28/300: Stop Multi-Tasking

We were working on the ‘look’ command. You start with a sit, then put you fingers in front of the nose, draw them slowly up to your eyes and, after eye contact is established, you click and give a treat. It helps to regain your dog’s attention after distraction; to get her back on track when her mind has strayed.

I was doing it wrong.

Carla, the Zen-like instructor at Positive Paws, asked me to change my intention. I was moving my hand, reaching for a treat while clicking. I was breaking the first rule of training a dog: no multi-tasking. “Dogs don’t multi-task. Only humans do that.”

I adjusted my motion, held my left hand next to my eyes while I clicked and then reached for a treat. Penny caught on right away.

Later last night, I returned to a passage from “The War of Art” in which Steven Pressfield writes about the Principle of Priority:

I’m keenly aware of the Principle of Priority, which states (a) you must know the difference between what is urgent and what is important and (b) you must do what’s important first.

I was reaching for the treat while clicking out of urgency, when what was important was that the command be associated with the click. I needed to think about importance, not efficiency or expediency.

For the last month, I’ve been working on mono-tasking, on breaking the things I need and want to do into manageable units of time and focusing my attention and intention on those things for those units of time. I don’t respond to notifications when I’m writing. I don’t flip back and forth between a book or language and e-mail. The result has been better work done consistently day in and day out with less distraction and a greatly reduced sense of stress or frustration.

I’m a serial multi-tasker. I’d love to blame my iPhone or my job, but really, it’s a restless mind that is at fault. Without consciously finding ways to focus, I have the attention span of a gnat after a pot of coffee. I bounce. I move. I jump around and I get the sense that I’m not alone.

Yesterday, I wrote about my progress so far toward achieving my goals. It was a way of keeping myself honest. I use this blog as a form of public accountability. Three different people reached out to me on three different social media platforms to ask how I’ve gotten so much writing done in such a short time. Twenty-seven blog posts and 31,000 words in a novel, 32 journal entries- people wondered if I had quit my job.

I haven’t. In fact I think I’ve gotten more work done while being productive in other areas of my life and mono-tasking is the main reason how. I genuinely do spend no more than 15 minutes writing a blog, 30 minutes (or less) writing my novel and around seven minutes working on my morning journal. I compartmentalize. For 52 minutes a day, I’m focused on nothing but writing. I focus my intention, as Carla might say, on the thing that is important, not what is urgent.

Our modern lives are chocked full of distractions and urgencies. There’s always another thing to do, another thing to check, read, watch or reply to. There’s always something that gets in the way of the thing we need to do. Our technology has made it possible be distracted by urgency and our culture has lionized the idea of being ‘too busy’ or ‘spread too thin.’ The truth is that none of it is actually urgent, we just make it seem that way and the only way to get around it is to recognize that (a) multi-tasking does not equate to productivity and (b) that nothing is lost by taking the time you need to do the things that are important to you.

There are 1,440 minutes in a day. I spend 52 of those concentrating on the thing I love doing and only that thing. That leaves 1,388 minutes for the rest.

You are not as busy as you think you are or want to believe. There is time enough in every day to focus, but you have to make the decision to do so. Trying to do two things at once leads to distractions. It’s the same with people as it is with dogs.

Just ask Penny.

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