Thursday, March 3, 2011

March Goal: Pay attention to what matters, whatever the hell that is

This looks like an awesome book.
Hope I find time to read it.
This year I'm creating my own midlife crisis. The big 5-0 is a couple years off and it's stirring up a lot of anxiety. I figure it's better to be proactive and have some fun with this phase of life rather than join a commune or run off with my personal trainer. So each month I'm dealing with a different theme. In January I came to terms with my changing body, February was about clearing out the clutter in my life to make room for the new me. This month, March, I'm going to tackle clearing out my mind. It's going to be a big effort, because I am so damn distracted all the time.

It doesn't help that the very place I work (my desk) is a Pandora's box of distraction.  I'll sit down to write and my phone rings, or I check my email and shoot off a few quick responses, then someone comments on my blog and I need to publish it, or I get sidetracked by cute kitty videos or Charlie Sheen's latest rants. Before I know it, an hour has gone by and I've forgotten what I was writing about to begin with. It's very upsetting. Sometimes I have such a hard time focusing I feel like I'm disabled.

I'm not alone. This multitasking and constant interruption has become a national epidemic. In her book, Distracted, Maggie Jackson writes:
Nearly a third of workers say they’re too busy and interrupted to process or reflect on the work they do, according to the Families and Work Institute. High levels of interruptions also are related to stress, frustration, even lowered creativity, studies from Harvard Business School and the University of California/Irvine show. Intriguingly, people who multitask most often are less able to focus on what’s important than those who multitask rarely, one new study shows. The veteran jugglers are “suckers for irrelevancy,” according to Stanford’s Clifford Nass.
The loss of creativity and being a "sucker for irrelevancy" resonates with me. Technology is a powerful, amazing resource, but it can also be a seductive outlet for our weaknesses in character. I can procrastinate like a pro in the name of researching an article. But I can't just blame Google. My lack of concentration also has something to do with my hormones. 

Lately I've had trouble sleeping - I wake drenched in sweat or my mind starts mind racing with all the things I have to do the next day. In the morning I'm cranky and exhausted which all affects my ability to focus. According to the Wall Street Journal, for women my age, the likely cause of these symptoms is the lead-up to menopause.

One of the first things to go is often a good night's sleep. That alone would make someone edgy, irritable and exhausted. But then come heart palpitations, difficulty recalling familiar words, loss of sex drive, mood swings and anxiety.
Women who encounter these symptoms in their 30s and 40s are often prescribed sleeping pills, tranquilizers, anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medications.
Yet all of these symptoms and more—migraines, joint and muscle pain, dry skin, thinning hair, weight gain and digestive problems—can be due to fluctuating levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone that start as many as 10 years before menopause. - Melinda Beck, Wall Street Journal 10/12/10

Oh great, I've got all that to look forward to as well? Well screw it. Whether the cause of my mental skittishness is technology, biology or a character flaw, I've had enough! This month I'm going to do what I can to get quiet, go inward, and focus on what really matters to me - once I figure out what that is.

Frankly, I don't exactly know how I'll proceed on this quest - I checked out a stack of books from the library that I'm eager to delve into. But here are my first steps.

1. Limit time on the computer. I will write, I will check email, I will sign off. No surfing, gawking, or idle investigations.

2. No TV. My habit is to tune out in front of the TV around 8 or 9pm. I'm so tired (from my lack of sleep) it's about all I have energy for. But most of what I watch is drivel. No TV in March. NONE.

3. No News. My morning ritual is coffee and the Tribune. This morning I read about a man who froze to death in his own home, and I can't get over it. I think it's important as a writer and a citizen to be informed of what's going on in the world, but in a month where I'm trying to get quiet and focused, it has to go.

I'm eager to hear if any of you are suffering from the same trouble with concentration, and especially your recommendations about how to deal with it.

But for now, my post is written and I'm outta here.


Laura said...

Hi Margie! I feel exactly the same way - monkey brain 24/7. Yoga has helped me, better than any therapy. It's so freaking challenging for me that I can do nothing but be there for that 1 1/2 hours, no monkey brain, no distractions. I vote you try some yoga classes!

Marjie Killeen said...

Laura, I'm glad it's not just me. Okay, yoga it is this month. In the past I was too impatient for yoga, now it might be just what i need.

AMK said...

I feel your pain. But for me, I sometimes wonder if it's distraction or procrastination... I'm too tired to deal with the projects that I should really be dealing with. It's a vicious circle. I try to turn off email, Facebook, Skype... But there is always a reason to reopen the programs. Do I need to move to a deserted island to start getting anything done?

Marjie Killeen said...

AMK - If we're overwhelmed by all the noise, think of our kids. Do they know how to concentrate at all? Have they ever experienced silence?

Um, what was I saying again...