Yikes, I’m failing at multi-tasking!

Help, my phone is talking to me! Thanks, RIM, for the gift, but now what do I do with it? Just one more voice to listen to and convince myself I should be doing something other than what I’m doing right now. Okay, I thought I’d leave the app on that reads me texts and emails out loud, intended to keep me safe while driving. And no, I’m not driving right now, but I think there’s an app that would let me compose and write while on the road. Really?!!!  Not sure that anyone would want to read my verbalized thoughts while I’m on the road, nor would I want to accidentally publicize those thoughts!

Having shut off the voice, what I’m intending to explore here is our recent fascination with being able to do several things at once. Not a new concept, multi-tasking, but one gone viral with the advent of new and better(?) technology. As I use the term advent, some thoughts arise. The term refers to coming or arriving, and traditionally it refers to anticipation or waiting for something of importance, often a time of reflection, hope and appreciation. However in considering the advent of technology, it seems more like one thing arrives and we’re on to waiting for the next, with new inventions becoming obsolete almost as soon as they’re on the market. Hardly time for appreciation of what we have now. Is this a “technology is evil” rant? No, much of the new technology is brilliant, quite beyond my capacity to create and barely within my capacity to interact with. My question is more about what it reflects about our difficulty managing stresses and relaxing in the moment.

So, today, I can drive, talk or write to people nearby or across the globe, identify music that’s playing on the radio, figure out where I am and how to get where I’m going, record memos to myself, update my calendar and plan my day. Probably more than that, but as I’ve said already, I tend to underuse the available technology. But, can I also relax, enjoy the music, check out the view, let another driver in, and focus on only one thing at a time (preferably driving safely!)?

An analogy would be participating in an event, while focused on planning the next. Have you ever been at a gathering or a party, while mentally intent on plans for the rest of the day, week, year? Do you find yourself drifting off in a meeting because you’re thinking about what else you have to do? Managing household tasks, while holding, or trying to hold, a conversation with a loved one? Lying in bed, supposedly with the intent of sleeping, while worrying what the next day will hold? None of this is unusual – I hear about it every day in my work. In fact, a big part of my work, counselling, is to create a space and time in which the focus is right now, the opportunity to explore what one feels right now about the life that goes on outside the therapy room. During the hour, there is nothing else to be done, no voices other than our own to pull attention away. For some, this is a rare opportunity to be free of those other obligations or distractions.

I’d encourage the creation of such moments of focus on only what is within or immediately around us. If this takes the form of meditation or other deliberate ceasing of activity, very well. But it can also take the form of a walk out of doors, a seated conversation with friends or family, the enjoyment of a piece of music or good food, a sport or exercise, reading (not scanning), making art, music or poetry, playing with a child, or anything else that draws your attention. The only requirement is that it is singular, that is without attention divided by other things you are doing, thinking of doing, or failing at doing.

This seems particularly important to me as we enter, post-Halloween, into the winter season, with its’ frequently frantic schedule of activities. Easy to slip into trying to multi-task, meet several goals with often little success at enjoying them. If you want to enjoy the company of others, simplify your expectations of a gathering. If you want to relax, turn off electronic distractions. If you want to get something done, do that only. If you want to deal with your to-do list, drop off the things that don’t really matter. You get the idea………….. priorize your attention and focus on the road you’re on right now!

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