As some of you may know, I managed to snag a relatively cushy job back in October. It’s wonderful – I get paid enough, I can walk to the office, I work normal hours, my co-workers are great, my boss is the sweetest, and I often feel useful. The only caveat is that I run out of things to do pretty much daily. When this happens, I spend a lot of time wandering around the internet, clicking on articles and info-graphics and recipes that tickle my fancy, skimming a paragraph here or there until something else sparks my interest. I like to think that this is a noble way to spend my time; I’m constantly reading and clicking, I must be learning a lot. But I’m not. Rather than gaining clarity and insight, my thoughts become muddled and fragmented, distracted by the ads targeting my demographic, work emails that may require responses in the next hour, or the ten tabs open for the articles I’ll read next. To give you an idea, these things are currently open on my computer:
Outlook – (Work) email inbox
Excel – (Work) spreadsheet of applicants for grants dating back to 2009
Word – (Work) two letters of agreement, an information sheet, a contacts list, a worship booklet in the making
AIPHONE – (Work) security camera and doorbell system
Calculator – I was doing some budgeting earlier…
Google Chrome – Gmail personal inbox with an email to myself pulled up listing links of ten different blogs to follow, Google Maps to the doctor’s office and after-school tutoring, NPR’s First Listen and media player, my yoga studio’s schedule, Pinterest, NY Times Opinion Pages, four tabs for different Thought Catalog pieces, 101 Cookbooks, Mint, and another window for work with three more tabs open.
And my cell phone, which I try not to check during work, is buzzing off the chain in the drawer next to me.
This, my friends, is over-stimulation. I can never finish anything, because in the corner of my eye, something else is beckoning, crying out for my attention. Yes, I’m really interested in Hugo Chávez and what will happen next in Venezuela, but I’m also really interested in this poem about rain, and that free lecture and film screening at Penn, and my friend’s latest photos from Cambodia. My ability to intently focus on one thing for an extended period of time is deteriorating. And I don’t know how to stop it, because even as I type this, I am also editing a coworker’s newsletter piece, checking the bus schedule and the weather forecast for the next week, and searching for beer bread recipes…. I. Can’t. Stop. Doing. Everything. At. Once. Really though – my nightstand currently holds a stack of six or seven books, because I’m reading all of them (not thoroughly or completely, mind you). I will likely absorb less from these books than I would from a passing conversation, and that’s sad. They each deserve my undivided attention, and if I can’t give them that, I might as well stop reading, right? The one thing that helps me slooowwww down is going to yoga class. Breathing, concentrating on being present in each moment, letting the pressures to keep up fall away – these things bring me back to my center and some semblance of sanity. It takes a while to reach that point, but once I’m there, everything seems so clear.
Along a similar subject, I found this piece in the NY Times about Adderall addiction interesting. I’ve never used the stuff, but reading about the effects of the drug makes it immensely alluring – I can see how easy it would be to become dependent.
This short lecture excerpt about our education system also has a bit to say about over-stimulation and losing focus, there are some valuable thoughts here: