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We’re told almost every day that our lives are busy and that to be successful we need to multi-task. But if we are to live our lives in the moment this is patently impossible. By its very nature, each moment can only contain one thing – one task, one thought or one action. The very idea of multi-tasking is therefore a nonsense.

So how do we go about living a busy life without becoming distracted from the moment?

There are four elements to this – planning, concentration, flexibility and having the confidence to say no.

Planning

Take stock of what must be done. Make a list if it helps, but treat the list as notes rather than a hard and fast schedule for the day. Break down the list into smaller tasks and think about how they might be interleaved. For example,

Concentration

Give yourself entirely to tackling each small task. Decide whether it is appropriate to close your email client and turn off your phone to avoid interruptions. As you breathe, you might tell yourself what you are doing to maintain your focus. As I’m writing this, for instance, I’m telling myself that I’m writing about multi-tasking – my mind is exploring around the theme of concentration.

Flexibility

If your mind is focused in the moment, you will be prepared for whatever that moment brings. It may be that there is something new that requires your attention. Perhaps one of the things on your list takes on a higher priority. Take the time to breathe. Go back to the planning stage. Break the new task down and slot the smaller tasks into your list. If you keep yourself in the moment, this change of order is simply part of one continuous process.

Keep yourself open to new ways of taking on the tasks at hand. Maybe use a pen and piece of paper to sketch out some ideas before you start writing that email.

If you hit a mental block, park the task. Do something else that is completely different and come back to it later. If you’re still not making progress, try completing one of the other smaller parts of the task and work on it in a slightly different order. Maybe even consider leaving out the part you are struggling with – would it really have a hugely detrimental effect on the task as a whole if one small part is incomplete?

Have the confidence to say no

There may be times when you can take on no more. You have planned out everything you need to achieve and there simply is no time left.

Explain the situation courteously, but be firm. Saying ‘no’ need not be negative.

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