Discover more from The Modern Work Mentor
Stay present in a task
I’m impatient. If I click a button in an application and see a “loading” animation, I find something else to do while I wait. If I have to upload or move a file and the progress bar is creeping slowly along, I find something else to do while I wait.
Something else. That’s the problem. Often that “something else” is something else entirely. It isn’t related to what I was doing. I stop thinking about what I’m working on and get distracted. What am I doing? I’m filling the gap. I am multi-tasking. I’m making better use of my time, rather than waiting for this thing to load, this meeting to start, this file to render. But often, I switch out of the context of my current task. When the thing I’m waiting for eventually finishes doing what it needs to do, I have to get my mind back into what I need to do.
f this sounds like you, then we both have something to learn. Or maybe learn again. We need to get comfortable with waiting. We need to keep our mind on the current task and topic. At the very least, keep our mind on a related task. The moment we open an app to check messages, we see something that isn’t related to our task. We switch focus to understanding the message. We form responses and a new task list as we read. If not checking messages, we might be posting our own message or checking a service for news.
What if I kept thinking on the current task while I am waiting? I’m going to try to recondition myself to be comfortable with waiting. I like to pick up a physical pen and write or draw. While waiting, I will try picking up a pen and write bullet points related to the task I’m working on. Writing a list of next steps will keep me focused. That’s a great start because I’m planning out my next few related activities. One good example of this is when I’m uploading a video to my YouTube channel. I often write a description while uploading. I rework the title. I work on the thumbnail image. All of these are related tasks. I’m not switching from the current task and context. The activities are things I will need to do anyway.
What if I made a list of tasks and optimised the order to make better use of wait times? Using a task list is already a good start. While I’m waiting for something to finish, I can start on the next task. If I optimise the list, I can identify tasks that I know will result in wait-time and quick tasks I can complete. I can follow a task that requires wait-time with a related short task. It keeps my mind in the same context. I can easily switch back after the first task is ready to continue with. It sounds like a basic concept. There are plenty of people who have become well practiced at this and can stay on task and in context. They don’t fill their wait-times with unrelated activities.
I need to learn to focus again. Being connected to 3 social platforms, multiple projects and group chats at work has conditioned my squirrel brain into being reactive; shallow. It takes more effort for me to enter a deep-work state. Task lists will help. But they must be in a simple system. I don’t need a complex second-brain system that offers too many choices. I need a simple ‘Today’ list that I can glance at to fill wait-time with related tasks.
I also need to learn to use wait-time for thought-time. It’s OK to think deeper about the current task while I wait for something to upload / render / load. I should take those moments to slow down and think deeper about what I’m doing. This is when our minds can make connections between our current task and the larger context, where it fits into a project. Or might think of a better method for completing the current task. Wait-time can be a blessing. It can give you the spare brain cycles to see things differently.
So the next time you have to click and wait for a task to finish, try to remain present in that current task. Think about it some more. Consider other options and approaches. Take a deep breath. You might discover something new and you should find it easier to continue from where you left off.
Originally posted at https://modernworkmentor.com/blog/Stay-present-in-a-task on August 25, 2022.