Hurrah for Unitasking: In Which Tips Are Shared

Some mornings waking comes hard. Some mornings climbing out of sleep is like slowly pulling myself out of a vat of molasses. Each reach out comes with a slow but irresistible tug back in.

I recently started setting my alarm later in anticipation of molasses mornings. I figure if I am waking up at a time that better suits my body, chances are my body is going to fight me less. This morning I was aroused from my dream-thick slumber by Neal grabbing my legs and shouting, “Good morning Rebecca!” He probably didn’t actually shout, but that is how it felt. I woke in complete confusion, having no idea what day it was, in spite of his next words being “The cleaners are here.” 

(Yes, once a month I pay someone to clean our home. This is  one of those MS concessions I fought and fought before giving in and loving it.)

I quickly sat up, took my morning pills, made it to the bathroom on un-stretched legs, and catheterized on my first try against the odds. I called for clothes, dressed slowly, and was ready to head out for coffee and pastry, which is my very favorite way to start a day. I know breakfast should be packed with protein and vegetables and good stuff, but nothing brings me joy like a cappuccino and chocolate croissant. These things usually energize me mentally, if not physically, but today it’s just not happening.

Breakfast of champions!

When we got home, I eventually made my way to the bathroom and, in a move I have executed successfully many times, pulled my phone out of my back pocket as I prepared to sit on the toilet. However, due to morning cog fog and the exhaustion of being outside in the heat, I promptly dropped my phone into the toilet. The good news is that the phone is water-resistant and I mustered the brain power and dexterity to fish it out quickly.

Why am I telling you this? You already know about MS fatigue. You know that I’m not a morning person. You know I pee a lot. And as much as my charming anecdotes may amuse you, I do try to give each blog post something of a point. The point today is this: unitasking is where it’s at, especially for folks with MS. I spent years of my career touting what a brilliant multitasker I was. And perhaps I indeed was. I don’t know. I have trouble remembering what I had for dinner yesterday, so calling forth what kind of a worker I was when I was 34 is a challenge. But here’s what I know as a 44-year-old–doing one thing at a time helps me in so many ways, and I forget to do it constantly. I regularly get one leg into a pair of jeans only to pause to check my lipstick or my phone. Had I taken a moment to remove my cell phone from my pocket and place it on the bathroom counter before sitting and taking care of business this morning, things would have gone much better.

This transfers to non-euphemistic business, too. If I leap into work without a plan, I am a distracted mess. If I deal with one thing at a time, I’m fairly efficient. And clear headed, which is a rare and beautiful thing. So here are my tips for uni-tasking at work.

How cute is she?!

Start with a list. 

I manage my to-dos with Asana, which allows me to color code tasks and view them in calendar format. (Bonus: it also occasionally awards me with a flying narwhal of completion, which I find weirdly satisfying.) Each work day begins with a scan of existing tasks followed by a review of email where I add things to the day’s list rather than bouncing between email and Asana and the tasks themselves.

Tackle one thing at a time. 

Yes, this is the essence of unitasking, but it is nearly impossible as notifications pop up on screen and my brain helpfully butts in with “Don’t forget to post to Linkedin!” while I’m doing client work. I will allow for a pause to add something to Asana, but anything more will derail me.

Limit notifications.

Social media engagement is often the only thing keeping me from curling up in a ball and surrendering to the self-pity chronic illness can inspire. Each like and comment buoys my spirits, but compulsively checking them makes me distracted and useless. So I keep my phone within reach but face down and DO NOT open Facebook or Twitter when I’m working. (Now Linkedin? There’s a lovely loophole!) I’ve changed my Outlook settings to eliminate the little pop up windows that notify me that a message has just come in from someone I really shouldn’t drop everything to reply to. And if I really, really need to focus, I’ll close Slack.

Tame the tabs. 

Remember when internet browsers opened to just one page at a time? How simple life used to be! I’m currently writing in one tab with two coaching-related tabs, my personal email, my calendar, and the fabulous Made in DC shop all open and vying for my attention. Not good, especially when I’m working. Stick with the essentials. For me it’s the calendar, Asana (obvi), and whatever is immediately relevant. Anything else? Shut that shit down.

Keep a notepad handy for personal stuff. 

Working a flexible schedule from home means work and life (a false separation but we’ll let that go here) end up in a sloppy relationship. It is far too easy to think “Oh I should send a quick email to Mom” only to get sucked into the vortex of my personal inbox for half an hour and then have to figure out where I left off with work. My personal business notepad is always at the ready to receive my brain’s random firings to ensure I neither forget them nor am I derailed.

It isn’t a perfect system, and I don’t always heed my own advice. I sure do better when I do, though, and I’d love to know what you do to stay focused.

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