The End of Multitasking

Like so many of us, I had become quite accomplished at multitasking. I could be on a conference call, reading email, balancing my checkbook and eating at the same time. Or more accurately, I could move back and forth between multiple ongoing activities quickly and almost seamlessly. I believed that information lost in these transitions was minimal – I could fake undivided attention and pretty much get away with it.

All the while my brain would rush along unfocused in other directions at lightning speed, because most of what I was “doing” required minimal attention.

But once my ALS symptoms became more pronounced I realized that inattentive multitasking would have to be replaced with real focus on one activity at a time. No more talking while eating. No more simply strolling lost in thought – now every step requires dedicated concentration. And the consequences of not paying attention can be serious – falling, choking, or worse.

The multitasking lifestyle made mindfulness almost impossible for me. My feeble attempts at meditation or mind-calming were mostly not very successful. That difficulty was ironic because doing all these ”simultaneous” activities was so automatic I rarely thought about them, leaving plenty of brain cycles to become calm and focused. So, I imagined, now that every movement requires dedicated attention, perhaps I can apply that attentiveness to give mindfulness another try.

Sorry to report it is not going that well with that mindfulness thing. I try to sit quietly, just being attentive to my breathing, but after a minute or so the black cloud of my disease (and the fear it engenders) looms ahead and darkens the bright sky of clarity that was starting to become more luminous.

So I must learn to apply that same dedicated activity focus to “non-activities” such as meditation and stillness. Just as I am working hard physically to maintain as much strength as I can, I must now begin training my conscious mind to focus on being still and accepting. Not an easy task.

I am fond of using a river metaphor to help me understand my journey. I imagine myself in a canoe on a quickly flowing stream laced with eddies and whirlpools. The strong current will take me where it will. I must trust it because I cannot fight it for long. But I cannot passively sit and float – that is a recipe for disaster against the rocks and the shoreline. I must actively “read” the current and actively steer the canoe. I must keep a firm grip on my paddle.

So what is called for is single-minded focus on steering my life to calm places where I can catch my breath, take inventory and be attentive to the signs that will help me chart my course. Working hard at mindfulness – the irony is delicious.

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7 Responses to The End of Multitasking

  1. tmurphy58 says:

    Stu … I have found the same thing over my almost 30 months since diagnosis — multi-tasking was once just a normal activity for me but not any longer. I also find now that every movement requires dedicated attention – even breathing sometimes … but right now, it’s still better than the alternative. I enjoy reading your very thoughtful and well-articulated insights and perspectives.

  2. Jill Norcross says:

    Another amazing post….I am in awe of your grace and courage, and very proud to call you my friend. Thank you for sharing your wisdom. There are lessons for us all in your eloquent journal and I agree that this deserves a wider audience.

  3. Ok So Far says:

    The river analogy is a wonderful idea. Thank you for sharing. Yes, multitasking is indeed a thing of the past. I’m learning to focus also as this disease progresses.

  4. Dick Katz says:

    look in the dictionary and under your picture–chutzpah!! You are amazing!

  5. you are writing the most beautiful prose which, in it’s own way is a meditative act. Beautiful.

  6. That’s is beautiful written Blog … Yes mindfulness is the way , I try to put all my focus into everything I do Evan it’s just making soup or washing my teeth … I like the river analogy as I also get stuck in eddies but don’t forget to watch the countryside and the flowers as the river takes you along … Sorry your not staying long in London have you an plan for trips around London ? can I help you ? Tell me what you are interested in ? Lindsay

    • rakoff says:

      We have old friends who have lived in London for 40 years and will spend a day and theater with them. Going to PROMS – a longtime wish. Morning at British Museum. Visiting Greenwich – one part of London we have not seen before. Connecting with friends who now live in Portsmouth. Then train to Paris. It will be a test of my stamina. I will miss pub food however.

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