Karl Morris examines the multi-tasking myth and how the benefits of ‘mindfulness’ can increase productivity and serenity.
Have you had the experience recently of sitting in a restaurant and observing the strange behaviour of humans when they are supposed to be enjoying a special occasion or the joy of each other’s company?
Is there anything more saddening to see than two people sat together shovelling food into their mouths, occasionally uttering a few words to each other but in the main spending most of their time checking e-mails or updating Facebook or twitter pages?
Apparently one top London chef has recently banned people from taking pictures of their food when it arrives at the table as they then want to ‘share’ the experience with online friends as opposed to actually putting the food into their mouth and having the experience of tasting and enjoying the food. Food that has been so lovingly and expensively created becomes a secondary experience to telling others about the experience!
We are becoming masters at never being present to what is actually going on NOW.
The ability to ‘multitask’ has in recent times been worn as something of a badge of honour by ‘busy people’ in the belief it is somehow a great skill to have. We hear endless conversations about ‘spinning plates’ and what individual or gender can or can’t multi-task. I haven’t as far as I am aware in the last few years heard too many people say to me ‘Do you know what, I just do ONE thing at a time and really pay attention to what I am doing and get it DONE!’ Getting things done one at a time doesn’t only work on the course but in business as well.
It would seem the ‘multitaskers’ as well as being part of a myth may well be doing themselves actual harm from a brain perspective. A study from the University of Sussex suggests multitasking may be actually shrinking our brain. The study led by Kep Kee Loh found men and women who frequently used several types of technology as the same time had significantly less grey matter in a key part of the brain.
The researchers began by asking 75 healthy men and women how often they divided their attention between different types of technology. This could mean sending a text message whilst listening to music and checking e-mail, or speaking on the phone whilst watching TV and surfing the web. The volunteers were then given brain scans, which revealed they had less grey matter in a region called the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). One of the worrying aspects of the research is the fact that the ACC is involved in processing emotion. The findings of the research project held to be true even when differing aspects of personality were taken into account.
Kep Kee Loh made the comment, “Media multitasking is becoming more prevalent in our lives and thus increasing our concerns about its impact on our cognition and social – emotional wellbeing.” Your brain actually craves the experience of being absorbed in SOMETHING. To be absorbed and fascinated by what is going on in the here and the now as opposed to being in this constant state of low level distraction where we are exposed to so much, but actually experience so very little. The concept of mindfulness has become increasingly popular in recent times and the science behind it seems to be pretty clear, mindfulness is REALLY good for our brain.
What is the principle of mindfulness? In essence to simply BE and pay attention to what is actually happening to you right now in this unique moment in time.
Make a firm commitment to be more mindful in the days ahead of you either at work or out on the golf course. Become more tuned into your CURRENT experience. If you pick your work then make a commitment this week to decide when you start something you are going to stay with the task and get it done to the exclusion of all the possible alternatives. I know in a golf shop this can at times be almost impossible but have the INTENTION of staying with THIS project until it is done, then you can move onto the next.
You don’t fall into the trap of starting this e-mail reply and then halfway through looking at your phone and finding a more ‘interesting’ e-mail you will respond to and then once you start that you just have to check what the latest news is on the internet. By all means have a look at the web but do it as a single task after you have done what is just in front of you. This isn’t a Luddite railing rant against social media, just understanding scattered attention and concentration is not only bad for your actual productivity but it is bad for your brain health.
This is not easy to do, as I am sat here in a busy coffee shop typing out these thoughts my phone sits in the corner and is almost begging me for its attention. But on this particular occasion I have made a commitment to realise I am not so important that the world will stop turning if I don’t check to see if someone has called me or there has been an update on my website. The phone is switched to silent and is face down so I can stay with this piece of work and be here and now with my train of thought. The phone will get looked at again of course but it feels so much cleaner and more interesting to stay with and attend to this moment in time.
I think that one of the main reasons I enjoy going to the gym so much is that it has my complete attention for the half hour or hour when I go. This set of fifty burpees has me here and nowhere else. There is a great scene in the bodybuilding film ‘Pumping Iron’ where Arnold Schwarzenegger talks about putting his mind in the muscle. He describes in great detail the pleasure of the ‘burn’ as his focus is total on the particular muscle group being used.
There is of course a time and a place for the mind to imagine a great future and plan what we want to achieve but for most people in this forward-thinking, media-driven, short-term society the greatest skill we need to learn, is the skill of being absorbed in what we have and what we are doing right now here today. Just take small steps initially and pick that one area to work on this principle. Every ‘mindful’ moment you spend will increase your ability to be present to your ongoing experience, a skill which will not only make you more efficient and productive but in the long run infinitely happier with what you already have in your life.