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Multitasking is not the secret to success. A scattered, unfocused mindset sabotages the accomplishment of the major-tasking that creates lovely memories and crosses off the jobs that need doing but one time. Myriad studies prove that multitasking not only isn’t efficient in the long run, it causes stress and high blood pressure. It is the opposite of the spiritual experience of mindfulness. But this knowledge hasn’t put an end to the compulsion to confound my hands and mind with co-existing activity. My secret selves, the inner child and protector, cling to the belief that doing more than one thing at a time just has to be effective. They insist that I have to be organized before I can work on my big goals.

The truth is the adrenaline rush of multitasking is far more thrilling than boring old “Focus on one thing at a time and do it right.” I do get a lot done when in a  full-on frantic flurry, but only the mini-tasks.  I cheat myself out of the deep pleasure of seeing an important job well done.

Having a neat desk, photos scanned, files sorted, and sock drawer organized by color are mini-tasks that require focus, but bring only temporary satisfaction and come undone in a week of typical living. My friend “Lake” explained that her kitchen was never as clean as when she had a creative deadline facing her; that the hardest act of an artist/writer was to deny the small voices that told her she first had to have a clean, well-ordered house, and spent precious time completing a hundred insignificant chores before entering her studio.

The steps that lead to my heart’s desire cannot be tackled with the same mosaic of effort of cleaning the kitchen, making a meal, checking the weather channel to see if I dare hang out the laundry, all while on hold for the next available agent. Big goals, the ones that create joy, need a purer intention, a calm focus. It takes mental focus and a calm heart to consider what is important to you.

Do you know what your most precious goals are? Not for your whole life, or the next twenty years. It’s scary for me to notice that at 62, I need to plan a shorter frame. So I’ll begin to think about what I really want to achieve, this year.  Best to work on a short list, two to five, that includes the long denied joys, as well as essential obligations of adulthood. Mine include a first trip to Europe. A return to the gym three times a week. Complete the taxes without deadline stress. More vague,but still important: How can I be a terrific partner for my family members? Read more meaningful books?

When you consider yours, don’t  judge them by size–you’re looking for something that keeps pulling you toward a single sweet focus. Write down two steps to lead you toward each of  your dreams, and post them where you can see them every day. Then turn off your phone, bungee cord yourself into your chair or the treadmill at the gym. The dishes will be there when it’s time for a break. And when you do the dishes? Do them one at a time.

I will if you will! These next ten questions might give you some other clues as to what is befuddling your efforts to get to your dreams.

Self-Discovery Quiz: Mini-Tasking versus Major-Tasking

Rate your responses 0 (not me!) to 5 (how’d you know!)

1. I have a short list of important goals for this year firmly in my mind and written down.

2. At least once a week I make a small step to move toward one of these goals.

3. I believe in the motto “Do it once and do it right,” and am working to be good at it.

4. When I catch myself engaged in simultaneous activities, I stop and choose one to complete.

5. I’ve learned to seek support from my family, friends, and experts to realize my big goals.

6. While at a creative task, like writing a blog, I turn off the sounds of email and phone.

7. I keep reminding myself to “focus” and imagine how good I’ll feel after completing the current task.

8. While waiting for the microwave to ding or the washing machine to complete its spin cycle, I don’t fret, instead I take deep breaths and release tension in my upper body.

9. I don’t feel guilty when chores or family needs are temporarily delayed, because it serves everyone when we each work on our big goals.

10. This quiz is making me nervous!

If you have low numbers on #1-9, and #10 is too true, you believe multi-tasking is more effective than major-tasking. For today, you might choose one of the ideas embedded in the first nine, try it on and see how you look wearing it.

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