Wednesday, April 1, 2015

In praise of single-tasking

I am not all that perceptive, and it can take a while for something to make an impact on me. But eventually even the obvious can catch my attention. I have been babysitting our granddaughter Abigail once a week since the middle of October, and here’s something I have learned: Babysitting a granddaughter is easier than parenting two sons – at least so far. When I was with Jacob and Joshua when they were growing up, I rarely was able to devote my full time and attention just to them. There was always something else to take care of such as church work or laundry or household concerns of one kind or another. I was feeding Abigail a few weeks ago, and it was taking a bit longer than I had anticipated. But I wasn’t the slightest bit impatient since I had nothing else to do or nowhere else to go. I didn’t have to rush her through her meal so I could pack her up and run some errands. The only item listed on my agenda that day was: “Watch Abigail.” I am often an impatient person, and it is usually because my mind is already moving beyond what I am doing to what I need to be doing. It is rare to have only one item on my agenda for an entire day, but on Mondays that’s the way it almost always is. I bring along my laptop, and when Abigail takes a nap I sometimes do some writing, sermon research, or return some emails (if I am not taking a nap at the same time that she sleeps). But I never assume I will have the time to do any of those things so I am not uptight if I don’t get them done. On one day of the week, all of my time, attention, and devotion are directed to one person. I am not in any hurry to move from one activity to another. I am not saying that it isn’t tiring because I can be exhausted by the end of the day after my drive home. And the more mobile she gets the more interesting things will become. It can be tiring but it is as simple and uncomplicated as a day could be. My priorities are clear and not in conflict when I am “single-tasking.” How many of us are ever able to give a full day of undivided attention to just one person without looking at the clock and thinking about what comes next? How many of us are able to direct a day’s worth of time, attention, and devotion to God alone? For most of us most of the time, the answer to each question is “never.” Most of us have a hard enough time focusing on God for one hour during Sunday worship without our attention wandering to other things that we will be doing that day. Most of us have busy lives with crowded schedules that do not easily lend themselves to prioritizing a single person for an entire day. Numerous studies have suggested that multi-tasking (which most of us do on a regular basis) just doesn’t work very well. Our performance is less than ideal when we are not focused. One report suggests that we damage our brains and our IQ decreases when we attempt too many intense multi-tasking activities at the same time. I am under the impression that Jesus didn’t do a lot of multi-tasking. He seemed to be focused on the moment – on one thing at a time and one person at a time – regardless of how much demand there was for his time and attention. And there was always someone or something needing his time and his consideration. Jesus may not have always given people everything they wanted – some went away unhappy or upset – but he always gave them his full attention. And many people probably had never been looked at that deeply or completely in their entire lives. You can argue that Jesus helped transform the world as much through his ability to honor and to elevate individual people as he did through any particular teaching or commandment. Jesus regarded every person from the prostitute to the priest as deserving the best of what he had to offer. If you want to transform your own world, try simplifying and eliminating rather than complicating and adding. Do fewer things but make sure they are the most important things. If you can’t give things up easily (or if your boss keeps adding), then at least do one thing at a time. And try the same approach to your relationships. Pick the ones that are the most important to you and give them more of your undivided time and focused attention. Go deeper with them rather than cultivating too many surface level relationships that will bear little fruit. Certain people are worth more of your life, aren’t they? Make a decision to spend concentrated time with God. It is a new season – a season of new life. Make your own life more life-giving (for you and for others) by eliminating multitasking and replacing it with “single tasking.” And try taking those naps when possible. You won’t regret it.