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(Infomagical) Day 1: Zen and the Art of Single-Tasking

13 Jun

Self Improvement 150We live in a world of constant, almost unavoidable connection. At our computers we have the world at our fingertips — we can search for any obscure thing our hearts desire, or keep up on the news of countries around the world. At any given moment, we can check in on our friends and the updates to their lives, big and small. We can watch any of the 300 hours’ worth of new videos posted to YouTube every minute; we can read any of the 150 million blogs on the Internet to find out what anybody thinks about, well, anything; we can read up on any of the 5 million articles there are on Wikipedia. It really does feel amazing to have the knowledge of the human collective within easy reach day in, and day out.

There’s a downside to this, of course. Between the news and blogs and YouTube and Twitter and Facebook and TV shows and movies, it feels like we can get trapped in this cycle of bouncing from place to place just to keep up with it all. If we’re not checking things out more and more often, we’ll end up farther and farther behind. Checking in with friends on Facebook becomes this anxiety-inducing chore; we have to wade through ads and posts that have been shared and re-shared, or get into political arguments with family, friends and coworkers. Wading through Twitter becomes this disorienting nightmare where everyone sure has these opinions about stuff and you have no idea what you’re talking about, but your silence is part of the problem.

At the end of the day, you’re sitting in bed scrolling through Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr just to make the little number badge on your phone go down — not because you’re actually retaining or processing the things you see. And you go to bed knowing that when you wake up, there’ll be a whole eight hours of NEW news to catch up on. You’ll already be so behind on things just because you need to sleep.

Infomania is a real thing, and it can be a major drag on your life. The podcast Note to Self recognizes this, so a few months ago they came up with a week-long challenge aimed at getting people to pull themselves out of the deluge of information, gird themselves with a life-vest, a raft and a paddle, then jump back in armed with the knowledge of what they want out of the stream. Instead of drowning in information, we can actually ride that wave, fish for what we need…and then head back to shore to digest it properly.

That challenge is Infomagical. I went through it last February, and I have to say — it really helped me to establish boundaries for myself and get the most out of my digital life. Now, four months later, I’ve got the chance to do it again. So I’m doing it! And I’d like you to do it with me.

The Infomagical challenge should be approached with one (or more) of several goals in mind. Do you want to be more creative? More knowledgeable? More in touch with yourself? More in touch with friends and family? Or do you want to be more current on what’s happening? The daily challenge is geared towards getting you a step closer to that goal.

Last time, my goal was to be more creative — all of the information I consumed was meant to push me closer to that purpose. This time, I’d like to be more *focused* with my creativity, so I’m going to make sure that I’m geared towards only taking information that helps me to be more knowledgeable and focused on storytelling. Every day I’ll check in here to talk about the day’s challenge, and to share what I learned from the previous day.

Today’s challenge is the most difficult, but also the most rewarding: today, you have to make sure that you do one thing at a time, to completion. That’s right — single-tasking. And these days it’s a lot harder than you think.

According to a scientific study, our brain switches tasks every 45 seconds. Even though it typically takes us 20 minutes to really focus and dive in to a single task. Every switch eats up a little bit of the actual fuel our brain uses for energy, so by the afternoon we’re exhausted and irritable. This has pretty far-reaching consequences for us; our ability to make responsible choices is compromised, our ability to focus is near non-existent; our stress levels shoot way up. And what’s worse is the pattern of interruptions (or multi-tasking) self-perpetuates. After a rash of external interruptions at work, we’ll end up interrupting *ourselves* once it calms down.

So, today, we try to break the cycle. We resolve to work on one thing and one thing only until it is done. Or until the time period you’ve alloted to work on it is over. Keep interruptions to a minimum with the help of understanding friends; keep distractions as few and short as possible. Notice how you feel at the end of the day, after you’ve spent the whole time cultivating focus. And let’s talk about it tomorrow.

Be well, friends!

 

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