“At every moment keep a sturdy mind on the task at hand, as a Roman and human being, doing it with strict and simple dignity, affection, freedom, and justice – giving yourself a break from all other considerations. You can do this if you approach each task as if it is your last, giving up every distraction, emotional subversion of reason, and all drama, vanity, and complaint over your fair share. You can see how mastery over a few things makes it possible to live an abundant and devout life – for, if you keep watch over these things, the gods won’t ask for more.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 2.5
I will follow Marcus’ advice by keeping my thoughts on this meditation simple. There are so many responsibilities thrust upon us that do not require our immediate attention. We don’t have to answer every email, text or phone call. Approaching life this way will find us simply doing work. Isn’t life more than that?
My recent trip to Colorado serves as a great example of how keeping it simple works. It requires preparation, and thoughtfulness, but the execution proves the value. Nine days away from home. Denver, Grand Lake and Estes Park. One carry on suitcase. Gear for hiking, skiing and general walks in weather below freezing. It was not just me, but also my wife and daughter who managed this.
Yes, this required spending on the minimalist gear. Something we have done for years. I reviewed clothing, and planned out what was needed as opposed to what was wanted. In the end we spent less thanks to no checked bags, and we had less to worry about while we were traveling.
Defy the idea of multitasking. Stay on course and meet your destination undistracted. Not only will you master yourself, but you will find what is and is not important. I’ll close with this piece from a 2014 article in Philosophy Today. (source) It speaks to multitasking, our obligations to producue and whether adding so much adds value.
We can train our brains to switch faster, but the number and complexity of things we are asking our brains to switch back and forth and to and from is increasing. We keep piling on the tasks we are asking our brains to keep track of so we can have it all and do it all. We listen to the promises of how wonderful this is or how timesaving that is and add layer upon layer to our lives. When the promises are broken, we end up buried under all that stuff, resentful, over-stimulated, and tired. The more things we cram into our lives, the more ways we feel obligated to produce.
The question you need to ask yourself is this: are those honestly the values and lifestyle I want to represent, or is there more to life?
In order to help people calm their racing thoughts and appreciate engaging in a single thing, people teach something called mindfulness. Mindfulness has been defined as “the art of being present” and is focused on the present moment. You intentionally set aside your anticipation, worry, or simple speculation about what might happen in the future; you accept being fully present in the moment. You intentionally set aside any tendency to dwell on the past, regrets, or disturbing memories; you access being fully present in the moment. Both past and future concerns can be tyrannical; both crowd out enjoyment in the present.
Observe your thoughts and behaviors over the course of a day to evaluate your current level of multitasking. If you believe your multitasking habits are becoming a deterrent to your happiness and ability to be present, it may be time for you to put yourself through a technology detox, begin a practice of mindfulness, and turn off a few switches.