Monday, September 14, 2015

Doing one thing at a time

Colouring in this cat can chill you right out.
Do you ever wish you could do just one task at a time? Multitasking is a modern plague that we tend not to notice, but it is a major source of stress. One of the problems with any job – including working with animals – is the need to multitask. You might have the intention to put patient A on the drip, but as you get set up you may have a walk-in appointment, a phone call which requires you to delve into email to check some results and interpret these, another patient needed pain meds or you have to drop everything for an emergency then pick up where you left off.

That might be unavoidable, but it can be stressful if there is little time in between to catch one’s breath and make a mental inventory of what has been done and what needs to be done.

Home life is often just as fraught with essential tasks, distractions and interruptions. I am convinced that the whole Mindfulness movement is a backlash against multitasking madness. At the core of mindfulness is the concept of living in the present, focusing on what you are doing in that moment and nothing else (if you can help it). The problem is there is no one-size, fits-all approach to being mindful.

I went to one workshop where we had to hold a rock and appreciate all its grooves, textures, colour, smell and even taste (I hope they washed those rocks – some people really did lick them), but that didn’t ease my mind in the slightest. I was making a mental list of things I needed to do once the rock was appreciated, and not really appreciating the rock at all.

Probably the most helpful manifestation of mindfulness for me is the concept of focusing on the task in the moment. According to Lisa Hunter and Jane Shaw, that involves dedicating one’s mind solely to the task at hand.

“Worrying about how to finish the charting, squeeze in the 2 scheduled surgeries, and get home in time to make dinner for the family pulls energy in different directions. It takes far less fuel to be fully present and attentive to the current task than it does being split between tasks.”
Of course someone has to worry about these things, but worrying about them for a set time – compartmentalising one’s worry or writing it all down so one can pick it up later – is better than worrying all day. But the idea of mindfulness is to let the mind be still, at least for a bit.

Last week I met a vet who had a different strategy. Her sister bought her the MindfulnessColouring Book. She spends a few minutes every day working on the book, and becomes visibly relaxed when she is just focused on that task.

If colouring in is not your thing, you can try some online resources such as this one for some other ideas, like mindful hip-hop and guided meditations. There's always some task one can get sucked into and lose track of time. If your cat happens to be amenable (and not all are), a daily brush can be mindful. And it reduces fur balls in at least one of the parties involved.


Hunter L & Shaw JR (2015) Mindfully managing one moment at a time. Veterinary Team Brief September, 22-23.

Farrarons E (2015) The Mindfulness Colouring Book: Anti-stress art therapy for busy people.