How many times have you walked into a room, and gotten sidetracked by a piece of mail and after you opened the mail you realized that you’d forgotten why you came into that room in the first place? You re-trace your steps, hoping to remember what you started out to do, when you get a text that sends you to your calendar which then makes you realize that you’ve forgotten an appointment?
That’s your brain on multi-tasking, a state of omni-directional distraction in which you are very busy, but rarely effective. You are doing at least three things at once, but you can’t remember doing them. You are scattered, your abilities cling for dear life to the slick surface of your consciousness. Tasks scream to be completed, but no deep thought process is ever engaged.
21st century reality urges us to multi-task. Because you can. Thanks to the internet, the smart phone, Blue Tooth devices, it is easy to work on many “channels” at once. Uh-huh, I murmur to my girlfriend on the phone, while I’m simultaneously checking my Facebook page and searching for a restaurant address on my desktop computer. Or I get an idea for a chapter heading while I’m driving. No worries there. I can text myself, or I can grab a notebook and a pen and write at a stop light (which of course turns green long before I notice it). Or I can order my Bluetooth to “phone home” and leave myself a message. All while driving. Or taking a walk. Or having coffee with a friend.
Imagine that drive, that walk, the conversation without the presence of all those digital distractions. Suddenly, effortlessly, you can become aware of the place that you’re in, the houses along the street, the aroma of the trees, the coziness of your friend’s laughter. And the taste of the coffee. No one ever said “mmmm” to a digital device.
If you’re performing three different actions at once, you’re not actually present in any of them. If you’re going through the motions, you’re cheating yourself. And you’re probably doing a half-ass job at each on of those bits of behavior. Why not prioritize? (No, you really don’t need to text someone back the minute they texted you.)
• Edit that “to-do” list.
• Now go deeply into the activities that remain. The time you spend is the only time you have. It won’t return, you can’t get it back. So why not make it matter?
• Deschedule! Leave some blank space on your calendar.
• Enjoy the feel of the towels warm from the dryer. Give the plant some love while you water it. Put down your book, cell phone, whatever and actually look at your partner, listen to what he’s saying.
• Multi-tasking means that you’re always living in the future, not the present. And the present is where the action is!