In the last several years, the “ability to multitask” had been placed on resumes as a badge of honor and even stated as a requirement by employers. However, it has become increasingly apparent that multi-tasking is not quite what it was once thought to be. In order to multitask, time and attention are, in fact, neglected as the delicate resources they are.
Thankfully, the concept of multitasking as a myth has been gaining momentum. For example, The Myth of Multitasking, addresses some of these issues and brings several suggested solutions. The author, Crenshaw, notes that one does not really do several things at one time. Rather, each task is given its own attention and that this attention is shifted frequently. Each shift requires a re-tooling of sorts. It is this re-tooling that is often ignored. Rather than considering doing several things as multitasking, it is instead called “switch-tasking”.
I would suggest that an additional consideration be added: as one repeatedly changes focus, the capacity for attention is actually damaged.
One invites a scattered state of mind that reacts to the environment without active thought or consideration for the overall scheme of work and play. One comes to rely on the environment for stimulation and reacts to it. When it is not apparent what to do next, a person jumps to email, their messages, a favorite social networking site, or whatever browser window happens to be open for guidance as to what to do next. Then, as something else comes to mind, that takes precedence, something else is dropped, and the breaks in attention are perpetuated.
If we are to consider attention as something that can be injured, we may want to consider how to go about repairing attention when injured.
Most anyone has a propensity to lose focus at times. How then do we go about regaining focus? Even good software, systems, and tools such as Getting Things Done, OmniFocus, Things, TaskPaper, or otherwise will not be enough to get to a productive state of mind again.
It is not, then, only something external that will be able to bring about a re-focused mind. We may need to actively step back and ask ourselves, what is it that is preventing focus? How are we to understand these scattered states? How do they come about?
In the next installment, we’ll look at some of the concepts behind what makes a good plan. The scattered mind, after all, seems to be doing anything but following a plan.
“Most anyone has a propensity to lose focus at times. How then do we go about regaining focus?”
This is the pit that most fall into after some time in the GTD workflow. The thing is, it is quite easy to lose focus. Distractions from things we can’t control are the common reason why we lose focus. What we should do is, like you said, step back and grasp the moment so you can focus on one thing at a time. You can only tackle the entirety of the states if you manage to put all the scattered ones in one, manageable stuff
It’s an interesting thought that the scattered mind-state would be a problem with GTD.
Perhaps it is a tendency towards being reactive that is the main concern. If we put all tasks into contexts, as is done in GTD, that is fine as long as we keep the projects themselves in mind. One needs to continually reassess the work being done rather than be lulled into “turning off” the mind while working from a context list. In this way, we remain in control of the system itself.
It may not be just GTD then that can invite a scattered state. Rather, it is any system that is adhered to rigidly that may be problematic.
As long as one adapts the system to suit one’s needs rather than the other way around, the system is likely being used well. Whenever I read a post that starts something like, “this is not true gtd, but …”, I perk up because it is an aspect of work that the person personally thought through for themselves. In this sense, GTD may be a starting point and not an end goal.
I think the GTD system of David Allen is not really a process-based system but a thought-processed-centered system. Scattered Mind-State is the “stuff” that GTD wants to address.
To quote David Allen in his GTD book (page 202): “Getting things done, and feeling good about it, means being willing to recognize, acknowledge, and appropriately manage all the things that have your consciousness engaged.”
Good point on, yes, let the system adapts to your need.
My wife suggests that my seeming inability to keep my home office in an orderly state, to rush out of the house at the last minute frequently, and to spend a fair amount of time surfing various websites, are all symptomatic of adult ADD.
On the other hand, I spend two hours morning and evening practicing the Transcendental Meditation and TM-Sidhi program and have a flourishing career as a pianist and composer, teacher, and journalist. I tend to have a variety of projects going at any one time, and it is indeed helpful to prioritize them and make a schedule. Otherwise in my rather freely structured days working at home, my attention often goes from one thing to another in a fluid, even random way.
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi has said, “All glory to attention…you ARE your attention.” The bottom line seems to be to take the time to think about what you’re thinking about.