These last two weeks have been filled with vacation, TRAVEL, beach time, TRAVEL, watching the faces of my kids glow with joy as they snorkeled, saw full-sized, 3D renders of humpback whales, and slid down water slides for the 100th time each day. With that travel in between the fun, I have enjoyed a lot of seat time on a plane to consider some of the readings and reflections that I have been assigned. To be sure, every reading has challenged me to think hard about how I lead and what I can do to improve.
This week the assigned reflection has asked that I consider how I can do just one thing at a time. In an age where “multitasking” is a commodity to be sold by the next phone app or laptop program, it’s time for all of us to consider that multitasking simply isn’t real. Some would point to the fact that our brains are more like computer switches than parallel processors, meaning that we can focus on one task/action at a time rather than work in parallel (we don’t have 8 appendages like an octopus). Still others will point to the nature of email notifications, “productivity apps” and insta-gratification demands of the world that we now live in. Those activities and applications are going to pull our attention with notifications and the tyranny of the urgent as long as we will allow them to do so…and we seem to love our notifications.
The kids in my school love their “snap streaks” and daily prizes from the latest game on their devices. Keeping the social media and online gaming off of all devices while at school is a tall order – the addicting nature of these applications (while a marvel to consider how coders create programs that can hijack our brains so easily) is a worthy adversary, to say the least. But the sustained effort by teachers (really, aren’t they loaded down with enough already?!) has proven itself as a culture-modifier as the instances of social media or gaming negligence have become few and far between.
Adults don’t have it much easier. We have so many programs that draw our attention, either by choice or by force. The notification system on our devices seems like a way to streamline information; however, I have found that this isn’t so much of a stream as it is a fire hose. I simply cannot keep up, and the consistent *ding* on my devices has my anxiety levels maxed out. Additionally, as a bit of a gamer myself, I struggle with the draw of the extra game time instead of the screen-free option. There are so many fun ways to spend time (where did those 2 hours go?) on a screen in lieu of real life connectedness. This distraction, while fun in the moment, leave me wanting for more as soon as I stop and devoid of any relationship building I should otherwise have done. I have a great colleague who is an avid reader. He posts numerous book completions almost weekly. I am so envious of his ability to focus time on reading and avoid the screen trap.
So as I work through the Stagen program, I have implemented a few new procedures to help navigate both the need to multitask and the opportunity that presents itself to work on multiples items. These changes have put me back in control of my actions with a bit more consistency.
- I have so many apps with notifications, it’s a bit stunning. On my phone, iPad, laptop, and watch, I am bombarded by these digital carrier pigeons in multiple ways. The programming has certainly given me a false “need” to do something or check something. This method of garnering usage by the consumer has been extremely successful when you look at my daily life. So things have had to change. I have turned off all notifications on my phone save for phone calls and iMessages. In truth, I don’t get many messages, so this kibosh on the *ding* fatigue I mentioned earlier has been substantial.
- I have worked continuously to redirect emails to the right location (often times that location is the trash). With new Smart Folders and filters, my mail works for me now. Instead of the fire hose of information, I have narrowed the scope of what I receive into smaller, more manageable bites. Further, I have now blocked time each day (twice a day) to respond to email.
- Family and Colleagues will get an end of day response (unless the email is critical – and that usually comes with a text from the boss or family member).
- Students and Parents will get the published 24-hour response time. Oftentimes an earlier response is to quick for a comprehensive answer, anyway. So a delay to stop and process will go a long way.
- The last area of high-traffic digital activity in my life is Slack, our internal communication system. Slack works in parallel with email, though the stream of communication is much quicker and needs immediate response by someone. I’m not sure what to do with this application to slow down it’s requirement of my time. I like to be “in the know” about the various things going on with teachers throughout the day; however, most of the time I don’t provide the solution. Maybe I can say to people that I will respond to Direct Messages, only? I have to work on this one.
- This summer, I have done a pretty good job of leaving my phone behind when I’m with family. Allowing me to forego the multitask option and focus on the people I care about the most has been incredibly satisfying. While it has been easier to do this during my vacation time, I look forward to extending this goal to the time I am at work. Part of my job is to navigate the school hallways, engage with teachers and students, and observe how the programming within my institution is developing. When I have a phone in hand, that process is distracted work at best. I wonder what it will look like when I leave my device in my office?
- The second idea I have is in honest communication with family and colleagues. I have already started to do this, but I am often having to remind myself (and by doing it aloud, those around me as well) that I simply cannot do more than one thing at a time. I need to focus on one task to its completion prior to starting or engaging another.
- This single-task focus also applies to my calendar. By filling it with tasks or events throughout the day (even walkabout time, email response time, and “meetings with myself” to reflect on the day and create movement towards a vision), I can program single-focus activity.
So my path is full of ideas, and I am excited to implement them. What ways are you navigating in order to cancel out the multi-task demands that our daily lives place upon us? How are you taking control of your time?