Meditation and Multitasking

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Within the past two years, I made two significant changes in my life: I began practicing mindful meditation, and I decided that my lifelong habit of multitasking had to stop-or at least be reduced to doing two things at once rather than three or more.

The result has been greater peace of mind, less stress physically, mentally, and emotionally, and an ability to get just as much done-if not more-than when I was trying to "do it all."

Numerous studies have pointed out the hazards and myths associated with multitasking. (Multitasking is defined as handling more than one task at the same time by one person.) Basically, although you may think you are getting more done and are being more productive, chances are you are fooling yourself.

Productivity and effectiveness, not to mention accuracy, can decline significantly when we try to juggle too many balls in the air. A report in Psychology Today noted that people can lose up to 40 percent of their productivity when they multitask. And this doesn’t just apply to older adults; a Stanford University study showed that college students can’t maintain attention or accuracy when trying to multitask as well.

Meditation and Multitasking Study

Now to the matter of meditation and multitasking. I found this delightful study, published in the journal Mindfulness, about how a team at Florida State University evaluated mindful dishwashing-not using a dishwasher, of course, but physically washing dishes. Since I am old school when it comes to some tasks, I still wash dishes by hand. (I also hang out my clothes... but that’s another story!)

Who knew that meditation and dishwashing by hand would not only be the topic of research, but that it could (and this is my thought) have applications beyond the kitchen sink. First, however, let me explain the Florida study.

Co-author Adam Hanley, a doctoral candidate in the College of Education’s Counseling and School Psychology Program at FSU, explained that “I was particularly interested in how the mundane activities in life could be used to promote a mindful state and, thus, increase overall sense of well-being.” So Hanley and his team recruited 51 college students and divided them into two groups: one group had to read a general description about dishwashing, and the other was required to read a mindful passage about dishwashing, which emphasized mentally focusing on the scent of the soap, how the dishes felt, the temperature of the water, and so on.

The participants then washed dishes and where evaluated on their state of mindfulness. Here’s what the researchers found:

Compared with subjects who had not learned about mindful dishwashing, those who did experienced a 27 percent reduction in nervousness and a 25 percent increase in mental inspiration

Hanley commented that the volunteers who engaged in mindful dishwashing grounded themselves in the present, which may have allowed them "to take a break from reminiscing over the past or planning for the future, pausing to just simply be in the present moment at the sink."

Meditation and Multitasking

My thought is that individuals who do repetitive or mundane activities, whether they are housekeeping chores or are associated with employment, such as washing windows, filing, packing boxes, assembly line work, stocking shelves, mowing lawns, or picking produce can engage in mindfulness while doing these tasks and thus reduce stress and anxiety. Millions of people could achieve a sense of well-being and come to better appreciate the tasks they are doing.

At home, whether you are making the bed, walking the dog, cleaning the oven, mopping the floor, weeding the garden, raking leaves, or vacuuming, do it mindfully, even if only for 10 to 15 minutes or so. Turn off your phone, the music, the TV, and your racing mind. Focus, be in the moment, and embrace the activity at hand.

Whether at work or at home, you can combine mindfulness meditation and multitasking: meditation while also achieving a task. It’s multitasking at its best.


Sources 🔖

  • Hanley A et al. Washing dishes to wash the dishes: brief instruction in an informal mindfulness practice. Mindfulness 2014 Oct; 6(5): 1095-1103
  • Weinschenk Susan PhD. Psychology Today. The true cost of multi-tasking. 2015 Sep 12