Less Multi-Tasking, More Mono-Tasking

I got on an elevator this morning, phone in hand – halfway through editing this note. I proceeded to press the button for the wrong floor, which I at least noticed in time to press the right one before I missed my stop. I still had to humbly apologize for the ghost stop to the other passengers (I owned up, which at least got more sympathetic laughs than murderous stares).

The subject of this note was the most painful part. It came from a Jesse Itzler story about “less multi-tasking, more mono-tasking.” The universe was doing its job in driving the point home.

Here’s the story.

There were hundreds of plates stacked up, and he was the dishwasher. As he looked across the already towering piles, more continued to come into the kitchen. This was going to be a serious job.

Dumbfounded, he asked one of the monks how he was supposed to wash all of these dishes? There must be 500?!

The monk told him he didn’t have to wash all 500 of them, he just had to wash the one that was in his hands right now.

It’s stupid. All of that Zen stuff is stupid. But it all has a point. Curse its profound ancient wisdom.

I haven’t read Living with the Monks by Jesse Itzler yet (which for the record is not about living with Zen monks, they’re a friendly group of Orthodox Christians), but when I heard him tell that story to James Altucher (or at least the version I’m remembering now, check the podcast), I was running around doing 10 different mundane tasks at once.

He explained how the monks take great pride in doing these “simple” jobs well, like cleaning the monastery or washing the dishes, while I was running around trying to just get things crossed off my list as fast as possible.

Even when there’s a million things to do, we can only really do one thing at a time. Especially for the stuff that matters – why not do it well?

Less multi-tasking, more mono-tasking.

Write the email, ride the elevator, press the button – but do them all well. It’s ok to be aware of the pile of dirty dishes, but you can still only wash one at a time. Give it a good, proper wash and have a little pride in ALL of the work.

The more I think about, the worse of an offender I realize I am.

It always starts with awareness. So, in the words of the poet / philosopher Ron Swanson, “never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.”

Get back to those dishes.

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