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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Can't You See I'm Busy Drowning Here?

An eternal truth of human behavior is that if people can do something, they will do that something – even if it frustrates a larger purpose. Generally, the something is perceived to have a quick value or provide an immediate satisfaction.

A current much-discussed example is that of “distracted driving,” in which one pursues a cellphone conversation or text-messages while driving a car.

You know, you’re on the razor edge of death and/or destruction as you propel a couple of tons of inanimate matter at maybe a mile a minute within inches of vehicles coming toward you at similar speed. And what if a kid runs in front of you, or a barrel falls off a truck, or a sinkhole just opened up, or you hit black ice or . . . .

Well, you get the picture. Driving an automobile is a full-time job. Conducting a conversation, even by telephone and even if you limit gestures, eye movements and all the other usual accompaniments, cannot by any stretch be considered a good idea while you’re driving.

But people do it.

This syndrome of can do/therefore will do can become a way of life in this gizmo-driven age. It doesn’t just involve cutting-edge technology, either. Do you know the average American home has the television turned on seven hours a day? Or it did before everybody split up with their phones of iPods to text, watch stuff, listen via earphone or play video games.

 And you know, a day fully occupied by such choices concludes with a net gain of not much, and a net debit of one more day subtracted from the limited store you started life with. And then you’re old, and then you’re dead. No wonder we have trouble getting things done.

Actually, this not limited to that fabled contrast between the industrious ant and the good-time-charley grasshopper. Serious people frequently express frustration with the reality that their days are crammed and their wish lists overflow, but real progress is agonizingly rare.

I’m fingering the can do/will do way of life for this. We think with our fingers, not our minds. My time gets occupied by the attractive tools of entertaining distraction and/or easy but low-value output. I may lose – or never develop – the ability to identify and employ the priorities that will get me where I want to go.

So what to do?

First of all, we need to be clear with ourselves that the unplanned life is managed by random circumstance, “going with the flow,” and by the decisions of other people who move into the empty spaces in our thought processes. Something as simple as the failure to control your email practices can lose you hours a day.

Nothing is going to improve unless and until you are fed up enough that you’re ready to actually do something. Crystallizing that motivation is Job One. Have a good talk with yourself about it.

This is not as easy as it sounds. Our way of doing things is precious to us. We treasure it, love it. It’s familiar and comforting. The outsider, observing the overbusy person determinedly flailing in circles in a whirlpool, feels compelled to toss a life ring.

“Get that thing away from me,” the doomed paddler sputters. “Can’t you see I’m busy drowning here?” 

1 comment:

  1. I was part of a psychological research experiment 38 years ago, where the researcher's hypothesis was that it is more productive to be polychronic (multi-task) vs. monochronic (attend one thing at a time). He was surprised to find that doing one thing at a time was more productive. And we didn't have so many choices of activities to do at once as we do now. It's the classic quality vs. quantity dilemma.

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