BANE OF MODERN LIFE: We do not focus on one thing at a time
THE trouble with our jam-packed life is that we have just too much to do. And yet what we achieve in our daily life is minimal, we don't chop wood, we don't trek the long mile, we don't search pages in books strewn all over the floor for some reference material any more. We search-engine ourselves silly. Yet we have achieved so little even with all the time-saving gadgets that we buy.
I had friends who met almost every day when they were here. When I last met one of them the question that popped up was naturally, "Where is so-and-so- your bosom pal?"
"Oh, I have not seen him for almost a year now. You know what life is like here, we have so much to do!"
We are a multi-tasking tribe now, jumping from one thing to another and never having the right amount of time for one thing before we jump to another. We are pressured to peek, to know, to try every little thing going just to satisfy our curiosity. The bane of our modern life is that with access to so much information we are constantly harried by the constant need to know. At work we are pressured to do as much as we can to make ourselves valued employees.
As we have seen here before, no one really multitasks. So kill off all those tabs now on your browser, just focus on one thing. You cannot read two books in one go, but no you say, I am reading three books now to find out something about the Pareto principle. Oh really? Your eyes are focused on three pages at once? Or do you read them sequentially? Yes, that's right, your mind can do only one thing at a time, so there you go.
Your brain starts to function through bloodflow the moment you set down to work, issues signals to whatever part needs to rev up, and then you're set to go. And then you turn to Facebook to see what your friends are doing (photographing some fine food they're about to devour in some fancy restaurant out there, I can tell you), so the blood in your brain flows back to the start-up point, repeat of search for the relevant working parts, and then it's settled on some tasty morsel courtesy of your friends out there.
And then you go back to the work that you started with, backflow to the start, search, and then there. In the meantime, how much focus have you lost in the road from engagement to disengagement to re-engagement?
Learning to focus is key, so say most researchers on intelligence, that nebulous quality of our brain that cannot be located in one area or another. "Because intelligence is such a broad construct, you can't really track it back to one part of the brain," says Duje Tadin, team member of a study done at the University of Rochester on how intelligence works as reported in the Current Biology journal.
Intelligent people have the ability to focus, they are so engrossed in the detail that they seem to be oblivious to background distractions.
This is something we all do every day, of course. As we walk down the stairs, as we cycle along a busy road we do not allow the background to subsume the foreground. People find it hard to focus on the background generally but it is even harder for people with higher IQs. This ability to concentrate on the foreground -- that is to focus -- that makes the brain more efficient, and the definition of intelligence is most likely to be found here.
"This new link to intelligence provides a good target for looking at what is different about the neural processing, what's different about the neurochemistry, what's different about the neurotransmitters of people with different IQs," Tadin says.
The more you concentrate on your task, the more you train your brain to focus, and it is this skill that will ultimately pay off because the brain will learn to think smarter and build its strength for that single-minded purpose.
But the pressure to do as much as we can has occluded the benefits of single-tasking: it is the real time-saver. By single-tasking, you learn to weed out what's wheat and what's chaff; what's business and what's busy-ness.
Which brings us back to Pareto that you were looking up above. Pareto, an Italian economist at the beginning of the last century, observed that 20 per cent of the population controlled 80 per cent of his country's wealth. Other people subsequently found similar debts owed by so many to so few, some even embraced Pareto and turned him into a Principle.
It is difficult to talk about Pareto without going into the usual project management muddle but for our purpose, it may be useful to know that not everything we do in a day is valuable. Some things are best left on the wayside, focus on what really contributes to the quality of your day.
It is so blindingly obvious that we neglect it in all areas.