Well, I promised that I would be sharing lessons learned from my sabbatical with you. You’ll notice as we walk through these over the following days/weeks, that some will be pretty basic lessons (perhaps that I should have learned years ago) while others will be deeper waters. Some spiritual, some habitual (though with spiritual ramifications). Some for how I work, some for how I worship. I’d love to hear your thoughts on each! And so let’s jump into the first lesson.
I have given up multitasking. If you didn’t know already, there are now an infinite number of studies showing how unhelpful multitasking is. Apparantly, it’s not even multitasking so much as it is shifting from task to task for, often, no real reason other than it has popped in your head or vision. Some even have shown at least some moderate connection between multitasking and a decrease in brain density. It may be turning people into literal air heads.
I knew this going into my sabbatical, yet I was still making no change to my behavior. If a text popped up, I interrupted the email I was writing to read it. If a new email came in, I’d put down the article I was studying in order to read it. Increasingly, random thoughts of what could be done would pop in my head and I’d feel almost an inner compulsion to do it right then instead of a more reasonable time. I was getting things done, if in a scattered sort of way.
During my sabbatical, I left email and social media behind. As I reflected on how this was affecting me during my sabbatical, I began to make some more helpful connections. I remembered an old public service announcement that compared your brain to an egg, and the effects of drugs on your brain as frying that egg.
That’s how my brain felt on multitasking. I started to realize that much of my mounting anxiety in the year before my sabbatical was being caused by my multitasking behavior. I was training my brain to be distracted and distractable. I was training my brain to think “What am I missing? What else could I be doing right now? Squirrel!” The studies back up this theory that I was forming from my own experience. Multitasking has a very strong connection to the feelings of being distracted, overwhelmed, and scattered. It’s depressing us, worrying us, and, in fact, killing us.
As this was dawning, I began to realize some of the spiritual ramifications. First, I am called to be a hard worker. By multitasking, I actually am less productive. That matters. Second, multitasking can be a sure sign of a lack of faith, trust in the Lord. Your fear of missing out OR your unhealthy drive to do more are often signs that your belief in the sovereign and good hand of God is weak. It’s hard to multitask all week and then engage in sabbath rest. You’ve made it that much harder to slow down, let go, and trust that the universe actually doesn’t need you.
Third, my relationships were suffering, partially because I was tired from the frantic pace of multitasking, but also because I was treating my wife, kids, friends, church as if they were simply new texts or emails to be included in my work. I was multitasking my family and my faith. Lastly, it was stealing my joy. Not only the joy that is clear from what I’ve already said, but simply the ability to enjoy anything without interruption. I couldn’t even enjoy movies because I was scrolling facebook the whole time. I tested a theory. I went back and watched a movie that I had previously “media multitasked” and watched it with my full attention, and you know what, it was 10x better that way. Sports games are more exciting when I’m not ignoring them half the time. What I’m reading or praying about or reflecting on bring greater pleasure, creativity, and insight when they aren’t having to vie for my attention.
This idea of attention came up quite a bit in my sabbatical. I heard someone (I think Mark Sayers, but he may have been quoting someone) say “attention leads to adoration.” What we give our attention to, we can guarantee will have our affections as well. I believe it was Sayers who said that the most important commodity we have as humans in the 21st century is our focus. Marketers are spending billions of dollars to get you to look at, focus on something – a page, a picture, an ad… And where our treasure is, our heart will be also. Let’s stop throwing around, throwing away our focus. Let’s give that precious attention to the few things that deserve it. Join me in leaving multitasking behind.
It won’t happen over night. I still find myself slipping back into the old ruts, but little by little, it’s happening. And I’m feeling less anxious and more fulfilled as it happens!