They do less and less till they arrive at non-action; they do nothing, and nothing remains undone.
— Tao Te Ching, 48 (my translation).
More and more these days I try to do only one thing at a time.
When I work, I work. When I walk, I walk. When I write, I write. Nothing else.
We live in a world awash in distraction. Phone, email, social media, television, advertising, all clamouring for pieces of our attention and consciousness. So easy to give in to the frazzled static of it all.
I don’t say those things are bad in and of themselves. But too much of them, like too much of anything, definitely is. And we live in a world hypersaturated by media and distraction.
Many people spend their lives pursuing entertainment, pursuing distraction. They measure their lives by what they consume. That is their affair. But that is not the standard I use for my own life.
I measure my life in focus. What have I done with my day? I ask myself before I go to sleep every night. And I write down whatever I accomplished, whatever was memorable. I first started doing this 20 years ago, and though there are some gaps the story of what I have done with my time, day after day, is still remarkably complete.
When I do things these days I try to do them with full focus, or if that’s not possible with at least 90% focus. Did I tutor a student, write an article, transcribe an interview, study a language, meditate, sprint, lift, summarize a book, read a play, work on a poem, train a skill, pay attention to a landscape, have an engaging conversation, make love, dance with a partner, write a journal entry? All those things take focus. They are mindful activities, not mindless ones, and my life is better in the long term for having engaged in them.
I am trying to make focused activity, not distracted activity, the primary use of my time, while still alternating it with periods of rest. And when I succeed I know, because of the way it makes me breathe: my breath is deep and slow.