While washing dishes I remembered a story from Thich Nhat Hanh which is called "Washing Dishes". I thought about it because it wasn't just the dishes I was thinking about, literally and figuratively.
Literally, I was trying to find a podcast episode to listen to while washing, as well as thinking about what to do afterward. Figuratively, I've been doing the same thing in other activities—relegating the thing being done to the smallest corner of consciousness I could fit it into so that I could use the other space to think about something else. Yes, I know it doesn't work, but it happens all the time.
Thich Nhat Hanh's story is about focusing on washing dishes in order to live in the moment—to really live by being conscious of the thing you're doing in that moment. It's good advice, but it's not an aspiration of mine. Only in cases of frustration—of having missed some detail or felt squeezed by the pressure of trying to fit too many things in at once—do I think about it, but by then it's too late, and the moment has passed. As he puts it: "I will be constantly dragged into the future, miss out on life altogether, and never able to live in the present moment."
The other day at work I had my work headset on one ear monitoring a meeting, headphones on the other ear listening to a class, and, for reasons that are unclear to me, occasionally flipping through my phone or opening a browser window. What a waste. It would have been just as useful to lay on the floor and do nothing. At least it would have been relaxing.
Maybe it should be an aspiration, at least a minor one—to try one thing a day and and have that One Thing be the only thing being done, thought about, etc. Maybe I'm not interested enough in doing it as an all day every day practice, but just slowing things done for a moment sounds beneficial.