Philosophical Monday: Attention Please

So I’m finding doing one thing at a time and giving that one thing my full attention to be really hard but really rewarding. I have to fight the urge to check my email when I’m on the phone or continue typing when a co-worker asks me a question or surf on my iPhone while watching TV. But I’ve also had many quality conversations with people this week, given better instruction and feedback to the people I work with, and watched less TV, b/c I actually have to pay attention to it. I actually decided to stop watching CSI: Miami last week, b/c it’s pretty much unbearable if you don’t have a computer or iPhone to distract you from the tired plotlines and their apathetic execution.

Multitasker, Mark Twain smoking a pipe AND reading in recline.

Multitasker, Mark Twain smoking a pipe AND reading in recline.

However, I am running into a bit of an obstacle to paying quality attention to one thing at a time: other people, specifically multi-taskers. Last week I was in a meeting, in which the meeting leader kept stopping in the middle of sentences to answer calls and return important emails. Usually I don’t mind this. I check my own email or play on my iPhone until this person comes back to the matter at hand. But since I’m on the quality attention kick, I couldn’t help but pay a lot of attention . . . to the fact that this person was wasting a lot of my time, as well as the time of the other person in the meeting, who was dutifully sitting there, while the meeting leader answered calls and emailed to the point that the meeting literally took twice as much time as it needed to, b/c we kept on having to reset every time we were interrupted.

It was infuriating. Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s any nice way to say to your higher-ups that they need to focus, because they’re wasting your time.

Also, there were a few instances where I was having a conversations with a friend or loved one and I could tell that they were checking emails or doing other things rather than fully engaging in what we were talking about. So though, I’ve been converting to the gospel of paying quality attention, it becomes a little difficult when you feel like you’re the only one doing so.

It’s kind of like when the devil complains in Mark Twain’s The Mysterious Stranger that he would like to be a good Christian, but he was afraid it would be lonely, because he’d be the only one — well, not that extreme. But you get where I’m going with this: it’s much easier to keep your zen, if you live in a Buddhist temple, rather than with a general population of frantic multi-taskers.

It also doesn’t help that giving your full attention to things is somewhat excruciating at times.

CH and I took a 3-hour Infant Care Class yesterday, and how tempting was it to pick up my iPhone and surf and or return email (like many other people in the class) while the helicopter parent over-achievers asked question after question about which diaper cream was the best and how their sister wasn’t able to produce enough breast milk for their baby and are sleeping positioners a good idea?

I will be the first to admit that fully listening to other people discuss diaper cream to death is not fun at all. But as it turned out, the sister with the breast milk problem question applied to all of us new mothers who plan to breast feed. Apparently dieting, stress, and not getting enough sleep seriously messes with your supply, so at least for a few months, new moms should eat healthily, but keep their caloric intake up, and not try to be superwoman by doing housework or other non-essential activities when they could be catching a nap.

See that’s important advice and I might have missed it if I hadn’t been paying full attention to the otherwise mundane Q&A session. So I’m going to stick with this new habit for the next 14 days, but I might have to start extracting myself from conversations and meetings with people who insist on multi-tasking in order to complete the challenge. Again, is there a polite way to do this? We’ll see.