Saturday, June 12, 2010

Taking Time

I get caught up in trying to do too many things at once. All this multi-tasking does nothing more than take my memory can one remember anything when one's brain is besieged by a thousand things to do?

For instance, the other day I was taking photos of a of the Fledglings who was part of a large group decided to interact with me on the Bird feeder. Taking photos is great, if it's the only thing I am focused upon.

But the phone rang at the same time. And so, while I was speaking on the phone, I was taking photos simultaneously. I couldn't let the Bird get away without capturing it in photos.

Except that my attention was diverted; I could not give the person who called my entire focus. As a result,  I missed some important information the caller had to impart. And I had to call back, apologizing for my inattention.

And here's another example.  Have you ever tidied the house, putting this and that item away, and later realizing you have no idea where you put it?

Somewhere safe, is all I know when I try and find that particular object. 

And this would be because I am not focused on the moment, on the one item I am placing in its rightful spot. My brain is working overtime with thoughts of this and that and the other thing; the item in my hand is not part of what I am thinking about.

From Wikipedia on Human multitasking:

Since the 1990s, experimental psychologists have started experiments on the nature and limits of human multitasking. It has been shown multitasking is not as workable as concentrated times. In general, these studies have disclosed that people show severe interference when even very simple tasks are performed at the same time, if both tasks require selecting and producing action (e.g., (Gladstones, Regan & Lee 1989) (Pashler 1994)). Many researchers believe that action planning represents a "bottleneck", which the human brain can only perform one task at a time. Psychiatrist Richard Hallowell[2] has gone so far as to describe multitasking as a “mythical activity in which people believe they can perform two or more tasks simultaneously.”

The term multitasking began with the computer, which is well able to open many windows, remember where it was directed to go...even remember which site one visited a few days ago. And much more...

When the brain has too much information, it is compelled to restart and refocus continuously. It actually takes more time to multitask. Some researchers believe the brain can be trained to do many things at once; others believe that multitasking is largely limited by the speed with which our prefontal cortex processes information.

But studies also show that while the brain can become adept at processing and responding to incoming cannot truly multitask. And our brains are only capable of storing a limited amount of information in short term memory.

I have spoken with far too many people who all claim to be losing their memory. They aren't really...there is simply too much information coming at us from media and computers and cell phones and ipods and ipads and, and, and...

Author Steven Berlin Johnson describes one kind of multitasking....

“It usually involves skimming the surface of the incoming data, picking out the relevant details, and moving on to the next stream. You’re paying attention, but only partially. That lets you cast a wider net, but it also runs the risk of keeping you from really studying the fish."

This is called continuous partial attention. And basically, this means we all skim the information coming our way, not studying anything in depth. Attention is spread more thinly...leaving a friend on the phone believing they may not be as important as the photo of a Bird.

My poor brain. I thought multitasking was a good thing...A friend told me the other day that on an application form she was filling out was a question about how well she multitasked.

Obviously the questioner did not do his research. Perhaps his question could have been how well the applicant could focus and concentrate.

Right now, the television is turned on to a talk show, I am writing, I answer the telephone, I go outside to check plants battered by a Hail Storm, I feed the Dogs...what on Earth do I think I'm doing?

I believe I am going to take time back. I am going to focus on only one thing at once. No more making dinner, feeding the Dogs, planting an Herb, talking on the telephone and answering an email...all at about the same time. I ask myself...have any of the above list been done with care and attention?

I am not in the moment when I do all those items at once. Rather, I feel scattered, only able to think about the next thing and the next thing and the next...

It is no wonder my memory is poor...I am only partially focused on any of the above. And without true focus, can I remember any of the details I need?

There is a saying I learned in Hospice. And that is when visiting a client, we are to leave our problems at the door. I am going to take this a step further. I am going to leave everything at the door, all the time, whilst I concentrate on one thing or activity.

Instead of living for whatever the next item on my list may be, I intend to stop living in the future. Time goes way too fast, as it is. Why, I ask myself, would I want to make it go any faster? At my age?

I see many elderly people who remember a goodly portion of their lives. In detail. Will I, at that age?

Multitasking...the computer is good at it.

Why not leave it there?


  1. Marion, This is a wonderful post and I totally agree, you can not be in the moment savoring what you are doing if you are doing more than one thing at a time. I have to remind myself of this everyday to stop the madness.

  2. Fabulous post, Marion! I find women to be queens of multi-tasking from having to cook, raise the kids, work, mow lawns, etc. It's either multi-task or die. Now that my kids are long grown and out of the nest, I find myself enjoying the freedom to focus on one thing at a time. It's a gift, for sure. I love your amazing photos, too. Blessings!

  3. I agree that mom's with little kids just about have to multi-task. Or at any rate have to expect interruptions. But certainly it is much more peaceful to attend to one things at a time. Years ago I took a weekend stress management workshop at the Kripalu yoga center and although we did many stress release things the biggest thing I learned was to do one thing at a time. When washing dishes, wash dishes. This sounded rather radical to me at the time. However, I embarked on trying this and feel I am a much calmer person for it.

    Of course, when I do a task such as write or paint, I am naturally there in the moment. That''s why I love it so.

    Thought provoking post Marion. thanks.

  4. The kids in my second grade classes give evidence of the theories here - they cannot focus. When asked what they do when they're not in school, invariably they have been playing video games, talking with friends, watching TV and trying to listen to parents all at the same time. They have lost the ability to focus in all that noise and confusion. I'm with you - I don't want to give away my time. But, how to train kids to do the same? We do yoga in my classes to calm the children and get them to pay attention. Now, how to train the parents...

  5. Annie Coe,

    You're right, Annie, it is madness! And yet I fall into that same trap over and over, finding at the end of it all that I remember very little of what I was doing. Good luck with living in the moment...I'm thinking it is going to take some hard focus and concentration for me to do so!


    Of course you're right. With small children, moms (and dads) have to multitask. And I have a thought...I wonder if when we are younger, our brains can take more scatterment,(I just made up that word, ha)and still remember. If I had small children now, at my age, I know I would not remember little Johnny's baseball game, Sue's ballet lessons,Jimmy's trombone lesson or Robin's singing lessons,school, all at the same time. Because each child would require different clothing, instruments, etc., I would find myself totally boggled. And anxious. I can imagine saying to small kids...just a sec, Mom's living in the moment right now!

    That being said, living in the moment cuts down on anxiety and stress. There is such peace in doing so!


    My stress reducer and life in the moment pastime is gardening. I have had people question me on it...people who don't love the feel of the Earth, the smells, the sounds, the true focus on the plantling that is going into the ground and will grow.

    Suki, you have so much experience in this sort of thing. And so much education...if I envied anybody, it would be you. I love it when people grab their gifts and just run with them,and just understand this is salvation to work with them.

  6. Pauline,

    Yes, my daughter is a teacher and says much the same. But she teaches middle school, by which time scattered brains are the norm. Yoga is extremely good, even at that young age, I would think...I remember Bree doing it in grades two or three.

    I think exercise is good all around with children. Just be doing the act, kids would be in the moment, if only for a sec. I don't know, I guess parents would have to put a limit on the time taken with their kids' electronics. But then, having had children, all those kids would focus on was how much time would it be before they could have their ipods back.

    But research also suggests that children will develop their prefontal cortex to a larger degree than their parents. I certainly hope so...

  7. Dear Marion:

    I agree, multitasking is underrated. Focusing on one thing at a time allows us to fully live in the moment. It reminds me of this saying by Thich Nhat Hanh:

    "To my mind, the idea that doing dishes is unpleasant can occur only when you aren't doing them. Once you are standing in front of the sink with your sleeves rolled up and your hands in the warm water, it is really quite pleasant. I enjoy taking my time with each dish, being fully aware of the dish, the water, and each movement of my hands. I know that if I hurry in order to eat dessert sooner, the time of washing dishes will be unpleasant and not worth living. That would be a pity,for each minute, each second of life is a miracle. The dishes themselves and that fact that I am here washing them are miracles!"

  8. I refuse to let the telephone guide my actions. I let most calls go to messages and respond to those calls which need returning. Most times the message suffices -- as it should be with an answering machine.

    A few exercises in concentration should help your fluid thoughts.
    I hope that you can retrieve control; but I know that you can.

  9. Excellent post. Yes, we do have data coming at us from all directions, but doing only one thing at a time would be rather boring.

    I find that the computer actually helps me by organizing my priorities with a calendar. Any important message comes to me by email so it doesn't interrupt. And I never answer the phone so that I get the message without the time consuming conversation that often ensues.

  10. my darling friend, i missed this post and i don't know how. so here i am now, soaking in every single word. you are so right. it's not just my mind bouncing me around. it's also my ego. keep up. be liked. do more.

    thank you for putting ONE critical thought in my ONE weary brain. i will remember.

    love always,

  11. Anonymous10:35 p.m.

    Thanks for this reminder:multitasking is a myth. How far away from nature we have come.We are rewarded and admired if we can spread ourselves in multiple directions and made to feel inadequate if we don't. It is time to let go of this myth.

  12. Excellent post. Having had a career where the phone never stopped and I had to answer every call plus try and get my stats and letters done at the same time I am a huge victim of multi tasking. Now that I am retired I must do at least two things at once or I get bored. When surfing the web I always have the TV on, same goes with reading, have always managed to read and either listen to the radio or TV while doing so (that came from school days when reading a book on my lap and listening to the teacher at the same time), unnerves many of my friends. Will try and concentrate on one thing at a time as my memory is a bit haywire these days and maybe multi tasking is the cause LOL.

    Love the photos.

  13. Nicole,

    I have read Thich Nhat Hanh; I remember this passage well, since I read it early in my life. It made a huge impression on me. I tried and tried to wash, eat, dress in a mindful way and succeeded sometimes. It does take a lot of practice.

    But I have fallen away from it, the concentrating on the one thing my hands may be busy with. And as Nanh says, I am negating each second of life, if I try and get finished with something, only to go quickly on to the next thing and the next. I want to be present NOW. I continue, also, to think of Eckhart Tolle...that man is so serene and peaceful, a result of staying present in each moment.


    I let the machine answer for me at one time; now with Hospice it is important for me to answer it, most times. And I remember the tests we had in school on concentration...I'm not sure I did well on those, even at that young age. My mind went everywhere at once, unless I was reading a book. These days, I find reading and concentrating on it difficult. And so I read know the ones with snippets of info all over the place. And you know, you're right...I will control my scattered thoughts, especially since I am now aware of them!


    It's a good way to let those machines work for us, instead of us working for them. My partner Graham as well...he uses the electronics to work for him. But I usually get sidetracked too much, at the present moment, to use them efficiently. There's a lot of info in brightly coloured format that takes my attention away from that which I am attempting on doing. I have the attention span of a gnat!

  14. kj,

    Well, you just came back from New York is alright to have a weary brain from all that stimulation!I feel scattered in our very small town...imagine what I'd feel like in New York!

    No worries, kj, just keep that Ego in his place! I like you whether you comment or not, remember or not, keep up and do more or not. As do all of your friends! And I'm positive about that! xoxo


    I'm in total agreement with you...if an animal was as scattered as I feel at times, he wouldn't last long. I watch the Birds. The only other thing they are aware of at the same time as eating, bathing, etc. are the existence of predators.

    Thank goodness I don't have to be aware of predators...because I would have been eaten long ago, lol! But I intend to change and strengthen my concentration and focus!


    You sound so much like me! And if I may say so, it isn't very restful. I can read a whole book, and barely remember reading it. What a waste of someone's words and work, if I don't retain it!

    I have decided I want what once was a rather sharp memory back. The elders I see, if they are well enough, are as sharp as tacks when it comes to remembering facts and dates, even the weather, for events in their past. And I strive to be like them, because this makes the elders so interesting! They remember their lives...I want to do the same.

    This Bird in the photos was so interested in me, my camera and the phone. As a youngster, he was shy, but since then he has gotten over his shyness and jabbers away at me, from the feeder, the Trees, the roof...anywhere he can find me. He's a sweetie, for sure!

  15. I believe I am going to take time back.

    What a great line this is, Marion. For too long, women have worn the multi-tasking badge like it is something to be proud of. It is the ultimate goal that proves that "women CAN do it all".

    What a lot of BS. How many times have I thought I would accomplish a lot more if I would just slow down and focus on one thing?Taking the time to carefully and thoughtfully chopped the veggies for a salad would certain produce a more beautiful salad. It would also produce a sort of satisfaction in being totally focused on the act of creating.

    I'm sure I would be a better gardner if I would focus on the garden just a bit and at the same time, everyday. I need the structure and the garden certainly does since everything is suffering at the moment.

    Multi-tasking accomplishes one major conclusion; we exhaust ourselves. My new rule is to always love what I am doing in the moment.

  16. Annie,

    "My new rule is to always love what I am doing in the moment."

    Congratulations,'re a few days into your retirement...and the above sentence is perfect for you as you move into a different phase of your life. Multitasking may be a thing of the past for you...

  17. I really needed to read this today Marion! I have felt so scattered. I keep asking myself how do I run out of day and get nothing done now that I'm unemployed? It's because I'm not staying focused on one thing~my brain is over stimulated with a barrage of, computer, yappy dog breaking my silence ;)

    I always feel so cheated when I'm on the phone with someone and I can hear them typing at the computer (or playing a game) and you feel the silence after you've asked a question. Now I speak up and ask if they're present!
    But guess what? I've been guilty of that myself.

    Thanks for the gentle nudge to stay in the moment.

    And yes, I too am still looking for things that I've safely (and absentmindedly) tucked away ;)


  18. I'll be brief. Excellent and well said. I am well acquainted with the perils of multitasking and lament the importance so many employers give the concept.