Zen of Busyness: Forget Multitasking; Try Simultaneous Inclusion.
To help her students and clients manage the avalanche of tasks and obligations that often threaten to bury them, Darlene Cohen, a priest at the San Francisco Zen Center, teaches a technique she calls "simultaneous inclusion." Cohen, author of The One Who Is Not Busy: Connecting with Work in a Satisfying Way, explains that simultaneous inclusion differs from multitasking because it asks the practitioner to focus deeply on each task in the moment. Completely experiencing each item on one's to-do list is a first step in conquering the temptation to flit between activities.
"Multitasking isn't satisfying because the focus is on what you're not doing," Cohen says. "If you focus on what you are doing, life is much richer."
However, as useful as immersing oneself in one "narrow" task after another may be, it isn't the goal of simultaneous inclusion, which is to harmonize sharply task-focused experiences with those that cultivate a wide, undifferentiated view of the world, a notion that Buddhists call "nondual awareness." Tapping into this "wide" worldview takes practice, she says, as does shifting between the two states of mind.
Cohen, who has been practicing Zen meditation for more than 30 years, offers a variety of exercises to facilitate simultaneous inclusion and notes that meditatively pursued activities such as walking can do the trick. The key is to find a practice that drops one into a body-sensate focus, which she says offers a path away from endless circles of discursive thought.
"If you're making concepts for a living, focusing on the body is a relief, because the body doesn't care about your tiff with your coworker," she says.