Marcus Aurelius, in his work Meditations, wrote about the importance of presence in our daily lives, and how focus and the ability to be grounded in the present moment can bring us happiness.
“If though workest at that which is before thee, following right reason seriously, vigorously, calmly, without allowing anything else to distract thee, but keeping thy divine part pure, as if thou shouldst be bound to give it back immediately; if though holdest to this, expecting nothing, fearing nothing, but satisfied with thy present activity according to nature, and with heroic truth in every word and sound which though utterest, though wilt live happy. And there is no man who is able to prevent this.”
The quote above shows the value in giving your self over to what it is you are currently working on, and focusing on that thing with 100% of your attention. The quality of your work will be maximized, and with greater focus your determination and effort will culminate and build into greatness. When that mindset is coupled with self-awareness, you can create something that you are proud of, and ensure that all of your actions aimed toward your current goal help fulfill your mission and the task in front of you.
Aurelius is writing about more than just today’s popular idea of monotasking. He is writing about focusing on a single thing and doing it well, which is the base of monotasking, but he is also diving into the idea of staying grounded in the present moment, in every moment of our lives. Rather than being distracted by thoughts and feelings of our past or future, he encourages us to look at what is in front of us at each moment and consider how we can make the most of it and build the most in ourselves from it. Monotasking is the idea of doing one thing at a time and bringing our full focus to that thing, but it does not include the same type of grounded awareness that Marcus Aurelius writes about when describes the benefits and importance of staying grounded and true to oneself in every action and decision.
When I first read the quote above it stood out to me as a quote written about achieving flow in the work that we do. When I look back at it I understand the ways in which Aurelius is describing flow, or that state where you are so absorbed in your work that time seems to act strangely and you are able to produce wonderful work with a clear focus and minimal effort, but I am not sure that is exactly what Aurelius is hitting on. Flow usually accompanies actions that are truly engaging or are activities that we are passionate about. Finding that area for any individual is a powerful feeling and a very rewarding experience which does bring happiness, but Aurelius is encouraging us to find the same type of happiness through the grounded awareness of ourselves and our activities. In being focused on how each action and decision builds into the person we become, we are able to stay present and focused on those activities so that they are in alignment with who we are and want to be, and ultimately, we will find happiness through rigorous self-awareness, determination, and self discipline.