Not All There

I got thinking after church this weekend, and realized I am Very Distracted. I chalk it up to being "task-oriented" and "efficient"- but often, whatever I am doing, I am thinking about something else. My mind is always working- whether it be about my to-do list at home, my tasks at work, a discussion I had, an issue I read about, a problem a friend is having, my schedule this week, the grocery list... the list goes on. The results of a mind-that-never-rests is distraction- constant multitasking. It means, very often, when I'm doing one thing, my attention is split between what is in front of me and the thoughts in the back of my mind.

Sometimes this is a good thing. If I get stuck on a problem at work, I'll go and do something else, the problem will turn over in the back of my mind, and I'll be able to look at it afresh when I come back to it. While I'm doing something monotonous like walking to work or washing dishes, I'll be figuring out an efficient strategy to get done all that I need to do that day, or composing a blog post in my head.

Other times, however, the always-moving-mind is a bad thing. When I'm doing something that ought to have my full attention, I'm not "all there". When I'm supposed to enjoying a movie with my husband, I'm mentally going over whether we have all the ingredients for dinner, and figuring out when I need to start cooking. Even worse, when I'm in church worshiping God, I'm doing the same thing. All the things I'm thinking about are good, and probably need to be thought about at some point, but I realize I'm being unfair to God & loved ones if I'm not giving my full attention to spend quality time with them.

One vivid memory I have of being all there is on the way back from my honeymoon. We had looked into Pigeon Forge cabin rental but settled on a lake house in northern Wisconsin owned by an uncle. On my way back, in the car, I realized my mind wasn't wandering, and hadn't been all week. I was totally and completely with Josh during our vacation, enjoying myself rather than worrying. Partly, this was due to no immediate to-dos when we got back, but the absence of worry was very relieving. Other trips that have gotten physically out of my normal routine have had similar effects.

I do a "brain dump" on Josh every night before bed. "Did you remember to do X?" "How do you think so-and-so is doing?" "I was reading today about a study that shows Y causes Z..." Whatever is in my head before bed needs to be emptied before I go to sleep. It's probably very annoying. Another way I've found to empty my thoughts is to write down the ideas I'm thinking- hence, much of what appears on this blog, and the four or five bulleted lists that currently surround me at my desk. Getting the ideas out helps me focus more fully on what ought to have my attention. I'm still learning this.

I could go on- about how a culture of cell phones and IMs has created an expectation of never getting full attention from anyone. Or how I first realized this problem when I picked up photography as a hobby. But I'll stop, for now. Right now, I have other things that need my full attention.


Matt said...

I hesitate to comment on this, knowing it will leave an email notification in your inbox that you have a new comment, prompting you to stop doing whatever you were doing and read it. Ha.

Okay, done hesitating. Here's a nugget of goodness from the Ten Commandments: "9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God." (Exodus 20:9-10) Part of the challenge of a sabbath mentality is preparing in advance to stop. God doesn't say "Rest on the seventh day, and then scramble to make up for the day off on the eighth day." Rather, do all your work in six days, keeping in mind that you will not work on the seventh day, and you will be ready to stop thinking about work on the seventh day and rest.

Part of the reason I always have 10 things going on in the back of my head is that I never think ahead about putting those things to rest. Honeymoons are great because you get really good and ready for them. You mentally plan for a break in work, hobbies, and even friendships to have an uninterrupted time with your new spouse.

I don't mentally plan to stop exploring a hobby when I go to bed or go to work, so it's like a faucet that's running in my head all day and night. I'd probably do better when I start devoting time to a hobby or whatnot to keep in mind that "I'm going to stop working on this when time is up."

That's the theory, anyway.

Matt said...

You might be interested in David Allen's Getting Things Done. It's somewhat trendy, but it's focused on getting things off your mind so that you can be "effectively doing while you are delightfully being." I've got a copy of it, and it's helped me, especially with all the phone calls I've needed to make about the house buying and selling process.

Some of the things that I like about it:

* it encourages you to make lists of things to do, categorized by where you'll do them. That way, you can take out the "at work" list while you're at work and pretty much go right down it, and when you're not at work, you know you don't need to think about it. If something comes to mind, you jot it down, and don't think about it again.

* it encourages empty inboxes. I wasn't very sure about this at first, but it's very nice. One benefit is that, at work, I'm much more likely to notice the emails about "free cookies." :) The other benefit, which is more to D. Allen's point, is that you don't need to keep re-processing all the email in your inbox -- I've got mine grouped into folders called "Pending" (for things I don't need to do anything about, but that I'm involved in somehow), "Requires Action" (for emails I need to respond to), "Upcoming events", etc. Everything else either gets removed or stuck in a single "Archive" that I can search if I need to. Having an empty inbox is very addictive.

Anonymous said...

Well, atleast I am not alone. Try teaching all day and then teaching all night while you pretend to sleep peacefully. I'm exhausted when I wake up and the kids don't make hardly any improvements despite my 24 hr. efforts.
When you find the off switch please let me know :)


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