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.