This is a big topic in the self-improvement world, and has been for years. "Studies show" that multi-tasking, is, well, bad for you, and for your overall productivity, and peace of mind. And I personally tend to agree...
But, here is what I think it is GREAT for: It is wonderful for identifying what you really WANT to be doing, at any given moment, and more importantly, what you need to be doing in your life, instead.
If you consistently check on other sites (like this one! Ha) when you should be working on something else (like work!) or looking to be distracted in some other way, even if those distractions are "productive," (like toggling between emails and a report that is due, for example) it is a definitive indication that you need to change the way you focus and structure your decisions.
What we are talking about here is CHOICE. And on another level, your choice on what you decide to COMMIT your time to.
I have really been thinking lately about this nagging, little thing I do, a very sophisticated version of the Scarlett O'Hara out-off-until-tomorrow excuse: I will sort of load myself up with this do-gooder, "I must, I will!" feeling....And....weeks can pass, and I stay in the very same loop. Some examples that I am guilty of? Well, I have been making phone calls and volunteer for a political action group, about once per week. EACH week I go in, I get this elated feeling, and say to myself, "This week, I will learn-up much more about all of the candidates in the districts I am calling for..." These are simple actions, and, since I am so excited that I am there volunteering, this gives me an extra punch of joy. But, you know what? I do not dedicate the time the following week to do this! Weeks are now turning into months. Is it an enormous "deal?" Well, no. Not really. I know enough about the candidates I am calling about, and am also supplied with a script and an online resource library to consult. But still! I feel as if I "should" know more. Another example is the way in which I am writing my novel. I write pretty consistently, but somewhere, far off in my head, I fantasize about a time when I will have "acres and acres of time" (to quote Sylvia Plath) in which to work on my book.
Guess what? That is probably not happening in the near future. And I am not going to tie up this post with a bow, and say that it is not important enough, then don't worry about it. Let those other tasks go.
No! I am going to tell you that these distractions, whether they are "real" (internet surfing) or imagined (guilt, fantasizing) really are trying to tell you something.
You have to either adjust the way that you work, make time for the things you really want to do (being more politically aware, cleaning your home, helping your kids with their homework more often, looking for a new job, carefully writing that book or screenplay) and make the changes towards doing so. Simple, huh?
When we are engaged, we do not flip and flop from one thing to the other. When I am writing these posts, for example, I enjoy it so much, I usually do not stop for long stretches. That is a good thing! I am (quite hopefully) going to be able to start making some adjustments to how I also work on my "real" job in the non-profit world, working with the Children's Lifesaving Foundation, so I may bring the same type of focus to jobs that are a bit more tedious, like admin work or writing grants, for example.
There are thousands of posts, books and sites about productivity and focus out there. And I have studied a lot of them. One stands out and I'd like to share it with you, because, in the good spirit of not multi-tasking, we will get right to the source:
I have an online mentor whom I have never met IRL, but has been a huge inspiration to me: Leo Babauta of his terrific blog, Zen Habits. He has a new fully dedicated to this type of amazing focus, as well, and here is what Leo has to say about what he calls "Grand Canyon Focus:"
"Imagine you’re standing at the edge of a cliff, where you really need to concentrate in order not to fall into the abyss. Imagine the intensity of that, the forced focus, the complete and utter devotion to being present.
Now try that kind of complete and utter concentration for reading the rest of this post. No distractions, no pulling away to other things, just stay with the words, keep connecting with me and the meaning of this article. Be here, without fail, or you’ll fall off the cliff.
You can practice this with any task, from washing a dish to writing a paragraph. Fully pour yourself into it, so that the doing of the task isyou. The doing is a full expression of who you are.
To really master this kind of focus, set aside practice time each day. Tanaka-san could only manage it for two hours a day. Try it for just 10 minutes a day, then 15 after a week, then 20 a week after that, only expanding after your practice period becomes too easy.
This is the practice of ichigyo-zammai, which means full concentration on a single act. Zen master Sunryu Suzuki wrote:
“So instead of having some object of worship, we just concentrate on the activity which we do in each moment. When you bow, you should just bow; when you sit, you should just sit; when you eat, you should just eat.”
You don’t have to do it all day long to achieve this kind of enlightened activity. A single bow, a single meal. Just this, and you’re fully practicing.
What do you want to master?"
Can you practice this kind of Grand Canyon Focus with that task, he asks? I love this. This is just a reminder to pay attention when you are distracted. It means so, so much more than you think it does...xo