Back in February, I kicked off a multitasking series here at WU. I had been struggling with focus–even reading novel-length fiction had become a challenge–and I could easily point to multitasking as at least a part of the problem. No small problem, either; focus might be the most valuable asset we have as creative individuals. You know this, I know this, and yet we regularly find ourselves doing too much. Often, we aren’t sure what has happened with our hours, and every day seems the same. Lost time. Lost opportunities. Lost stories. One Groundhog Day after another and an endless winter of creative discontent.
For me, becoming incensed about something often leads to change. Once I read that multitasking had been linked with a reduction of brain matter, I became a little riled up. And from the outpouring of comments on that first post, you did as well.
Over the last several months, we’ve talked about the value of organizing your mind and desk, with hat tips to several valuable resources, including Diigo, Dropbox, and Pocket. We’ve explored Stephen Covey’s quadrant approach for managing time. We’ve discussed different kinds of attention, and the exhaustion of mind that sets in when too many things stake a claim on our time at once (Directed Attention Fatigue). We’ve talked about minimizing unnecessary thought-intruders.
[pullquote]Did you know. . .?
But we haven’t fully explored Attention Restoration Theory–the idea that you can find your way back to a more energized self.
Meditation, which we talked about last month via my interview with Leo Babauta, definitely falls under this category. Today, I’m going to wrap the series with a few additional powerhouse habits you might consider adopting, things that may help you with focus and energy, and counter the worst effects of multitasking.
Reconnect with Nature.
Once upon a time, five neuroscientists went on a canoeing trip in Utah to explore an idea. . . What would happen to their hopping minds when they were isolated, without the Internet, in the wilderness?
Turns out, they were antsy. Until the third day.
On the third day, the sense of urgency that had been gnawing at them, demanding that they get back to their phones and desks and waiting email, faded. They slept better, and felt far more relaxed and focused on the now. It’s what NPR reporter Matt Richtel, who joined the scientists, dubbed the three-day effect.
It seems that the part of the mind that is ever on the lookout for the Next Exciting Thing may be happy enough to focus on trees and birds and cattails and sunsets. And temporarily muting that jabbery, thrill-seeking part of the brain may be enough to help reconnect us with our lost energy stores.
While not everyone can take a three-day trip to the wild to reset themselves, or will want to, even a 50-minute walk can improve focus and energy.
Other things that may help quiet a busy mind:
- listening to music or even white noise
- using a treadmill desk
- doodling, or trying one of the new coloring books for adults
Track Reality in a Journal.
Do you know what’s happening to your lost hours, really?
Try maintaining a journal. Be accountable for your time, no fudging. It’s an eye-opening experience, and as you come to better understand your own nature, you’ll be able to create customized strategies.
Sleep, Writer, Sleep.
Folks who are sleep deprived have inferior daytime focus, and are more apt to spontaneously multitask rather than follow a plan.
And–writer beware–sleep-deprived folks are more apt to lean on tired cliches, according to director of Behavioral Sleep Medicine at Montefiore Medical Center, Shelby Freedman Harris.
How about them apples?
Know your nature. Connect with nature. And nurture yourself. Sounds easy enough, doesn’t it?
And that, my dear WU’ers, is the end of the multitasking series. I want to thank all who encouraged me to go ahead with this. I believe that knowledge is power, and working through these articles has helped me to live with more awareness. I hope the articles have helped you as well.
Have a refill-the-tank trick? A habit that has helped you to maintain your focus and energy? Please share in comments.
Until next month, write on.
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