Multi-tasking – the Home Game
By Catharine Bramkamp
It is currently understood that it takes 20 minutes or more to re-focus your attention after a distraction (I read that on an email). Every time we hear a ping, we react. We not only lose a few minutes on the distraction, but we forfeit many more precious minutes mulling over the new information, processing it, then fighting our way back to the task at hand. Just when we hit the creative zone again, ping! It could be another friend in Tanzania who lost her wallet or it could be an agent responding to our query of seven months ago. Already distracted; we open another email.
Reacting itself is addicting. Reacting is busy. We look busy, we feel busy. We respond to email and notifications while listening in on a conference call and editing an article due in an hour. Our Puritan ancestors would be thrilled – knit while you pray, talk while you plant – read the bible during those long cart rides to the next village. Theirs and our philosophy is essentially: multitasker can’t get in trouble. We are too unfocused and distracted to do any harm. You light multiple fires in the morning and the spend the afternoon stamping them to ash.
In the first Apple Computer ad, a buffed woman threw a big hammer into an enormous screen. It was a big deal. 2007, the year of the iPhone launch, was another such big moment; the moment our attention splintered into a thousand little pieces. Who knew that original Apple metaphor would be so portentous? The competition for our attention is fierce and we are told to believe that resistance is futile. Do three things at once, answer all texts immediately. Snap to it!
But after a day of reacting, we often find we didn’t accomplish much of anything worthwhile, and yet we are not only too tired to get into trouble, we are too exhausted to protest.
Should we protest? Multitasking has its own rewards. Reacting to new stimulus is fun. Long projects requiring attention and sustained work, can be boring and overwhelming. Even getting into trouble demands some kind of plan.
If all the small distractions of the day are more compelling than the large task you claim is important, it may be time to scrutinize that large task.
You can use all the blocking codes and systems you like that offer a distraction free environment for hours at a time (there are many to choose from which should tell us something) , but if you aren’t dedicated to the project and willing to go dive deep into your creative zone, maybe the compulsion to multitask is a sign that the idea or project before you isn’t enough. Maybe you just aren’t into it – yet.
Like wrenching ourselves away from Facebook, it takes more than a few minutes to return to a creative zone. Give those large projects hours of work, like three distraction free hours. That will help you decide that you love it, and the hours spent have been satisfying and productive. Or those hours were as painful as preparing to rip off a band-aid.
We would do well by ourselves and our own efforts if we separated the Task from the Multi. Determine what is truly important, or better, what you love. Move the project along or move it out of the to do list.
Avoiding a project contributes to our compulsion to privilege distraction over deliverables. No distraction-free, increase productivity, creative zone guarantee program can help if you aren’t committed to the project itself. An hour or two focusing on a single project can be the best way to start repairing the shattered glass of your attention without bleeding out.
Catharine Bramkamp holds an MA in Creative Writing, a BA in English and a professional certificate in Social Media. She has written 17 novels and 3 books on writing. Her poetry has been included in a dozen anthologies including And the Beats Go On (she was editor as well) and the chapbook Ammonia Sunrise (Finishing Line Press). Her current book – Don’t Write Like We Talk is based on her co-producer experience creating 200 plus episodes of the Newbie Writers Podcast. She is the Chief Storytelling Officer for technical companies because everyone has a story.
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