer blade (watch out!) and a Dora the Explorer sippycup!  Wow, such talent. And so efficien… But moving through our pile, we quickly realize that it gets sorta’ cumbersome and the result, well, that noodle stuck to the now drying bowl is mediocre washing at best.

What if we were to have a more vertical integration with the experience that is washing the dishes. (allegory alert)  What if, looking into that pile-with-no-end, we took just one fork.  Rinse.  Lather.  Rinse.  Dry.  And then we select another.  And another.  It’s not so bad actually.  Starting to dig the feel of the thing in our hand and now as our fingers trace the outlines of a coffee mug given to us last Father’s Day, we honor a memory. Our children and their attempts at gift-wrappings. Our first sip of coffee in the mornings. This thing-this event that is a coffee mug-demands so much more than a half-assed rinse. It has heft and utility; it jolts memories and conveys warm goodies.  We mindfully place it off to the side to dry and reaching for the next bowl, run our hands beneath the pour of hot water and as the little-hairs on our arms electrify–sheesh, how lucky are we to have hot water on call! So we take a moment and feel the warming warble from hands to feet and back again. Looking down our pile is now one final pan and this too gets washed. This too is honored.

Guess what else happens while we are washing dishes? Nothing. Can’t answer the phone.  Not typing any emails. Probably not making a sandwich.  ‘Cos a sudsy soggy bologna sandwich is positively the worst.

The old saw that we only have this one moment which up to now has been mainly an intellectual exercise is now lived.  Is now real.  Keep only one browser window open at a time.  Talk on the tablet or watch a movie.  Put the phone down and laugh at your daughter spinning cartwheels.  I promise you above everything else in this life, all we can ever hope to accomplish is clean one fork at a time.