Here is an addendum on last week’s meditation on meditation.
Dr. Edward Hallowell, a specialist in ADD/ADHD treatment wrote a book in 2006 called Crazy Busy (Ballentine). In it he identified something called the “attention deficit trait” (ADT), which he posited was rampant in the business world with the same symptoms as ADD. He says, “Never in history has the human brain been asked to track so many data points.” Our busyness has only increased exponentially since Hallowell wrote those words.
I think the entrepreneur has an especial vulnerability to this attention deficit trait. Unlike most normal jobs, entrepreneurship is never nine to five. There is literally an infinity of things that we could all usefully do every day. So it is easy for business owners to embrace an omnipresent multitasking made possible by constantly advancing technology.
The term “multitasking” was originally applied to describe the parallel processing capacities of computers. The term was transferred to the human attempt to do as many things as possible, as fast as possible, as if the computer model was aptly applicable to human abilities creating new abilities to hustle and bustle.
But the evidence continues to grow that what multitasking really is is a very shallow flitting over the surface of multi-subjects or ideas. Former Microsoft VP Linda Stone describes this as “continuous partial attention” and notes this is a common affliction of executives”, constantly scanning for opportunities and staying on top of contacts, events, and activities in the effort to miss nothing.” (@LindaStone) And the research of Dr. Russell Poldrack, of the University of Texas frequently has proselytized that multitasking adversely impacts how you learn. He says, “We have to be aware that there is a cost to the way that our society is changing, that humans are not built to work this way. We’re really built to focus. And when we sort of force ourselves to multitask, We’re actually driving ourselves to be less efficient in the long run, even though it sometimes feels like we’re being more efficient.” (2011, Trends in Cognitive Science, 15, 11-19.)
What multitasking actually does is allow us to engage in very fast but quite shallow thinking.
I think what this flitting from social media flower to flower is really doing is disassembling our ability to think deeply about the meaning of life in general, as well as dampening the deeper creativity needed for an evolving, innovative business. Our information and knowledge base may be growing but what we add in facts surely weakens us all in integrated wisdom.
Hence our need for the restoratives of meditation, quiet, revery, and even idleness, to palliate our ability to deeply focus. And to regularly escape from the spiritually vitiating gulag of a multitasking ADD Nation.
Seminal American psychologist William James referred to steady attention as the default condition of a mature mind. He said, “The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention over and over again, is the root of judgement, character, and will.” He believed that the mastery of anything was largely the result of learning to deeply focus. Constant multitasking promotes the opposite—a sort of jejune and unsettled perturbation. Per last week’s post, deep focus is restored by slowing down, by conscious moments of inaction (meditation).
Well, I have to get back to my plodding monotasking now, but here’s a final bit of advice from Lord Chesterfield, written to his son in the mid-18th century. “There is time enough for everything in the course of the day, if you do but one thing at once, but there is not time enough in the year, if you will do two things at a time.” So true, Lord Chesterfield.