For many of us, if we’re not doing three or four things at once, we conclude that we’re not making smart use of our time.
I admit that I get a bit peeved when someone calls me and I can hear them typing or doing paperwork in the background. “It’s like you called me, I didn’t call you.” On the other hand, I do understand, because family members on a regular basis remind me to slow down and stop multitasking. Plus, there’s growing evidence that multitasking actually leads to overall lower productivity. With burned dinners and misplaced eyeglasses, I can verify this.
An interesting piece that ran in Time magazine about mindfulness some time ago caught my attention. Mindfulness is a new way of thinking and is just the opposite of multitasking, staunch believers tell us. Time writer Kate Pickert defines mindfulness as “the science of finding focus in a stressed-out multitasking culture.”
She maintains that technology has made it easier than ever to give our attention to “smaller and smart bits.” Her examples include watching TV while paying the bills or texting while driving. I’ve never texted while driving, but I’ve certainly done other things. Many years ago, I had a small accident in Chicopee, Mass. while putting finishing touches to my wardrobe on my way to work. At the time, husband Jim was stationed on a tiny island out in the Pacific, and I don’t think that I ever shared this.
After much research and taking classes on the subject, Pickert concludes, “finding peace in a stressed-out, digitally dependent culture may just be a matter of thinking differently.” There’s even a curriculum, she writes, called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction developed in 1979 by Jon Kabat Zinn, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology-educated scientist. The word mindfully tends to pop up in all kinds of places: like work mindfully, breathe mindfully, eat mindfully and exercise mindfully.
There are some 1,000 certified Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction instructors that teach mindfulness techniques. Classes can be found in nearly every state and in more than 30 countries. There’s even a Mindfulness Institute for leaders. Tim Ryan, Democratic congressman from Ohio, attended a mindfulness retreat by the founder, Kabat-Zinn, shortly after he was elected to Congress in 2008. He, now a firm believer in the concept of mindfulness, believes that the concept should be taught in schools. Ryan has also written two books on the subject: “A Mindful Nation” in 2012 and “Mindful” in 2013.
Digital technology certainly takes a good amount of student time. It’s reported that the average American teen receives more than 3,000 text messages a month. A Bay Area- based program called Mindful Schools offers online mindfulness training to teachers, instructing them on how to help students deal with stress.
One report found that Americans spent about $4 billion on mindfulness-related alternative medicine in 2007. There’s a monthly magazine, best-selling books, and smartphone apps on the subject of mindfulness. Janice Marturano, former vice president of General Mills, wrote a book titled, “Finding the Space to Lead: A Practical Guide to Mindful Leadership.”
Still, with all of this so-called time-saving technology, many complain about little time in the workplace day to check all those emails and many have to check them at home in the evening, over the weekend or on vacation. What about Americans taking less vacation time than any other industrialized nation? Many CEOs, other leaders and teachers ask, where’s the time for creativity and big-ideas thinking?
Pickert offers a few mindfulness tips:
Mindfulness, I believe, can help us to quiet a busy mind, to be more aware of living in the moment, to cope with anxiety and depression, and to deal with stress. Hopefully, we can work to pass this sense of mindfulness on to our children and young people.
Mayrene Bates is a trustee on the Solano County Board of Education.