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Mindfulness instead of multi-tasking

Rita Perea is President and CEO of Rita Perea Leadership Consulting Associates, specializing in working with senior leaders to successfully engage employees, lead teams, manage change and balance work and life.

Balance wheel imageA five-week trip to Australia a few years ago left a lasting impact on my life in so many unpredictable ways. 

During the adventure, which was funded as a cultural exchange by Rotary International, I was fortunate to stay in 11 different homes to experience life as an Aussie.  One of my most important takeaways from the sojourn was to learn how different the Australian relationship with time and with work are compared to ours in the U.S.

Research has shown us that when we multi-task it takes us 25 percent longer to accomplish a task. That’s right... instead of getting more done in a short period of time, multi-takings, doing two or more things at once, actually lengthens the time that it takes to complete something.  

Think about it. You are working away on an email when you remember that you forgot to pull the file for your next meeting. So, you stop working on the email, go over to the filing cabinet, find the file, return with the file to your desk, only to sit down and say to yourself, “What was I doing?  Oh, yeah, I remember now.”  You now have to re-read your half-composed email before finishing and sending it. You know in your gut that you aren’t accomplishing as much as you could.  You secretly wonder what is wrong with you and why you can’t get all of this work finished. 

The Aussies would say, “No worries, Mate!” and invite you slow down and do one thing at a time. Also called mindfulness, it is focusing on being present, really, really present, with the one task that you are trying to complete or the one thing that you are doing.

Have you ever had the experience of being so fully engaged and present in a project that you lost all track of time? This is the opposite of multi-tasking- that crazy randomness of doing several things at once. 

I learned from my Australian friends that they do what they can do at this moment and they do not worry about the rest. And they do this moment-by-moment.  This results in a more relaxed and easy going demeanor. They experience less stress. 

The Australians also know and understand the value of “taking a break, Mate.” 

I witnessed their practice of arriving at work around 9 AM and taking a coffee break around 10 AM.  Working a bit more until lunch time and then repeating the ritualistic break time in the afternoon.

The workday ended around 4 PM with a retreat home that would include a glass of white wine while preparing the evening meal.

This was followed by a glass of red wine while eating the evening meal. With few people eating at restaurants during the week, cooking dinner and eating it was viewed as a break from the work day.  It may feel counter-intuitive but the result is more mindful, focused and productive work time in between breaks.  

Work-life balance research supports taking breaks. It shows us that when we are most overwhelmed and feeling like we are buried in work, that is the time to loosen our death grip and take a break. We can go for a walk, or schedule a few days off. Whatever we need to do to let go, rejuvenate and return with a fresh pair of eyes and a new outlook.  That short break helps us be so much more productive but in an effortless, not effort-filled, way.

Let’s stop taking ourselves so darned seriously and, like our friends down under, begin to enjoy our workdays. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain- including a more efficient and fun way to live.

Cheers to better work-life balance!

 

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