Wherever you are, be all there

Fix our Fragmented Focus

Multitasking is the ability to perform multiple tasks or activities at the same time. The frequency of multitasking is highly evident in almost every attribute of contemporary life. Our daily business necessitates it, and our limited attention spans have been conditioned to require it.

We take pride in multitasking, accrediting our success to its mastery. We liberally add "keen capacity for multitasking" to our resumes. We freely endorse these skills for our friends in LinkedIn. We boast openly of our ability to cook dinner, watch T.V., and read bedtime stories to our children while exercising on a stationary bicycle. While the bread is rising, we make phone calls to family, read blog posts, and organize digital files. This type of multitasking is usually successful. We're saving time, right?

Studies show that when we needlessly divide our attention without clear goals, multitasking becomes rather questionable in terms of a valuable skill. We probably won't remember the name of the protagonist of the children's story, where we placed those files, or if we added salt to our meal. If we take on two unrelated tasks at once, it takes longer to mentally switch between these tasks. Like old-school computers, our minds have to close one program to open another, and this means more time is taken. Juggling programs also reduces the quality of our work, since we are not applying our undivided attention to the task at hand. This causes us to waste time, and results in lowering our efficiency and productivity. Our over-stimulated brains become tired; consequently, we turn into poor decision makers. Our progress, our success, and even our relationships can suffer from trying to be more efficient.

The following are a few recent examples where divided attention produced unnecessary and disastrous consequences. An Indiana man who, while exploring Sunset Cliffs in San Diego on Christmas, was too focused on taking a photo that he walked right off the cliffs. This man was so desensitized by years of multitasking that his mind failed to switch between tasks, resulting in a fatal mistake. Last year, two buses collided, killing several students and a teacher's aid. When it was revealed that the accident was due to the bus driver's texting, the driver took his own life.

In addition to death, multitasking can lead to a variety of other undesirable results. As our lives become more inundated with technology, we become increasingly distracted and more prone to mindless eating, causing obesity. Careless web-surfing, tweeting, and Facebooking while at work can hinder our progress, or get us fired. Media multitasking can even occur at the at the dinner table, where families no longer speak to each other, and they'd rather silently tap into their devices.

Regardless of its bad reputation, this suspect skill remains in good favor by many. Studies show that people who multitask might be better at dealing with distractions and coping with chaotic situations. Switching between tasks may prevent boredom, and may allow people to succeed in pursuing multiple projects with multiple deadlines. This all sounds very good, however, just as many studies indicate, that when misdirected, as it often is, multitasking can minimize our productivity.

Since multitasking is part of our natural sphere of life, we need to understand how to use this skill to our advantage, instead of our disadvantage. We need to be aware of when we are multitasking and if it is truly assisting our productivity, or if it is taking away from our quality of life. We need to understand the purpose of each of our activities, and set up targets for their completion. In this way, we form a meaningful connection between our daily engagements and our long-term goals. Our quality of life is directly linked to the fulfillment of our goals, but we can't accomplish anything of substance if our focus is fragmented.  To truly benefit from our daily activities, our conversations, and our opportunities to connect meaningfully with one another, we need to narrow our focus. Regardless of what we are doing, to fully reap the benefits, we need to be all there.

Wherever you are, be all there. - Ram Dass