In our first installment, I wrote about the negative effects disruption and multi-tasking can have on our work, productivity and even our self-worth. Today I am going to share what not to do when you start to feel like your attention is scattered and your heart is no longer in your work.
The example I used was from when I was working on a prized Excel spreadsheet and felt suddenly compelled to answer a brief text message. This quick aside had an outsize negative impact on my productivity in this project, taking me far longer to get back on track than I thought it should. Before learning about the concept of attention residue I looked at my inability to bounce back and forth between different tasks as a deficiency in myself.
After reading up on the science behind attention residue, I realized that the mistake I was actually making was not my inability to juggle multiple simultaneous tasks, but my assumption that I should be able to do something that studies continue to prove is neither natural nor productive.
The first thing not to do when feeling overwhelmed in your work is to despair. When my project was derailed by the simplest side task I asked the question: “What is wrong with me?” Don’t make this mistake yourself.
When it comes to attention, we are in a uniquely challenging time in human history. We are in the midst of what some call an attention economy. Meaning the currency that is being targeted and traded is the attention of anyone who operates within this economy (you and me). As you read this, in conference rooms around the country, there are incredibly smart people with enormous resources at their disposal looking for more effective ways of taking your attention away from what you are doing and directing it toward what they want you to focus on. Every day the technology gets closer to our very consciousness, sometimes making it difficult to distinguish between what we think and feel and what technology is telling us we should think and feel.
The situation may sound dire but I can assure you it is nothing new. Henry David Thoreau, who went to the woods to live deliberately, actually only lived a five-minute walk from the town of Concord which he visited almost daily. After one of these visits Thoreau observed the way that the communication technology of the day (the postal system) was affecting the citizens of Concord when he wrote:
“In proportion as our inward life fails, we go more constantly and desperately to the post office. You may depend on it, that the poor fellow who walks away with the greatest number of letters, proud of his extensive correspondence, has not heard from himself this long while.”
Even Thoreau in his day was familiar with the overwhelm that can happen when we mistake bustle for industry. In the next and final installment of this series, we’ll look at what to do when feeling distracted and overwhelmed, but first, remember not to despair and avoid blaming yourself for losing focus in the face of disruption.
Don’t Go to Sleep
I am not talking about going to sleep in the literal sense, as in Seinfeld’s George Costanza building a nap space underneath his desk. I am talking more figuratively, as in when you get overwhelmed don’t choose to ‘check out’. One of the easiest things to do when we feel overwhelmed by too many simultaneous demands is to choose none of them and instead piddle around in our inbox or on our smartphone — or look at cute cat photos. There is a time and place for cat photos but it is always helpful to stop and ask ourselves why we are doing it. Is it a well-deserved break or is it a defense against overwhelm?
The artist Andy Warhol was famous for walking around New York with several cameras and tape recorders hanging around his neck. Warhol had a debilitating social phobia and one of the ways he dealt with it was by filtering the onslaught of social stimuli through his tape recorder’s mic or the lens of his camera. Are we doing this very thing by checking email multiple times in an hour? Instead of judging yourself for your response to the challenges of the attention economy, why not just make yourself gently aware of what is happening. Perhaps, ask yourself, “am I checking my email because this is a productive time for me to do this or am I checking my email to relieve some anxiety I am feeling at the moment?
Don’t Try to Get Better at Multi-tasking
And finally, do not try to force yourself to become better at multi-tasking! In the following and final part of this series, we will look at some specific ways to get better instead at experiencing Flow or performing Deep Work.
Cal Newport, the Georgetown professor I mentioned last time, talks more in depth about the benefits of focused attention in his new book his new book, Deep Work:
“Deep work will make you better at what you do and provide the sense of true fulfillment that comes from craftsmanship. In short, deep work is like a super power in our increasingly competitive twenty-first century economy. And yet, most people have lost the ability to go deep—spending their days instead in a frantic blur of e-mail and social media, not even realizing there’s a better way.”
Today I have shared some of the mistakes I have made in the hopes that you can avoid them as you seek to find more heart in your work. I truly appreciate all of your feedback so far. If you have ideas or even examples of mistakes that you yourself have made, I would love to hear them. Everything you share helps me better understand and teach on these subjects. Thank you for being a part of this incredible community.
COMING NEXT: HOW TO GO DEEPER IN YOUR WORK RIGHT NOW
Finding Heart in Your Work online
A Month-Long Online Course
“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” – Frederick Buechner
Are you seeking a renewed sense of meaning and fulfillment in your work? Would you like to feel more innovative in your work and less overwhelmed? In this month-long course you will learn how to approach your work as a spiritual practice-embracing your imperfections while cultivating your strengths. Through the use of mythology, film, literature and sacred scripture, we will rediscover a deep sense of purpose for our lives that resonates with both external reality and our own inner truth. Instead of conditioning ourselves to work more, which can lead to burnout, we will explore what it means to engage our work with our whole hearts, and how wholeheartedness can be the antidote to burnout. We will nurture and ground our self-discovery with contemplative practices and rituals so that we may once again find heart in our daily work.
Classes will be delivered online and for our final meeting students will have the choice of an Austin happy hour or interactive webinar. Don’t miss this exciting opportunity to explore your true calling-remotely and in community. Join Daniel in this four-part online course.
Month-Long Online Series
Mar 1 (W)
$75 (Includes 4 online modules [unlocked weekly] + Happy Hour or Interactive Webinar)
$55 (Discount for Seton & Ascension Associates and Leadership Pilgrimage Students & Graduates)
Finding Heart in Your Work – online
About Daniel Hope
Daniel Hope, MA, LMFT-A, is an educator and spiritual director at the Seton Cove. Daniel worked previously at Seminary of the Southwest where he also earned his counseling degree and is now a License Marriage and Family Therapist Associate. Daniel is passionate about helping people cultivate deeper relationships. He founded the marriage retreat and workshop series, The Commitment Project. Daniel also has a background in social media strategy and has spoken at three SXSW Interactive conferences on the effects of social media on business and our interpersonal relationships. Daniel and his wife, Leslie, just celebrated their 15th wedding anniversary and live in North Austin with their two young daughters, Camilla and Violet.