Multi Task Nation
The way we spend our time is also the way we allow our attention to be taken. Even when at work with defined tasks to perform, the way we divide our attention carries
a lot of weight. We can wind up focused, with energy to spare, or distracted, drained and struggling to stay on task.
In one sense, the world is constantly vying for our attention, thousands of different possibilities, both out there, and in our heads. The internet available from multiple entry points only adds to this already limitless number of choices for where to put our attention.
What you allow to take hold of your attention first of all burns your energy, biologically and other wise. And it does something else, it determines for the moment a great deal of your state of mind, what you see hear feel think — what you are in the moment, what state you are in, – not something I personally like to leave up to random stimuli to determine.
In particular, the way we divide our attention, utilizing the inherent ability to focus on more than one thing at a time (after all life doesn’t get in line) is something that increasingly calls our attention. And the way we invest that attention with high or low intensity of focus is also quite important.
Let’s play with terms for a bit shall we?
We all know the term multitasking – starting to become synonymous with living – unfortunately. The ability to multitask, and the increasing variety of circumstances under which we engage in multitasking can be an unfortunate drain on our energy and focus. I read a study where people who felt they were good at multitasking were measured in their performance level when they moved from one task to more tasks. Even though they felt they were performing just as well, the results showed the opposite.
But the issues around multitasking have been explored many times, let’s move on to another issue with how our attention is captured, something I call Schizo-tasking. This is what happens when you begin to engage in multiple tasks and to go back and forth between them.
This can go on for long stretches with many screens up on your computer, phone calls and other tasks coming on and offline as you attention is constantly shifting from one screen/task to another. You may feel a burst of energy as you power through the shifts in attention from one to another.
But at some point, this mode of operation seems to take its toll. You find yourself fuzzy headed and “burnt out,” that is unable to focus effectively, tired, overextended. The idea that our attention is a valuable resource, and more a reservoir of self does not enter into this equation. But we do feel it.
And then there is what I call- Gonzo-tasking.
This is what happens when you are diving into a small menial task with the energy of a major life’s event. II have a couple of emails to write for example, and none of them are life shaking issues, but the y are on my pile of to do’s. It’s late and I’m tired, or it’s early and I’ve just barely begun, but I feel that if I burn through them, pushing, hoping I can get them done in a few minutes and then still have time for 16 other things before I leave the house. What we are missing here of course is the complete mismatch between the energy level and the magnitude of the task. We are also missing the fact that we do not have unlimited energy and that there could be too much usage on small things that is going to leave us exhausted and struggling to marshal the attention a few hours from now for genuinely larger tasks and issues.
When I first recognized I was “schizo-tasking” I felt I had to name it, to recognize what I was doing to myself letting my attention be dragged down that rabbit hole. “Gonzo-tasking” soon followed as a recognition. Pay attention to when you mind is being dragged, and the resources necessary for it to travel there. It’s as if the mind is being pushed into a mold, taking the shape of where it goes. Personally, I’d like to have some say over where that happens to be.