January 25, 2019

Sometimes, you just need to multitask.

It would be great to focus solely on putting together a presentation for your boss—but what about the emails flooding your inbox as you work?

And of course you’d love to give your coworker your full attention—but you have a phone call in five minutes that needs prepping for.

It may not be glamorous, but multitasking is often what gets the job (make that jobs) done. But the problem is that once you start multitasking, it can be hard to stop.

You might find yourself texting while you chat with your mom on your commute home.

Or snacking as you flip through the mail once you walk in the door.

Cooking dinner without Netflix on in the background? Forget it. You’ve had a long day! You deserve it.

But what you may think of as maximizing your happiness (listening to a podcast while you write a friend a letter, for example) may be secretly detracting from it.

“Multitasking prevents you from enjoying what you're doing while you're doing it,” author Alex Lickerman, M.D., wrote for Psychology Today. “Enjoyment… requires our full attention (what's become popularly known as ‘mindfulness’). If while watching your son play in a playground you're thinking about your next blog post, you may not even remember him laughing as he slides down the slide head first.”

'Multitasking prevents you from enjoying what you're doing while you're doing it.'- Alex Lickerman M.D.

The solution? Slowing down. There's actually a whole movement around this idea. It's called the "slow movement" or "slow living movement," and it centers around the idea that going slow creates joy. It focuses on the quality rather than the quantity of things we do. And it's catching on—global Google searches for "slow living" have risen steadily over the past three years.

You deserve a taste of life in the slow lane. Here, how to bring focus to your free time and curb your multitasking habit.

1. Shake Off the Week

Before you can slow down, you have to shake off some of the stress you're carrying from the week. When you leave work or your 9-5 at the end of the week, give any tension and drama a literal shake-off.

It's what NEO U yoga teacher and meditation instructor Ceasar F. Barajas likes to do.

“You can take your hand and wipe down the arms, the legs, the chest, and physically wipe (the week) off of you,” he says. As you do it, he suggests thinking to yourself: “I’m taking this stress, this weight that’s on me, and dusting it off."

"It’s like wiping the crumbs off a table,” he says.

2. Remind Yourself to Breathe

“We forget that the human body’s respiratory systems is the only system we can control,” Barajas says. “But so often, we forget to breathe."

Think of your breath as your body's metronome. Focusing on your breath—and it's slow pace—can help bring your attention back to your body and your intention to slow down.

Think of your breath as your body's metronome.

"As you inhale, think, where’s it going?" Barajas says. "Maybe the breath is deep enough to create a little buddha belly. When you exhale, think about the air leaving your lungs.”

Of course, remembering to connect with your breath is easier said than done. Give yourself a hand by creating little reminders. “I have little blue stickers all around my apartment, and every time I see a blue sticker, I’ll take a deep breath,” Barajas says. “People think you have to sit in lotus pose at the top of a mountain to be mindful. But you can just take a breath in whenever you see the color blue.”

3. Learn a New Skill

Part of why we multitask is because we can. We like to think of ourselves as so capable, so knowledgeable, so together that we can do it all at once. That's why you might feel a little proud that you can bake brownies while you file your taxes.

The solution to slowing down? Try something entirely new. Maybe it’s throwing pottery on a wheel or knitting a coaster. Perhaps it’s painting a still life, or painting your awful beige bathroom. The newness will grab your interest and require all your focus, and it'll remove the pressure to get it done with as quickly as humanly possible.

4. Break a Sweat

Multitasking often happens when our mind is handling one thing while our body does another.

Bring them both on the same page by doing something physical, like trying a complicated yoga flow, learning the dance from your favorite music video, or going on a muscle-burning jog around the neighborhood.

5. Carve Out Selfish Time

“We’ll go through hell and high water to make sure our bosses are satisfied, our partners are satisfied—but when do you make sure you’re satisfied?" Barajas says.

That dissatisfaction can turn into frustration or even resentment as you rush through the weekend. The next thing you know, you’ve spent an evening with friends desperately wishing you were solo in the tub.

'We’ll go through hell and high water to make sure our bosses are satisfied, our partners are satisfied—but when do you make sure you’re satisfied?'
- Ceasar F. Barajas, yoga & meditation instructor

“If you find yourself wanting to regroup, do you,” Barajas says. “Get selfish. If what you enjoy is watching YouTube videos of cats, go and fall into that wormhole for a few hours.”

Sometimes, going slow might mean going solo for a bit.

6. Let Others Know Your Plan to Go Slow

When Barajas is stressing, his girlfriend will reach over and put her hand on his heart. “It’s a physical reminder to breath,” he says. The move helps him calm down and focus, and reminds him that he has his GF’s support.

If you’re trying to slow down when you’re at home or out to dinner, let others know. Ask your partner to remind you to breathe, or tell your friends to make sure you stay off your phone. Recognize that your loved ones are happy to help—and might appreciate the reminder to slow down themselves.

Read next: Got Some Free Time? Here's How to (Actually) Decompress

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