Over the past few weeks I’ve been asked the “so what do you do?” question a lot. My answer is always the same, but the responses to it are a variety of expressions of judgement, disbelief and sometimes mild envy.
It seems in these days of over-indulging, multitasking and wearing all too many hats, “I’m spending time at home” is not a satisfactory answer.
Is it so unthinkable to want to just not do anything at all for some time? Is it so hard to imagine a life devoid of tasks and deadlines and self-inflicted benchmarks of accomplishment? Because all I wanted was that. Time out. From everything.
Many months ago I posted this little scribble and it perfectly reflected the state of my life and mind at the time. Always-ready-to-get-up-and-go, always-out-of-breath seemed to be my permanent disposition. Multiple tasks always on hand, at one point I really felt like a system that was about to overload and crash. Around me people admired how I was able to take on so much with, but inwardly I was cowering under the pressure. Being severely pressed for time, all the time was unbearable. Not being able to just stay with anything long enough to see it through was worse. To-dos piled up, more work came in, nothing ever got finished. And that was the most stifling problem of them all. I was just simply unable to finish.
My brain was always on overdrive. Sleep wouldn’t feel like sleep and waking was the toughest thing on earth. The thrill of biting off much more than I can chew and still pulling things off began to wear out. And for the do-everything-I-can kind of person that I am, this was surprising and hard to digest. I guess there comes a time when you begin to realise there is far more joy in doing few things well, and I was slowly losing interest in the tangling web of trying to do it all.
If asking myself why we celebrate multitasking so much — when all it has brought to my life is more incomplete task lists (those that are complete don’t feel like success stories) and a constant state of breathlessness and no time to stop and smell the roses — is a sign of growing up, maybe I should take it with some grace.
Multitasking is an affliction that has consumed me. For years I proudly flaunted the badge of the Ace Multitasker. I did it at work, and then I moved to Goa, set up home and tom-tommed the fact that I could do it at home too. And the greatest balancing act of them all? Work-life
balance chaos. That precarious balance that is ever-threatening to tip over when you least expect it. But somewhere along the way, I lost interest in it. There was speed and zest in that fast-paced life, but after a point all I was craving was some peace and calm. Doing it all required energy, and at the end it left me tired and listless.
The bigger reality check was when I realised how much I had completed, but how little I had really accomplished.
That feeling, of letting myself be utterly and completely absorbed in a task at hand, succumbing completely and not lifting my head until it was done, is a long forgotten. I’ve missed the fuzzy satisfaction that envelopes you when you look back at a task well done. That warmth of being lost in the afterglow of a lovely book that lingers on for long after the pages have run out. The aching bones at the end of a hard task, well done.
The good news is everyone has a threshold. Even for multitasking. And I reached mine a few weeks before I actually quit work, on one of those classic why-me days that leave you wanting to curl up and die because your little shoulders and tiny brain just can’t do it anymore. The better news is that it shook me back into my senses, and I decided that one of the resolutions for my sabbatical was to un-multitask (erm, yeah I did it again — made up a fancy word for something really simple). To do fewer things. To slow down. To let whatever I am doing engage me fully. And to finish whatever I start.
Five months of doing just that; paring my activities down to only those that really deserve my time and attention; weaning myself off the internet; focusing only on cooking, reading, writing and exercising; I feel light and free. I have found a little bit of that stillness I was looking for. I feel full of life, I have moments of intense passion, when I’m baking, running or absorbed in a book. I am happier more often, sadder a lot less. I feel fitter, I feel satisfied and I feel joyful.
It’s funny how the tables turn. It’s interesting how old habits can sometimes be shed away. It’s amazing how doing less has actually given me so much more.