Multitasking is Overrated

(Eighth in a series on working from home.)

Image result for multitaskingSo, am I a loser if I can’t take in a lecture, text a friend, and check my email all at the same time? Everyone else seems to be doing that.

I’ve always had an instinctive sense that when I try to do more than one thing, concentration falters and I suffer an angsty discomfort with no good result.

Turns out that communication research is in my  court, and it has been established since the middle of the 20th century that divided attention leads to compromised  retention. A Cornell study repeatedly demonstrated  that students who browsed on their laptops during lectures performed worse on tests than their classmates who kept them closed. (Hembrooke &Gay, 2003)

Apparently, we’re not actually capable of focusing on more than one  thing at a time, and energy is lost in the effort of the switch.

I often suspect that I am on the receiving end of multitasking innefficiency.  I’ll get emails in which only one of my two questions is addressed, even though I wrote “2 Questions” on the subject line, and numbered the questions in bold.

Or someone on the phone takes about two seconds too long to reply. You can just see them peeling their eyes off some screen long enough to formulate a minimal answer. I often get the sense that people are half-listening or skim-reading.

Worst of all is to be in the sole company of someone who is so into their phone that you don’t feel fully visible to them – like one of those holograms on the Disney Haunted House ride. Many of us who work at home are in danger of preferring the company of an operating system to those pesky flesh-and-blood humans, who are so much harder to control.

My guess is that these last few decades will go down in history as the age of social geekiness, before norms were established around the use of technology that kept people from living on desert islands of screen addiction.

“Remember how dad used to check his phone as soon as it pinged, even when he was reading us a story?” a scarred 30-something  will ask his sister.

“Yeah, and mom never actually saw us kick a goal, ’cause she was always texting,” she’ll reply, and  they’ll shake their heads at the bad old days.

Before that day, there will be nation-wide 12-step tech-addiction meetings. People will stand and announce, “Hi, I’m (Aiden/Emma/Liam) and I’m a techaholic, and my life has become unmanageable.” Everyone will put their devices in the middle of a circle, and will courageously endure the agony of separation in an odd but comforting environment of human support.

To avoid all that, it helps to plan our work in blocks, where we decide ahead of time to stay focused on one  thing. Julie Morgenstern, who wrote, “Time Management from the  Inside Out,” advises that we build screen breaks into our schedules, starting the day with one at least an hour long, where we’re free to do deeper, focused work before getting distracted.

That sounds like a good beginning towards living in such a way that we value people more than things, and work from an intentional center rather than a reactionary swatting at interruptions all day long.

Maybe when we look up from our screens every so often to rest our eyes, we should also take a few deep breaths, and ask ourselves, “Am I paying attention to who and what matters most?”

 

 

 

Why Sit When You Can Stand?

(Sixth in a series on working from home.)

I love working from home. Years ago, when I had to work in an office, I would get up early enough for the commute, put on my binding clothes and walk out the door feeling a pang at leaving the place where I felt most comfortable and free.IMG_20170607_171452142

For many of us, it isn’t the work that we don’t want to go to; it’s the confining space where the work gets done.

No wonder. Human beings were made to move around.

Dr. James Levine, in his 2015 book, “Get Up! Why your Chair is Killing You and What You Can Do About It,” reports on research that proves our norms of 12-15 hours of sitting per day are causing a litany of health problems. Our risk for heart disease, diabetes and obesity is higher than for less sedentary people. We gain weight, we can’t think as clearly or stay as alert.

A 2014 Canadian study, found that the more time people spent up on their feet, the longer they lived.

Our culture is way overdue for major lifestyle changes.

Image result for sleeping at a deskWorking at home gives us unique opportunities to either sit ourselves to death, or keep moving all day long.

On one hand, some people report that working at home leads to less movement, since they don’t need to go anywhere.

On the other hand, we’re free from the office norms that keep so many people sitting. We can stand up for phone calls, to work on computers, to read and write. We can pace around our whole place while we’re thinking through a problem. We can do huge, office-inappropriate stretches while someone’s monologing on a conference call.

We can work in our sweats till we’ve exercised and showered. We can jump up and down 100 times when we get dopey. We can walk around the block to calm down when someone has made us mad.

Our family invested in a standing desk this year, and I’ve been delighted with how much more alert I feel, and how tasks even seem a little bit easier. My sons have used a fold up desk extension – it looks like a tray on long legs mounted on a desk. That worked well too, and was a whole lot cheaper. Working at a kitchen counter or even sticking your laptop on a stack of big books is better than sitting all day. A good starting place for shopping is this review: http://www.reviews.com/standing-desk/

So far in this series on working from home we’ve covered the need to eat well, take regular time off,  set boundaries for how available we are, build good work habits and reward ourselves for the work we do. I think that taking advantage of our freedom to move is another key way to increase our health and productivity at the same time.`

Our Work is as Good or Bad as our Food

(Fourth in a Series on Working from Home)

I don’t want to write this post. I want to start and end the day with chocolate, eat deep dish pizza for lunch and drink coffee all afternoon. I’m working at home, so it’s all right there for the taking, with no witnesses.

I would do this if I could get away with it. But we really can’t. All day long, we choose either the fuel of life, health and high functioning, or the Fuel of Death. When we eat and drink the Fuel of Death, we lose energy, motivation, stamina and clarity. We need little naps. We think negative, circular thoughts. We can’t sleep at night, furthering the downward spiral.Image result for fattening food

I’m not a physician or a dietitian, but here’s what I know for sure:

Too much coffee jitters and hypes us, affecting sleep hours after we drink it. I’ve had to switch to half decaf, and only two or three cups before noon.

  • Too much food at once makes most of us super dopey. Big lunches especially slow us down. It helps to eat a few hundred calories late morning, then again mid-afternoon.Image result for eating badly, eating well
  • Sugars and refined flour – the principal ingredients in all yummy food – give us nothing, tax our organs and load us up with unwanted weight. The harsh reality is that we were made to eat mostly plants that have not been messed with. You know: apples, carrots, salads, grainy brown bread with seeds in it, nuts. Anyone who has tried a few days of this stuff without the sugar and white flour knows how good it feels. Everything is easier because our bodies have what they need.Related image
  • Some protein with each meal or snack keeps our energy more even – an egg, some nuts, a few cubes of cheese, a little lean meat or fish. It also keeps us from getting hungry again too soon and grabbing handfuls of cheese puffs.
  • Alcohol does not enhance work performance, or any performance. It doesn’t matter that lots of great artists were big drinkers. Most of them didn’t end well and we could have had decades of better work from them if they’d stayed sober.
  • Drugs, illegal or misused, do not enhance work performance, no matter how brilliant we may feel for a time.

The statement of the obvious must be repeated until we really believe it; Good food leads to good work. Bad food leads to bad work. I know there are some people who code for twelve hours at a time on Monster drinks and donut holes, but it’s going to catch up with them.

Changing eating habits is really hard. I’ve worked on one at a time, and I’m still far from ideal. Drinking a lot of water is a good habit to start with. Only buying good food really helps. Measuring quantities helps. Planning the day’s food ahead helps.

However we do it, we will be sabotaging ourselves when we try to work without the fuel our bodies were made for.