multi-tasking

Taming the Web 2.0 Mind

Am I the only one who has trouble focusing on a single task? I doubt it.

It wasn’t always this way. At school and university it seemed relatively easy to apply myself to a single task. But these days it seems as if my mind is wanting me to do a million different things at once.

I call this the “web 2.0 mind”. Why? Because I believe the web 2.0 has changed how I act, both online and offline. When online I’m usually busy doing a number of different things at once. Twitter, Reddit, Digg, Gmail, Flickr, Facebook, Skype, blogs…. these are just a few of the places I might I be at any given moment. Doing multiple things at once has become the norm for me, which is why I say even when I’m offline I can find it difficult to focus on a single task. Of course multi-tasking is nothing new, but never before has it been so easy and enjoyable to be doing so many things at once.

You may be asking yourself: does this web 2.0 mind even need “taming”? Well, let me make one thing clear: the ability to be doing a number of tasks at once – ie multi-tasking – is not only an asset, but a necessity, in this modern economy. And as I previously noted, it is often fun to have a number of things on the go at once. However, there often comes a time when you need to put your head down and get a particular task or project completed. And when this time comes, the last thing you want to have to deal with is a mind that is running wild with thoughts such as “I wonder what is on the Digg front page” or “I’ll just check Twitter quickly to see what my friends are up to”. These sound pretty harmless, but it’s funny how 5 minutes can quickly turn into 30 minutes without you realizing it.

The point of this article, then, is this: when you consciously decide to work on a single task you should be able to maintain your focus on that task. If you can’t, you need to work on your mental discipline. As I said at the start of this article, staying focused on a single task is something I struggle with. However, I am improving and would like to share with you what I’m finding to be the keys to being the master of your mind.

Practice Practice Practice

Mental discipline is like a muscle. The more you build it, the more you can rely on it. If you consider yourself mentally undisciplined, I suggest taking on little challenges, conquering them, and then progressing to bigger ones.

Want to try a small challenge right away? Try time boxing, a productivity tip where you set yourself a certain amount of time to work on a task. When the time is up, you stop. Simple. Now, the key here is that when you find yourself wanting to do something else you do not act on that desire. Rather, you stay focused on the task you have committed yourself to. When the time is up, then you can reward yourself by spending some time doing whatever it is you would rather be doing.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness involves being present with whatever is occurring to you or within you at any given moment. This, in turn, helps to free you from reactive, habitual patterns of thinking, feeling and acting. I often find that when my mind runs wild, it is a few moments before I “catch” it. This means that before I can tell myself “I’ll finish this task and then check Digg” I will already be on the front page. Damn! You can see why, then, mindfulness is crucial to curbing such behavior.

An easy way to start being mindful is to practice mindful eating. Instead of shoveling down the food on your plate, slow down and let your senses explore, savor and taste. Also, be aware of your hunger and don’t feel you need to finish eating everything in front of you just for the sake of it.

Meditation

The best practice I have found to date to to cultivate mindfulness is meditation. If you have little or no experience with meditation, you may like to check out this article on How to Meditate.

One of the keys to meditation is the ability to concentrate on a single thing at a time. There are a number of things you can concentrate on, but if you are new to meditation I suggest focusing on your breath. Every time your attention moves away from the breath and shifts to another physical sensation, sound, smell or thought, try to gently but firmly bring your attention back to your breath. Each time you do this you are practicing the skill of mindful observation, thereby strengthening your mental discipline. And as I noted earlier, it is all about practice.

Ok, now that I’ve finally finished writing this article I’m off to check out the front page of Digg and see what’s happening on Twitter. Bye!

Peter writes about how to change your life at The Change Blog. He is also the author of Starting a Blog and Audio Book Downloads.

  • http://heartbreaktown.wordpress.com heartbreaktown

    Even as I read this, I had a hard time focusing because while I’m reading this, I’m also trying to work and listen to the news at the same time. There’s such an emphasis on productivity and being the best person we can be that we try to cram it all in as much as humanly possible – be productive, stay connected to all our cyber friends who are also going at a crazy pace. And I don’t want to miss out. But it is making me a little nuts and causing me problems at work.

    I think a little priority check would be a good thing for me in addition to what you’ve written here.

  • http://writerdad.com Writer Dad

    So, so true. I’m trying to be better about this, but I’ve let web 2.0 define the way I get things done. I’ve started to make a concerted effort this last week to be more single minded when I’m working. Just because I’m doing twenty things at once doesn’t mean I’m getting twenty things done.

  • http://blog.neverthesamerivertwice.com Maria | Never the Same River Twice

    I definitely feel your pain, Peter. My “monkey mind” seems to howl constantly these days. I DO meditate, but the benefits seem to vanish the second I sit down in front of a monitor. I’ve adapted by doing mind-intensive work on paper as much as possible. I find paper much more calming and creativity-inducing.

  • http://www.lifestyleproject.net/2008/11/04/get-what-you-want-out-of-life/ Chris (from Lifestyle Project)

    I think that the biggest problem is how easy and quick it is for us to get our hands on a lot of information very quickly. I am constantly looking at more than one website at once for example. I blame the invention of tab browsing for this!

    @hearbreaktown – perfect example of the problem! I’m the same.

  • http://yes-to-me.com/ Akemi – Yes to Me

    “Web 2.0 mind” I like this ^_^
    So, when you link to another post (on meditation), will I continue reading this post, or shall I read that post first, or . . .? Or you just reminded me how important to check the various social media sites! And . . .

    I meditate every day and it’s a treasured time for my spiritual development. I do something like time boxing, too, even though it’s not as rigid as you described.

    It’s important to realize that our productivity doesn’t always correlate to the amount of work we do. Doing the few critical things well is better than doing so many things mindlessly.

  • http://be4success.net Neil

    Guilty as charged. I find it next to impossible to work on any one task for more than 30 minutes. After that I’m wandering, checking facebook, surfing, researching, you name it. Most times I find I do this to the detriment to my current task. I become horribly unproductive. Thank you for the article and some tips on beating my Web 2.0 mind!

  • http://mysuperchargedlife.com Jeff@MySuperChargedLife

    It is definitely hard for me to stay focused on a single task sometimes. There are a lot of distractions especially on the web.

    I like how you included meditation in your suggestions. I think that quieting our minds daily is very important.

  • http://liveonpurpose.info/blog/ Jessica

    I wholeheartedly agree; the mind needs training, and mindfulness practice is the way to go. It really is strange how fast five minutes turns into forty-five. And meditation practice does not have to be scary if you’re just beginning! Start with five minutes of solid focus and every day add another minute. Lack of focus could also be dietary, can you believe it? I’ll save the explanation for my book…

  • http://www.levnow.com/blog Tabs

    Mindfulness, what a noble idea, I managed the other day, to listen to the radio, watch TV, talk on the phone, surf the net and eat dinner all at the same time. Let’s just say I am surprised I even recall doing all this. Working on a single task used to feel like I wasn’t getting enough done, but I confess the days I turn everything off and focus on one thing are the days I complete all the tasks I have on my list.

    I am all for mindfulness because I actually love the days I get things done without distractions.

    Tabs

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  • http://stephencoopertraining.com Coop

    A couple of weeks ago I put a stop to the mindless scrambling around the web. Twitter to blogs to Facebook…I shut it all off for 4 days and read a great book instead. I can’t tell you how happy and content I was. I’ve returned to the web, but am spending much less time here.
    Best,
    Coop

  • http://e-crave.com/blog/your-virtual-dating-life e-Crave.com

    I’ve run into a number of professional adults who were starting to think they had some form of ADHD–including myself–but I think you hit the nail on the head with this article. My cure was to step away from the laptop and read a book from beginning to end.

  • http://www.pickthebrain.com Peter | Pick The Brain

    Thanks everyone for your comments.

    It’s interesting to hear that I’m not alone with this problem. I must admit, writing this article I did stop a couple of times and think to myself “Maybe it’s just me….”

    @Maria: I like to use paper too when brainstorming and writing articles. I sit in front of a computer all day for work, and sometimes I just can’t face staring at a screen in the early morning or evening when I want to do some blogging.

    @Coop: I hear you! I love the web, but it is definitely possible to have too much of a good thing.

  • http://www.somedaysyndrome.com Alex Fayle | Someday Syndrome

    I do the time blocking thing, allowing myself minibreaks to get in other stuff. I find it really works. I use http://www.rememberthemilk.com to keep me on track, not only with what I should be doing, but when.

    For example, I have until 8am (another 10 minutes) to comment on posts, then I need to shift to something else. When I have time throughout the day I’ll return to the other blogs that I haven’t read yet. This way I might get through 30 blogs, but after my initial hour dedicated time it becomes something between all the other tasks.

    I find it works really well – I get lots done and have fun while doing it.

  • Pol

    I used to be able to concentrate on only one thing at at time, then I got married and had children. Now my concentration is constantly broken with questions, demands, or the need to check on children. Sometimes I yearn for those days alone when I focussed on one job until it was done but mostly I have adapted and the computer does not make much difference!

  • http://www.healthmoneysuccess.com/430/how-to-change-disasters-in-your-life-into-meaningful-events/ Vincent

    The internet has really change our lifestyle into a more multi tasking one. I am guilty of opening up tons of tabs in my browser doing multiple task too, and I can say there sometimes I found myself spending too much time on facebook. :)

    Cheers
    Vincent
    Personal Development Blogger

  • http://desirablelife.com/ Eddie

    Thought it was only me with that problem !
    I manage everything , write every single task down in my OneNote , ignore my friends , my gf as well , but am still in time shortage .
    Life is getting more and more complicated .These days you need a bunch of skills to survive .

    Eddie.

  • http://www.tonyteegarden.com Tony

    Alas, I found I’m not the only one! lol. Although I’ve found myself being quite the social media nut these days and doing the same thing you talked about. As I’m going through the Eban Pagan “wake up productive” course I’ve found I have to “master my distractions” & only “eat in moderation.”

    You hit it on the head, check your twitter for 5 minutes and *bam* 45 minutes just passed me by! It’s definitely about discipline and for me, setting aside my “social time” after I’ve gotten my most high producing & priority tasks out of the way is key.

    It’s true things are becoming more complicated at times and social media is definitely a lot of ground to cover. However how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

    Social media could be like food, only in moderation and only the high nutrient dense foods should be eaten. Leave the junk alone. Food isn’t really complicated once you understand it. I don’t think social media is either, as long as you’re disciplined and educated.

    Thank you for the quick tips and insight. Very glad someone brought this up because I’ve been working at taming the social beast myself.

  • http://themasterssecretkey.com Secret Key Candace

    Meditation is a great way to find inner peace and quiet the mind. This will energize us and make us ready to take on any tasks at hand being relaxed and willing

  • http://www.ichoosechange.com/blog Jennifer Ryan

    I love this article and am so glad to see you post it. At first I think you were going to make a stand for multi-tasking and I had my fingers perched on the keyboard ready to give another opinion. But, you came through with the truth.

    The truth is, we CAN’T multi-task. Not really. Our brains just aren’t wired to do that, and you did a great job of touching on that. So, if our brains aren’t wired to multi-task, what are they wired to do? Focus. Really, our brains are so incredible that if we allow it to do what it’s meant to do, it will perform exceptionally well for us.

    Maybe you could change the title of this article to “Be Kind To Your Brain.” Mindfulness and meditation are great starts! =)

    Jennifer

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