Technology overload

Last night, as I walked home from work, I noticed for the first time a small memorial garden outside one of the tower blocks near my flat. Having walked past it many times before without ever registering its existence in my conscious mind I was surprised, especially in light of all the useless information my brain does hold onto each day, the majority of which I’m ashamed to admit is acquired through social media.

When I got home I caught the end of a feature on The One Show about the effects of the digital revolution on the human brain. In it, it was claimed our brains are now so re-wired by all the digital technology we consume that, on average, we wake three times a night because of the sheer over-stimulation of it all. After watching this programme did I, therefore, remove my mobile phone from the bedroom and retire early to bed with a cup of cocoa and a good book? Did I heck. I went to bed too late, checking my Facebook right before switching off the light. Then, five minutes after closing my eyes, I opened them again to make some notes about a story idea on my iPhone’s notepad. And again five minutes after that to check for an email response from a friend and add an action to the To Do list. No wonder I slept fitfully and had the strangest dream about a cannibalistic house…

It’s scary to think we’re so habitually ‘plugged in’ to technology that we don’t see things like beautifully-kept gardens even though we walk past them every single day. There’s too much buzz, too many distractions, our choices are no longer our own and, as a result, our concentration levels ‘in the real world’ plummet. I find that all the time with my writing. Whereas once I would think of a story, sit down and write that story, now I think of ten stories and feel so paralysed by choice I struggle to write any of them. That may or may not be down to my addiction to technology, but it probably doesn’t help.

Maybe it’s time to banish the phone from the bedroom and start using an alarm clock. In the words of Mister Tesco, every little helps…

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Is there a cost to reaching our full potential?

So many of us spend our lives rushing around, jumping from one task to the next with scant regard for the strain we’re putting on our minds and bodies by not giving them a rest from time to time. But if we spend too much time resting will we ever achieve our full potential?

According to Dictionary.com, potential is defined as “possible, as opposed to actual,” or “capable of being or becoming.” Would it not follow, therefore, that to reach one’s full potential one must be entirely capable of becoming their best self? And that to be entirely capable one must be entirely focused all of the time – thus relinquishing leisure pursuits and anything unrelated to the ultimate goal?

Take wanting to be a published author as an example; it’s all very well wanting it, but if you don’t have the drive and determination to stick at it when the going gets tough how can you expect to succeed? It’s a well-known fact that even JK Rowling herself was rejected countless times before finally reaching the heady heights of success. She achieved her potential only by working through the low moments instead of giving up, and rising, Phoenix-like from the ashes of the rejection pile to come back stronger and more inspired than before.

Of course the danger of not resting enough is burn-out. It would clearly be unwise to never take a break from your desk, because your productivity levels would suffer due to tiredness. Nobody can concentrate for eight hours in a row – well, maybe David Blaine, but apart from him no one (surely?)

The key to achieving your potential, then, is simple (and best said in the words of the great Winston Churchill himself): Never, never, never,never give up. Unless, that is, you are in dire need of a rest. And, perhaps, an accompanying glass of chilled Pinot Grigio. And on that note…

I think this is the best photo I’ve ever taken, and it perfectly encapsulates the concept of never giving up. This was part of an exhibition at the London Zoo – ants are just the most amazing creatures!

Multi-tasking madness

Today I’ve been thinking about this article which I read in last week’s Stylist magazine which claimed that, rather than being a productive use of our time, multi-tasking can actually make us less productive – and can even be damaging to our health.

According to the article, when we stop what we’re doing and redirect our attention to something else – for example if we stop writing an email to check a text message – the first task can actually end up taking twice as long as it would otherwise have done. What’s more, when we’re interrupted from a task it can take a whopping 25 minutes to get back to our original task – talk about a waste of time!

Multi-tasking, therefore, isn’t really doing multiple tasks at once but rather switching between tasks, which, apparently, makes us more stressed and less able to focus – in all areas of our lives. And speaking as someone who falls firmly into the multi-tasking camp – I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ve usually got at least three to do lists in my line of sight at any one time, all of which I’m simultaneously attempting to complete something from – I have to say it does.

I’ve always thought that skim reading emails whilst heading off pushy sales calls was a genius way to save time, but when the email’s been sent and the sales call closed down I’ll often struggle to remember what either was about. In fact, I’m going to make a confession – just a moment ago I saw an email had popped into my inbox and switched my attention completely to that. And you know what? When I first came back to this and tried to remember what was in the email it completely escaped me!

So, it’s a fact; multi-tasking does make me feel stressed, and if the example I just gave is anything to go by it may even be damaging my cognitive health. But how can I extricate myself from this cycle? They (whoever ‘they’ are) say the first step of recovery is to acknowledge you have a problem, in which case I’m already on that bottom rung.

From now on when I think I’m being super-organised by trying to do multiple things at once I’m going to check myself and realise I’m just working myself up into a perpetual state of anxiety. I shall take a step back, prioritise the items on my list(s) and work through them in a logical and methodical way. When I start each new task I’ll put my mobile phone on silent and turn off the alerts on my email, only allowing myself to check them once that particular task is finished…Hang on, this is all getting a bit complicated. Maybe I should make a list. Will someone pass the Post-its?

Question: When shouldn’t you multi-task?
Answer: When you’ve been drinking cocktails on San Antonio beach in Ibiza all afternoon and MTV approaches you to record a message for their viewers….Yes, we did, and yes, it was aired. Repeatedly. Though thankfully I don’t have Sky.