And the milk and the cake!
I can hold up these books!
And the fish on a rake!
I can hold the toy ship
And a little toy man!
And look! With my tail
I can hold a red fan!
I can fan with the fan
As I hop on the ball!
But that is not all.
Oh, no. That is not all. . . .”
from The Cat in the Hat
written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss
Random House, 1957
I used to think multi-tasking was the way to go. I tried to be like the Cat, holding onto many diverse objects and many diverse ideas until, like the Cat, it all came crashing down. And we have to assume that the Cat felt focused. After all, look how much he was doing!
Then I read about how multi-tasking is just wishful thinking and that new brain research proves no one can do more than one thing at a time, and do them all well. What our brains really do is switch tasks, nanosecond by nanosecond. We hardly notice our production of tasks is actually slowed down. Some say up to 40%!
According to VeryWellMind.com and other articles, (I Googled “multitasking”) what we are really doing is shifting our attention, our focus, from one task to the next and the next and then maybe back again. This nano-second switching makes it difficult to tune out distractions and causes us to lose focus. It can even cause mental blocks that slow us down and cause mistakes.
Generally, our brains can handle two automatic jobs at a time, like walking and chewing gum. But a third element can create a disaster. Here’s my example. I used a flip-phone for a really long time. The day after I bought my first smart phone, I ran into an old friend at the library. We chatted, and chatted, and . . . well, time got away from me. I glanced at my watch (yes, I wear a watch and do not depend on my phone to tell me the time) and noticed it was 10:00. I was supposed to be at a meeting at 10:00, and I was still at the library without my car. I walked there, but needed to drive to my meeting.
On the way home, I remembered that I could text with my new phone. (I could also text with my flip-phone, but it was cumbersome to tap each number enough times to get to each correct letter to spell out words.) So I turned on my phone as I was coming out of a curve, crossing a not-busy road on my way home. I may have also been chewing gum. I know I didn’t trip, but I think looking out for cars and then looking down into my new phone, made me a little dizzy. I had planned to text one of the others to say I’d be late.
I lost my balance.
I went down.
So. There I was with a scraped knee, scraped elbow, broken (completely, I found out later) one-day-old phone and wounded pride. But I laughed. After all, even I could see, it *was* pretty funny!
And I got to my meeting. And I was only 45 minutes late.
I admit it may not have been my epic failure at multitasking that made me late to my meeting and broke my phone and scraped my appendages. I had lost track of time, which made me want to hurry. I admit that.
But here’s the thing. I had lost my focus. I don’t like to admit how often that happens. It takes a massive amount of concentration sometimes, for me to stay on task. I tend to move from one thing to another, often. Sometimes it takes two days to fold laundry or empty the dishwasher. Not because the job is so big, but because a phone call distracts me or I notice it is time to make dinner or I remember I need to mail a letter. I forget about the task I had started until, well, until I remember.
So this year’s word of the year is FOCUS. It will involve some degree of planning, since I’m not very practiced at that. It will involve list-making, which I’m pretty good at. And probably most of all it will involve discipline.
Here’s to arranging my priorities, finishing what I begin, and the focus I need to do one thing at a time. One day at a time.
All the best to everyone in 2019! And as always, thanks for listening!
-—stay curious! (and focused!)
I just started reading Night of Miracles by Elizabeth Berg. It picks up where her last book (The Story of Arthur Truluv) left us. So far, I love it. More next time.