Diminished Capacity

by Randy Murray on June 8, 2010

A couple of weeks back I had a minor medical procedure that required mild sedation. I’ve been sedated before and this time I don’t think I even lost consciousness. I mean, I can’t remember or be sure.

I walked around that day feeling fine, but slightly foggy. My wife, Diane, drove us around and I followed the doctor’s orders not to make any decisions. That’s very good advice.

When the next day rolled around my head had cleared and I felt slightly embarrassed. I asked Diane about what had happened during the procedure because I couldn’t quite piece it together. She laughed and reminded me I’d asked that same question several times the previous day.  And I felt like I’d had a vision of life in the future. One where I’d lost my edge and my capacity for clear thought.

And I recognized that feeling. It was very much the same as when I let everything pull me away from any specific task. It’s that free-floating feeling of looking up and discovering I’ve spent hours surfing the web, reading, tweeting, falling down the rabbit hole. That doesn’t require sedation and it’s self-inflicted.

I can’t say it often enough: multitasking is not just a myth; multitasking is hurting you. It is diminishing your capacity to think and do good work. I know what it does to me. And I know how to fight it. It’s not a matter of will power. It’s a matter of making choices. You choose how to set up your work. You choose the number and kind of distractions to surround yourself with. You choose.

I’ve also noticed something that I’m treating as a hopeful sign: I’ve been using an iPad for a month now and one of the things that critics initially lamented is one of its best attributes: the lack of multitasking.

First, I use my iPad away from my desk, usually in a comfortable, natural space, like our sunroom or outside on the patio. Next, the device gets out of the way and you can focus on what you’re doing at the moment. That lets me continue to focus and do it for longer periods of time. By not having multiple windows open, vying for my attention, I can let my focus grow, not fight to keep it in place. And, finally, it makes me choose. Do I want to stop reading this book and check email?

By contrast, on my Mac I can pop between applications in a second, or if I have a big monitor, simply shift my eyes to see if I have mail. And I find that if I leave Mail up and running while I work on something else, my eyes are darting over to it constantly. Better for it not to be there at all while I’m focused elsewhere.  Even on a desktop or laptop, I can choose to show and thus to do one thing at a time, and do it well.

Are you diminishing your own mental capacity? Can you afford to do that? What are you doing to remove the distractions and bring your focus and clarity to new levels?

Or are you ready for a life in the twilight, smiling happily and being driven around, looked after, and treated as a child?

It’s your choice.

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