The Frenzy of Multitasking: A Recommitment to Focus

I have been resisting the third exercise, Observing Multitasking, from the book Mindful Tech, for at least a month now.

At first, my resistance was grounded in the fact that I hadn’t yet started the semester and felt like my multitasking habits weren’t at their peak.

Now that I’m fully in it, however, and feeling the strain of multitasking, I’ve transitioned into a full blown refusal to look in the mirror and realize that the multitasking that I’m engaged in is a response mechanism, and not a healthy one.

Multitasking allows me to feel “responsive,” but I don’t feel productive, focused or intentional.  This leaves me completely drained and unsure at what I’ve accomplished.  It also puts me in a state of mind where I am no longer reflective (but, again, responsive) and in denial that I put myself into this frenzied state through overcommitment.  I can’t get everything done, so I feel like I need to respond to everything immediately or I’ll be aware at how far behind I’m falling.

I guess, in a way, I have been “doing the exercise” after all, just perhaps not through video-recording my screen captures.  I’m definitely more aware of all of the ways and times in which I’m switching my focus.  Even in writing this blog post, although I intentionally shut off my e-mail, I’ve responded to three text messages (in two different conversations), one of which, also buzzed on my Apple Watch (distracting me twice even though I had already responded to the message on the iMessages feature on my computer); opened 3 browser tabs (2 related to the blog–pixabay for the opening picture & amazon to link Mindful Tech and one related to one of the text messages–google maps); and I’ve glanced at my phone which notified me about a tweet from a friend that’s getting noticed. It is not even 8am.  I am not even technically “working” (although, because of my overcommitment and poor boundary setting, I seem to be always working).  Many of these distractions are actually technically “leisure” as I’m arranging meetings with friends and family, blogging and engaging in social media practices.

Without a mindful start to my day, without an awareness of the way my day is set up to breed distractions and shift my focus, I know I will end the day frenzied and exhausted.  I am already starting the day, feeling how tired this pace will make me, is making me, has made me, in the 3-4 weeks since the start of classes.

So this morning, I am admitting that the multitasking is a problem, and (re)committing to more mindfulness and intentionality in my technology use, and in life.  If I can’t get it all done, it almost certainly is a sign that I’m doing too much.  There is no badge of honor for a frenzied state.  I am likely not even getting more done because it is hard to focus on any one thing I’m doing.

One thing at a time. One step at a time.  Pushing through resistance towards greater learning.

#TeamNoSleep & the Quest for More Mindful Tech Use

That espresso in the corner symbolizes the #TeamNoSleep of this post; the rest symbolizes my quest for a more mindful relationship with technology

I’m going to start this post off by saying that I didn’t sleep well last night.

This happens when, every few months, I have a very strong coffee.  I am usually a tea drinker because coffee gives me the jitters, but I had a strong cup of delicious cuban coffee with milk and then I didn’t sleep.  So, if this post seems a little off, blame the indulgence of a cafe con leche.

That preface has nothing and everything to do with the rest of this post, which is on mindfulness is relation to technology.  It has nothing to do with the post because, well, it’s about sleep and delicious cuban coffee, and this is mainly a post about technology.  It has everything to do with it because it’s about mindful (or non-mindful) consumption.

In my life, I am fairly disciplined in terms of what I consume (within reason).  I know what makes me feel really sick and I know what keeps me up at night (clearly); I know that I need to eat, sometimes even when I don’t feel hungry or don’t love the choices presented to me; and I know that moderation is best for most things. I also don’t always make the best choices.  I generally choose well, but not always, and sometimes, I choose the opposite of the best thing for me in that moment, because, well, an occasional indulgence is part of life.  But, I’m very aware of what I eat and drink because my physical and mental health depend on it.

I can’t always say the same thing about my technology consumption.

I’m (ostensibly) working on a book about intentional tech use for sustainability. (I say ostensibly because I have the ideas for the book, but haven’t actually written a lot of it…) As part of my work on the book, I decided to buy, and read Mindful Tech by David M. Levy which is about bringing more balance into our digital lives.  I’ve been wanting to read this book for awhile and I know I need more digital balance (I’m a Libra. I need more every kind of balance), but, honestly, I was worried that the book would prescribe some kind of technology fast (which I’ve done before, for Lent, with Facebook) which hasn’t really worked for me in the past.  I mean, I fast, but then once I’m back on, the old patterns return, and I find some other tech tool to replace Facebook while I’m fasting.

Thankfully, the book really isn’t about fasting.  It’s about observing technology use and then changing to be more intentional (mindful & effective), which, as someone who does action research, is exactly what I need to do, without judgment, and with a lot of curiosity and self-compassion.

Yesterday, I began the first exercise in the book, which was about observing my e-mail use.  It’s funny because Levy’s first exercise is about focusing on one technology tool (e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) of your choice to observe.  I thought I’d focus on Facebook because honestly, I think I have more of a problem with it than e-mail.  But, what was interesting was that I actually wasn’t even aware of how much e-mail rules my life. I check automatically, feel stressed when I can’t respond right away, manage mail across 3 different accounts, and allow it to distract me when a message comes up and I’m around others that I love.  Whew! That’s a lot to realize in 6 hours of observation.  It’s one of the first things I do in the morning, and I get extra annoyed when I see a number (signifying unread messages) next to my mail app.

What I love about mindfulness is that it’s really about accepting what’s so without judging it.  I see my use of e-mail.  I see how e-mail has been occupying (so much) space in my life in ways that aren’t aligned with who I am or my priorities in life.  With this awareness, I can make better choices (like I tell my 3.5 year old).  Even more importantly, if I can start to bring more awareness to how I’m feeling when my use of a tech tool is counter-productive (usually stressed and obligated, which means a physical pit in my stomach and tightness in my shoulders), then I can observe what I’m doing in that moment and (hopefully, eventually) work to change that behavior.

Awareness can empower change.  And I’m excited about this journey towards more mindful tech use.