Lately I have noticed a disturbing behavior of mine – I have difficulties focusing on a single activity from start to finish, without interrupting myself with other tasks. This is not just a typical example of procrastination, which I have discussed to exhaustion with countless friends and acquaintances. Because, although procrastination may take the shape of interrupting (what should be) the main focus by smaller distractions, what I am talking about is something different.
For example, if I’m reading an online news article that requires my attention for longer than 3 minutes, it is only very rare that I end up working my way through the entire article without interruptions. These interruptions may be anything from clicking on links found in the article or looking up a related topic; to checking out that recipe I will need later tonight or responding to a not very urgent e-mail that I received a couple of hours ago. In other words, the distractions may or may not be related to the original activity. What happens is that I end up in a state of undesired multitasking, where I am switching between 3 or 4 unfinished tasks. Since none of the tasks receive my full and continuous concentrations, I end up spending much longer total amount on time on each one of them. Or even worse: some tasks may even be completely forgotten, only to be found by coincidence hours or days later.
A psychologist or psychiatrist (what is actually the difference?) may be tempted to diagnose this behavior with all kinds of letter combinations, but since I trust myself to be mentally very sane, I am happy with just pondering over the causes and problematics of this type of behavior – and how to avoid it. I think the source of the problem lies in the ever-increasing number of stimuli that we get exposed to every day, making it difficult to choose on what to focus. We are overwhelmed with information in which we want to engage and take part, but simply don’t have the ability to decide what is most important to us.
With important I do not necessarily refer to actions that are in fact useful, self-developing, or even necessary. Life is and should be full of time-wasting activities – I don’t believe in an efficient life. But I do think that it is important to have something to devote oneself to, something to progressively become better at. Whether that something is photography, science, cooking, or rock balancing is up to oneself to choose; but in times when our exposure to other people’s interests are literally everywhere, finding one’s vocation may (paradoxically) be difficult.
This was actually one of the reasons me and Gonçalo decided for our three challenges, now almost a year ago. It makes me sad to realize that I haven’t improved much during this time, but as long as I’m aware of this behavior, it should not be impossible to change.