Getting Stoned At Work

It started out innocent enough. A sneak here. A quick break there. Just a short distraction. Nothing too harmful. No one has to know about it.

My name is Aly Lewis and I get stoned at work.

Okay, not literally or illegally. But every day I engage in an activity at work that ‘hurts my IQ more than pot.’

It’s called multi-tasking.

We’re all guilty of it. Checking e-mail. Checking Facebook. Switching from tab to tab. Simultaneously writing three reports, checking CNN, reading my favorite satirical aid blog, composing my next eblast, and adding an event to the company calendar.

This, according to a recent survey, makes me dumber than being stoned. In an article my boss sent around (which I ironically opened immediately because I was obsessively checking my email), it lists Stop multi-tasking as the #2 best way to stay productive, stating, “Switching from task to task quickly does not work. In fact, changing tasks more than 10 times in a day makes you dumber than being stoned. When you’re stoned, your IQ drops by five points. When you multitask, it drops by an average of 10 points, 15 for men, five for women (yes, men are three times as bad at multitasking than women).”

Well, I’ve got the female thing going for me, but still, those numbers are pretty grim.

What’s worse, is I can’t seem to stop. Even while writing this post I’ve checked my email three times, went to Facebook on autopilot then chastised myself, and opened a new Pandora station.

I’m hooked.

If you’d asked me two years ago what I thought about multi-tasking, I would have said it’s God’s gift to people with ADD (of which I think I have a slight case). I would have said the constant change of pace keeps me alert. I thrive on variety. I thought I thrived on multi-tasking.

But over the last couple of years (my third and fourth years sitting in front of a computer eight hours a day), I’ve begun to think that maybe I’m doing myself a disservice. Maybe my constant task switching is dumbing me down.

Always one for challenges, I first realized I had a problem when I decided to test how long I could go without switching tasks.

It was a painstaking 42 seconds…

Maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but sadly not much. As an introvert and a writer, I’ve always prided myself on my ability to concentrate and to get lost in a story. But it seems I just can’t engage like I used to.

Sure, I can get stuff done. I’m a high functioning multi-tasker, as I’m sure I’d be a high functioning pothead. But that doesn’t mean it’s good for me.

The problem with multi-tasking, I think, isn’t that we’re doing too much, but that we’re not engaging in the first place. Because our brains are swamped with information, we’re not present. We’re not engaging in meaningful work or in meaningful rest.

The cure?

Stop checking email? Stop checking Facebook? Stop playing Words with Friends?

Is that even possible?!

I hope so.

In the last three months I’ve made a vow to STOP THE TYRANNY OF MULTI-TASKING. To work on one project at a time. To be fully engaged and fully present with the work at hand.

It’s tough. I’ve managed to increase my concentration time from ~42 seconds per task to about twenty minutes, more if I really get on a roll.

But I still have a long way to go toward the sanity of mind I deeply desire.

There are some great recommendations in this article and this article, such as scheduling email and taking time out to actually read something longer than a tweet. For specific advice on distraction free writing, this is the best article I’ve seen.

Another good place I’ve found to start is prayer. Because, really, this is a spiritual issue of slowing down to see the work God has for us, the work right in front of us.

How can I honor God with my mind if my mind is all over the place?

How can I enjoy meaningful rest if I don’t learn how to turn off the distractions?

I’m reminded of the last stanza in one of my favorite poems by Wendell Berry, Sabbaths 2002:

“Teach me work that honors Thy work…
Teach me patience beyond work
and, beyond patience, the blest
Sabbath of Thy unresting love
which lights all things and gives rest.”

I want to learn a patience not only beyond but IN my work that I may do work that honors His work and honors the mind He has given me.

Readers, how do you deal with distractions? What tips can you give a girl who wants to get clean at work?

3 thoughts on “Getting Stoned At Work

  1. girlhowdy says:

    As usual, illuminating and inspiring!

  2. austin says:

    I really like listening to music constantly, but I have found that even having that in the background is a distraction when I write. I used to think it helped me focus, but I see how much more clearly my thoughts flow when I have silence. I also make sure I only have one browser/tab open when I'm working.

  3. Aly Lewis says:

    Thanks, Kay! And, Austin, I can totally relate to the music thing. Music helps drown out more distracting distractions when I'm at work or in a coffee shop, but if I'm alone, pure silence is best. I am trying to get down to one browser/tab, but it is very difficult. Old habits die hard…

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