When’s the last time you had a great idea while you were staring at your email? I’m going to go out on a sturdy limb and say never. My best ideas have arrived in the shower or while I’m walking to lunch. Never while I’m battling the alerts from email, texts and social media that demand my attention RIGHT NOW.
I suppose we could blame all this distraction on our mobile phones, but they’re just a new venue for an old problem. In her 1938 book, “If You Want To Write,” Brenda Ueland wrote that the imagination “needs moodling — long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering. These people who are always briskly doing something and as busy as waltzing mice, they have little, sharp staccato ideas…..But they have no slow, big ideas.”
If you’re the typical white collar worker, you check your email every six minutes or so, all while trying to do your actual work. There’s nothing slow about that — it’s freaking frantic. So we call for the mythical hero of multitasking to save us from this mess…except it’s the villain. Stanford professor Clifford Nass’s research found that multitasking wastes more time than it saves.
What are ambitious and driven people to do? Ditch our phones? Return to the epistolary days of handwriting and typewriters to slow down our thinking? Well, that actually works, and my nostalgic side would like nothing more, but I’ll give up my handbag and all of its contents before I’ll hand over my iPhone.
We have to find a way to live with our technologies and in our times with focus. Because, as Daniel Goleman writes in his book, “Focus,” our
brains cannot process more than one thing at a time in what’s called “working memory.” We need workplaces that define a “good day’s work” not as time served at our desks and tethered to our email, but time spent in the service of the great results. Here are some measures that have worked at my firm, InkHouse: