A New Leaf Part 2- Minimizing Distraction by eliminating Multi-Tasking
I am beginning to believe that multi-tasking is just a fancy way of saying “I do several things at one time because nothing is worth my undivided attention.”
Yesterday morning, I was sitting on the couch with my son. He was watching Garfield (his new obsession), and I was half-watching/half-checking emails while snuggling in our pajamas. The title crossed the screen for the next segment of the show, and Josh excitedly asked me to read it out loud. I looked up, but the title had already come and gone. “I missed it, honey.” I said. His response was a gut check and a reminder of why I am writing this post. “You missed it because you were on your phone again.”
Technological distractions are insidious for me because I am not even aware I am engaging in them sometimes. It has become instinctual for me to to pick up my phone and mindlessly scroll to fill any moment of downtime I have. I feel compelled to check my emails and text messages in my car at stop lights because those moments feel boring and unstimulating, just sitting and waiting. And here lies the root of the problem. I feel entitled to be entertained and stimulated at all times. This mindset impacts every area of my life, from my relationships to my productivity to the fulfillment of my passions and life visions.
Until recently, I may not have put this together, but now I see that the core issue of wanting to be entertained and stimulated at all times is directly related to the fulfillment of my visions and goals. For one, these distractions have become huge time-wasters in my life. What starts out as a quick scroll on Facebook becomes 20 minutes of my life that I can never get back. Secondly, these distractions cloud my mind with thoughts, images and values that are not connected to my passions and visions, leading to psychological distractions. Instead of thinking about the needs of my local community or the character traits I hope to instill in my child, I am thinking about the best way to style my hair or what Downton Abbey character I am most like (it’s Sybil, by the way). I am focused on the exotic trips my Facebook friends are taking rather than the beauty of the park down the street. I am psychologically distracted from my visions, which makes it more difficult for me to stay focused.
And then there’s television. I love tv. I always have. It has served as a medium for meaningful conversations between friends and a fun way to experience community when others are invited to participate in it with me. It is not all bad. In fact, watching tv throughout my life has honed my ability to empathize, modeled healthy and unhealthy communication and interactions, and generated thoughts and insights about life and relationships that have helped shape who I am. “And that’s why everyone should watch television!”
Wow, I just made tv sound like a day at the soup kitchen. Okay, it’s not all good either. Television has become a psychological and a relational distraction in my life. After a long day, I look forward to spending some time with my tv. When I am bored, I mindlessly turn it on instead of engaging in the world somehow. As a child, if I couldn’t sleep at night, I remember taking comfort in having the television on because I felt a connection to the outside world, making me feel less alone. But it’s a tease. It’s an almost-connection, not a real connection. The characters on my beloved shows don’t ask me how I am doing or pray for me or tell me to turn them off and go to bed. And often, they serve as a distraction from deepening relationships with those in my life who could do those things.
So where does this leave me? I am not prepared to give up technology completely or move my family to an island. Even if I did, I would still find ways to distract myself from living my life and fulfilling my dreams because it’s just in our nature. The psychological and relational distractions will find us wherever we are. So if it’s not total avoidance, it must be something else. I think for me it comes down to this- be intentional. About everything. All the time. Don’t give mindlessness any room to run.
It sounds exhausting, being intentional all the time. But here’s the thing. I think it may be more exhausting not to be. Being mindless makes me lethargic, tired and numb. So being the opposite of that may just lead to energy, focus and engagement. It’s worth a try.
What does it mean to be intentional? I need practical things. I am too abstract for my own good, so let me try to be specific. I am going to try to only do one thing at a time. It sounds simple enough, but think about how often you actually do it. Our society’s values of being entertained and being productive often lead to the pressure to multi-task. Why stop at killing two birds with one stone when you can kill a whole flock of birds with a grenade? There is a time and a place for multi-tasking. But right now, as I evaluate the distractions in my life, I realize I have put too much emphasis on this term and used it as an excuse not to be intentional. So I am going to try to go the other extreme for a little while. Multi-tasking is now my enemy because it leads to distraction and distances me from my passions and visions. My hope is that if I can focus on being intentional (abstract) and only doing one thing at a time (practical), I will be more prepared to combat the temptations of technological distractions and stay on task. What keeps you from just doing one thing at a time?
To help me minimize relational distractions, I have two phrases I want to tattoo on my hands- be present (abstract) and minimize background noise (practical). This may mean turning off the television when I am trying to connect with an actual human or when I have work to do (I am the queen of doing work on the couch with the tv on), but it can be other things for me, too. If I am in a room full of people and a friend is trying to have a conversation with me, I often get distracted by the stories and interactions of others, keeping one ear up and one ear in the conversation. I may need to ask that friend to sit down with me away from the crowd. Minimizing background noise may also mean turning of the music in the car occasionally if I need to spend some time with my own thoughts. What are some ways you have trouble with background noise and being present?
Coincidentally, today is Ash Wednesday, which marks the start of the Lenten season for those who celebrate Easter. When it was first observed in the fourth century, its focus was on self-examination and self-denial in preparation for Easter. In honor of Lent this year, here is my commitment:
No multi-tasking. I will spend this season being intentional by only doing one thing at a time and being present by minimizing background noise. By denying myself the ease of multi-tasking, both practically and relationally, my hope is that it will be a season of self-examination and reflection that will lead to a clearer focus about how to honor my passions and fulfill my visions. Feel free to join me.