Single-Tasking in a Multi-Tasking World

I'm going to come off sounding like an old fart here, but I think people are getting really bad at focusing on one thing at a time.

I think we're getting really bad at single-tasking.

I think we can't help but dig our phones out of our pockets while waiting to cross the street, order dinner, get into an elevator, etc., etc., etc.

And I would like to propose a counter-argument.  I would like to suggest boredom.

Boredom is great.  Boredom is valuable.  Filling every moment of your day with input doesn't leave a lot of room for output.

I set myself some dedicated time very day (well, every night) for nothing but output, but let me tell you: it's still a struggle.  Someday, someone's going to write a great study about the effect of constant stimulus on the human brain and people are going to get all wide-eyed to learn that -- hey -- it's not very good for you.

Well, maybe it is.  I'd bet that Layla will be able to multi-task like a mofo (she kind of already can).  If science worked out a way to de-age me to, say, twenty years old, and keep me that way for a couple hundred years, I bet the "kids" would be able to spot me coming from a mile away.

I'd be so slow by comparison.

But that's okay.  What made me think about this -- well, what made me think about this tonight; single- versus multi-tasking is actually something I think about quite a lot -- was helping get Layla 2.8 to fall asleep tonight.

She doesn't like bedtime.  Woah.  A two-year-old who doesn't want to go to bed.  Stop the presses.

Tonight's bedtime adventure involved me sitting next to her bed, not moving, not leaving, just waiting, being as silent as I could, while she settled in.  "Don't go," she told me, so how could I?

I had about fifteen minutes to just sit there, in the dark, doing almost nothing (Jessy was there, too, and she was doing the lion's share of the work).

So I let my mind wander.

And, as these things happen, I had an idea.

Ask a writer where they get their ideas and, dollars-to-donuts, they'll lie to you.  That's not because we don't like you; it's because people are almost always disappointed with the answer.

Tonight's idea was a doozy.  Sorry, A Doozy.  Yup, caps and all.  I won't go into it yet -- this is the seed of a story that will likely change 900% between now and writing -- but from a practical level, this was a fully-formed story idea that hatched, all on its own, as I sat there in the dark.

I tend to think of things in terms of being a writer.  I don't know how, for instance, an illustrator or a painter might deal with a situation like that.  I imagine they could hold the notion of the idea until they found somewhere to scribble and sketch, but maybe I'm wrong.  I figure actors train themselves to hold onto ideas until they can try them on someone.  Ditto comedians, directors, photographers . . . you get the idea.

As a writer, that fifteen minutes of blank time is very valuable.  It's treasure, especially in our non-stop world.  I make a concerted effort to not check my phone constantly (and often fail) precisely because I try to cultivate a mindscape open to single- and not multi-tasking.  I want to focus on a single thing at a time.

It's easier said than done, let me tell you, but when I pull it off, it's great.  I could probably spend the next few hours brainstorming for the book(s) this idea will turn into.  Yeah.  That's great.  I won't -- I'm knee-deep in something else, plus I like letting new, big ideas sit for a little while before I go hog wild on them.

Is there a point here?  I don't know.  Certainly, it's not my intention to get all preachy, you kids who need to get off my lawn, and I would never, ever, every presume to tell another writer how they should approach their work (right now I'm digging silence, but for the next thing it could be thrash metal or opera or showtunes or white noise), but I also think a little nudge is useful from time to time.

So: leave your phone in the other room.  Turn off your internet.  Give yourself a dark room or a blank page and make that your world for a little while.  If you find something magical there, tell it I said hi.