One Thing at a Time, Lady! My Week of No Multitasking
Plus! Contest results!! More NYC survey findings!!! Party in the park!!!!
Welcome to Issue #91 of CAFÉ ANNE!
Oh my stars—so much news. First, we had two big contests in last week’s second anniversary issue. The first was to see who earned the top score in the Are You a Real New Yorker? test. A score of 100 points or more designated real New Yorker status. I got a 239 points, making me 239% real. “Top that!” I wrote.
Well, plenty of you did. But the overall winner was Georgia L. in Brooklyn Heights (a neighbor!), who scored a fearsome 387 points. How?
Georgia earned 100 points for being a native. She also boosted her score by living here a long time (two points for each year) and being on a first-name basis with many, many neighbors and their pets (one point each).
“I was born in Brooklyn. Family moved to NJ but I came back to Bklyn after 15 yrs,” she wrote in a message. “I’m OLD! I know lotsa peeps and/or their pets by name. These are the attributes that make my numbers soar.”
The lowest score, meanwhile, was reported by Nick E., who does not even live in NYC. He earned 15 points. I was touched he even tried!
Our second contest was to guess how many comments Judge Roy Bean has left since he became a CAFÉ ANNE regular in May, 2022. Guesses ranged from 140 to 2000—with many noting how much they enjoy his remarks every week.
The correct answer: 557. That’s 8.6 comments per issue! The closest guess—540 comments—came from Mark D. in Minnesota, who happens to be our second most frequent commenter, with 389 total comments. Takes one know one, haha!
Finally, huge rats-with-wings shoutouts to the many new paid subscribers who came out in support of CAFÉ ANNE’s second anniversary: Katherine M., K. Corbett, Jean, Ann B., Jeremy L., Gabe D., Pheobe J., Lorraine S., John D., Per A., Bianca R., David G., Laura Rebecca, CK Steefel, Linda B., Rich I., S. Henry, and Christy.
Yippee I’m rich! That’s enough money for a one-way ticket to rat heaven!
I’m very excited for this week’s issue, of course. We’ve got more of the Are You a Real New Yorker? survey that I did not have room to include in the last issue, plus an account of my week with a total ban on multitasking. (Spoiler: I am alive but just barely). Please enjoy.
Writers and Readers Meetup!
It’s this coming Saturday, October 14 from 2-4 pm in Brooklyn Bridge Park. We’ll gather at the picnic tables alongside the marina, just north of Pier 5.
Everyone is welcome—I’d love to meet you! You can RSVP here.
DEPARTMENT OF PERSONAL EXPERIMENTATION
One Thing at a Time, Lady! My Week of No Multitasking
I’ve conducted many experiments on myself over the years in hopes of finding a better way to do everything. Some practices—like wearing the same thing every day—proved so helpful I adopted them permanently. Others, not so much! Thirty days of eating nothing but meat left me run down and sick.
I thought it would be fun to share these experiments with you, so I’m starting with a practice I tried for September: no multitasking!
I started slow, with a ban on multitasking while talking on the phone or running around the city. No more texting while walking the dog! That went well, so for the final week I decided to tighten the screws and eliminate multitasking entirely. It nearly killed me.
The night before, I created an elaborate chart with 484 color-coded cells to designate what activity combinations were allowed and what was forbidden:
The scariest prospect—I vowed to eat all my meals, and even drink my coffee, in total silence. No reading either!
Sipping coffee while staring at the wall was an immediate torment. There just wasn't enough going on! By the afternoon, I switched to iced coffee so I could gulp it down faster.
And while I enjoy living alone, lunch and dinner without a podcast in the background felt strange. It occurred to me that through most of human history, eating alone probably meant you were either lost or in jail.
"Wouldn't it be wonderful," I thought, "to have a housemate who'd come over just for lunch or dinner—and then they'd leave!"
Then I realized, "Wait—that's what a podcast is!"
I continued my dinner. If you try eating in silence, without distraction, you will quickly learn why no one ever does this. Eating is actually a very weird experience. You insert a variety of items such as leaves, stalks and flesh into your mouth, chew and swallow. Then the items are inside you. What?
I have a major slip as I'm getting ready for bed: I catch myself rinsing with mouthwash and cleaning the sink at the same time. Why? What am I hoping to accomplish by saving thirty seconds at the very end of the day?
It's been 24 hours since I turned off all phone notifications. Not just the dings and buzzes, but the visual alerts. This, I discover, is bliss. If someone is texting or calling, I have no idea!
Not knowing that I have unanswered messages feels a lot better than knowing they are there and ignoring them. Every few hours, I check my phone and respond to everyone at once, giving the task my full attention. The day feels less cluttered, and I find myself looking forward to these mini-breaks rather than resenting the interruption.
In the afternoon, chatting on the phone with a friend, I’m glad I’m just sitting on the couch and not trying to talk while walking the dog. She’s going through a rough time and I know I’m doing a better job of listening because I’m not simultaneously dodging traffic, waving to neighbors and picking up poop. Still, it’s hard to resist the urge to add some additional activity, like filing my nails or sweeping the floor. I’m so habituated to doing two things at once!
Eating in silence remains a torture.
I admit defeat: I can't tolerate drinking coffee while doing nothing! I succumb to sipping Café Bustelo at my desk.
But at lunch, my seventh distraction-free meal, I have a breakthrough. While munching chicken and cabbage, I am suddenly overwhelmed with the sense that everything around me is alive and conscious. The salt shaker on the counter, the white lilies in their glass vase, the animal painting over my desk are all happily expressing themselves for my enjoyment. I've experienced this phenomenon before, but never spontaneously, in the middle of a workday.
And the day just gets better. That afternoon, I set out to interview random New Yorkers for my What Makes a Real New Yorker? survey. Typically, maybe half the strangers I approach for an interview are happy to chat. But this afternoon, I ask ten people in a row and all ten are not just eager to talk, they offer me a seat and let me take their photo.
This is unprecedented. I don't know if it's the vibe I'm giving off, or if my intuitions about who to approach are unusually clear, but it’s definitely a happy side effect of the experiment.
I celebrate with a solo cappuccino in Bryant Park. It's a beautiful day for people watching, and the idea of cluttering the experience with a podcast or book strikes me as totally bonkers.
The morning's big challenge: running without music blaring in my AirPods. God forbid I hear my own breathing!
I don't just listen to a music while exercising to distract myself from discomfort. A great tune is motivating. When I crank up the disco, I'm suddenly the Jesse Owens of Brookyn Heights, flying through the neighborhood.
So how is my half hour of running and calisthenics in silence? It’s fine. I can hear the birds singing and the school kids laughing and the mighty squeal of the garbage truck.
But the big difference is how I feel afterward. When I go running with my favorite tunes, I get all charged up and ready to do battle with the day. Which is ridiculous! Because the fact is, my life consists mainly of hanging out with friends and family, writing this silly blog and volunteering at a meditation center. There is literally no battle happening! Starting the day with a self-induced adrenaline rush doesn't make any sense. I feel a lot better remaining calm and relaxed.
I'd been wondering how long I could keep my phone notifications off before I miss something important. This morning it happens: there's a crazy rain storm and the basement of my meditation center gets flooded. An alert goes out on WhatsApp: our resident teacher needs help bailing out! I live nearby, but by the time I get the message, it's all over.
Maybe I should feel bad, but I don't. Plenty of others showed up to help. I decide that the upside of keeping my notifications off—a feeling of spaciousness and ease—more than makes up for occasionally missing out, whether it's a bailing emergency or last-minute dinner invite.
I also notice a big improvement in my meditation practice. It usually takes a while for my mind to settle. Now, I'm dropping right into the zone, and the experience feels deeper. It just makes sense that if I reduce my information intake by an hour or two everyday, my mind will quiet down faster. It’s got a lot less data to process!
The day's plan calls for two gatherings—a porch party down in Ditmas Park and a birthday party for my two-year-old niece in Queens. This means more than four hours of subway travel.
Normally I'd be super excited. Four hours of reading! Instead, I'm dreading the prospect of four hours with nothing to do but stare at fellow passengers and the subway ads for weird trade schools.
Then I have an inspiration. I email Rob Walker, who writes the wonderful Art of Noticing newsletter. I explain my quandary and request a custom noticing assignment to help pass the time. "Or would that also be multitasking?" I ask.
He assures me it's not: "Reading would mentally remove you from the ride task,” he replies, “but a project/activity that embraced the ride seems okay to me."
And he has some great ideas! Rather than just people watch, he suggests, I can evaluate, “Would I wear that?"
"Another thought," he writes, "is to be alert to the best (and worst?) sound on a particular trip. Frankly, I’m excited for you!"
The porch party gets washed out, so I’m down to just two hours of travel time, but that's still a lot. On the way to Queens, I write down every sound I hear. The best: a dog whining at the other end of the car. I always love a dog on the train!
The worst sound: I've never liked the prerecorded baritone of the conductor who warns, "Stand clear the closing doors!" He sounds like a Tennessee carnival barker circa 1910. What's that got to do with New York City?
And then I get caught up analyzing all the prerecorded announcements. There’s three different female voices for upcoming stations, safety precautions and transfers. I give them all names (Helen, Christine and Belinda) and get so absorbed imagining their faces I almost miss my stop.
The ride home, playing "Would I Wear That?" is just as fun. I imagine wearing the outfits displayed by fellow passengers and consider how I'd feel. Frankly, I like how New Yorkers dress (dark colors, tight fit, ready to do battle with zombies) so I'm feeling pretty good!
I have a long-standing ban on working over the weekend. But the survey project is so big l have to work all Sunday morning. Strangely, I don't mind. First, it's a fun project. But more than that, a life spent doing just one thing at a time feels so spacious that even work feels playful and relaxed. And I'm for sure more efficient because my mind is very clear. I get four hours of writing done in half the time.
It's also the last day of the experiment. While it’s been a lovely week, my honest reaction to the prospect of Monday morning is "yippee!!" I'm looking forward to eating while reading while listening to podcasts while talking on the phone while filing my nails while jogging while meditating.
EIGHT DAYS LATER...
But surprisingly, I do not! It’s been a week since the experiment ended and I can happily report that while I've gone back to eating podcasts for lunch, I've kept all my notifications off. I’m going for walks without my phone and still doing all my chores and errands one at a time, with real focus.
I cannot overstate this: I feel like a different person. It’s like there was a tornado blowing through my life, and now it’s gone.
So yes, this has been one of my more successful experiments. I give it five stars.
The next experiment, suggested by reader Jen S. in Asia: doing everything I’m scared to do. Wish me luck!
Have you tried a similar experiment or have one of your own to suggest? Please share in the comments or drop me a note: email@example.com
CAFÉ ANNE SURVEY
The Most NYC Places in NYC!
Last week, for CAFÉ ANNE's second anniversary, I released the results of my big survey on a favorite topic: What Makes a Real New Yorker? I even included a quiz to help readers determine their status.
I got so ambitious, in fact, that I didn't have room to include the results of two bonus questions included in the poll. So I’m running one this week and the final question next week.
Bonus Question #1: What's The Most NYC Place In NYC?
There was zero consensus on this question. Likely because New Yorkers have a lot of strong opinions, and NYC has a lot of places!
Among the locations nominated: Canal Street, the knish joint Yonah Schimmel, the T4 arrivals terminal at JFK, Zabar’s, the inside of a city bus and the Marriott Marquis passageway between 45th & 46th Streets.
"It's a tie between your bodega and your local bagel shop," suggested Emily in Forest Hills.
The most frequent suggestion? The subway. Many nominated the entire system, or a particular stop. "The Times Square subway station, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere," wrote Matt in Bay Ridge.
Times Square itself came in second, though one person insisted it had to be "the old Times Square with peep shows and porn."
"I hate to say this because I hate it there, but I do think it's Times Square," said Samantha in Astoria. "It's one of the first places everyone thinks about when NYC is mentioned. It's the 'bright lights, big city' vibes. It's where all your out-of-town visitors want to go. It's where THE BROADWAY is. It's a place all New Yorkers are automatically grumpy about."
Specific parks got many mentions, with Central Park in the lead. Others cited smaller green spaces like Hudson River Park and Washington Square.
Coney Island got shoutouts from several, including David in Park Slope: "A nightmare and a paradise all in one," he wrote.
As did Katz's Delicatessen, "Catering to people from all over the world," wrote Zachary in Ridgewood. "As well as the city's loyal natives who sit at the same table daily, drinking Cel-Rays and complaining about the prices."
My favorite suggestion came from Phil in Sunnyside, Queens, aka my little brother: "I'm gonna go with David's Brisket House in Bed-Stuy. Latin American employees, working for Muslim owners, selling Jewish sandwiches to a predominantly Black clientele."
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