Unitasking: Walking “in the Moment”

As a walking commuter, I see many people walking while wearing headphones, listening to music or podcasts or talking to someone on their cell phone. I’ve even regularly come across a walking commuter who reads a book while walking. (I know, it totally floored me the first time I saw this!). There are lots of folks who can “walk and chew gum” at the same time! And I can too, believe me! I just choose not to.

Why waste time just walking?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a huge fan of music. And I would love to carve time out of my day to connect by phone more often with my friends and family. I also love learning about things, so I would really enjoy the opportunity to listen to more podcasts or books on tape. And it would feel like winning the lottery to have another hour free for fiction every day.

But here’s the thing. Part of what makes my walking commute so valuable to me personally is that I’ve designated this time in my day to “be in the moment.”

Time well spent

At work and at home I often try to do several things at once. I want to be ultra-productive. I try not to, but I often set unrealistic goals for how much I can get done.

A friend once described me as “stingy” with my time, and it’s true: time is my most valuable asset and I guard it carefully. You might think that someone who’s so cheap with their time wouldn’t want to spend an extra minute getting to work, let alone forty. And yet here I am, a dedicated walking commuter, spending more time on my daily commute than I have to.

The myth of multitasking

Our culture is one of multitasking – even though there is no such thing. We can only focus on one thing at a time. So multitasking really means switching focus frequently, after very short periods of time. We can do it, but it’s universally stressful and tiring.

Unitasking and “flow”

There is a term called “flow” (coined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) for the feeling you get when you are completely immersed in an experience. It happens when you give a great live performance – or maybe when your writing expresses your ideas perfectly – or maybe even when you invent an amazing meal out of leftovers. That feeling of flow is associated with peak experience; sometimes you don’t even remember how you did what you did, and you might not remember time going by at all.

I aim for that flow state when I am walking to work and back. It requires only that I stay in the moment. I want to heal my brain from trying to multitask, and shake off the feeling of being pulled in many directions.

Flock of pigeons in snowy park. Animated photos.

Pigeons in the park at Howard & Bleecker

Walking in the moment

When my feet find their rhythm I feel like I could walk all day.

So for me, no need for another activity to keep me from getting bored while I make my way home. It’s my time to experience being outside, in the air, next to traffic, squinting into the sun, and paying attention to cars – racing to turn despite my walk signal. And just maybe while strolling by the pigeons I might catch glimpses of beauty.

It’s my time to exist in the moment, and it makes me feel so good.

Does this resonate with you? I invite your comment.
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5 thoughts on “Unitasking: Walking “in the Moment”

  1. I’m now in California, in the lovely town of Palm Springs and I just toss out this comment:
    Here 99 percent of the people I pass on my 20 minute walk to the supermarket…..say good morning or a similar greeting. In the nineties when our son worked in Washington, he said the same happened there. Can you imagine this happening in Toronto? Would you want it to?


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