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The metabolism of modern life has speeded up exponentially.  We’re flooded with data, emails, insistent new social media platforms, a voracious 24/7 news cycle, and endless new possibilities and alternatives, all demanding our immediate attention.

How can we possibly cope?

The default strategy for many people is to multitask.  To do it all.  But is that strategy really effective?

Communications Professor Clifford Nass of Stanford University, and fellow researchers Eyal Ophir and Anthony Wagner, put a group of 100 students through a series of three different tests to find out.

In each of the three tests, the Stanford researchers split their subjects into two different groups: those who frequently multitask, and those who almost never multitask.  What they discovered surprised them.

In one experiment, the groups were shown sets of two red rectangles alone, or surrounded by two, four or six blue rectangles.  Each configuration was flashed twice.  The question for the participants was, “Were the two red rectangles in the second frame in a different position than they were in the first frame?”

They were told to ignore the blue rectangles.

The non-multitaskers had no problem ignoring the blue rectangles.  But the high multitaskers were constantly distracted by them.  The result was that the performance of the multitaskers was markedly worse than the non-multitaskers.

And the same thing was true in the other two tests.  The non-multitaskers consistently out-performed the multitaskers!

So, if multitasking isn’t as effective as we’d thought, how should we deal with the flood of data and information we’re currently getting?

Let me suggest setting up what I call a to-don’t list.

The purpose of a to-don’t list is to bring clarity to our lives and free us up. Here are some things to consider in setting up a to-don’t list:

•  Remember who you are and why you’re here in this world.  Try to stay focused on things that are aligned with your life purpose, and help you sing your own personal song.

It is far too easy to get bogged down in a quicksand of triviality, and be endlessly diverted by constantly checking emails and social media.  Don’t.

•  News overload.  Because we live in such outrageous and turbulent times, and because we now have a 24/7 news cycle, there are “news updates” constantly available.  Don’t give in to them.

Have two designated, limited times set aside each day to read or look at the news.  Put any additional news consumption on your to-don’t list.

•  Social media and emails.  We value our friends and want to stay connected with them.  Have a specific, limited time once a day to check your emails and social media.  No more than that.  Avoid the temptation to keep getting quick, oxytocinic highs from constantly checking your emails and social media.  Put any social media time beyond once a day on your to-don’t list.

•  The Serenity Prayer, Part I.  The Serenity Prayer is in three parts, and the first part is, “Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.”  It’s his first part that I want to focus on in this discussion.

One of the huge struggles we all have as human beings is our tendency to get upset and obsessed over things we have no way of changing.  So, if there’s something you’re bothered by and can’t possibly change, put that on your to-don’t list.

(Yes, it’s a lot easier said than done!)

•  Worry.  Worry is like a single malignant thought that can metastasize though all the rest of your consciousness.  Worry uses up all your life energy without giving anything in return.

Not only that, most of the things we worry and fret about never actually happen.  Benjamin Hoff, in his wonderful book, The Te of Piglet, has Piglet anxiously say, “Supposing a tree fell down, Pooh, when we were underneath it?”

“Supposing it didn’t,” suggested Pooh, after careful thought.

Exactly.

So, a to-don’t list.  The categories listed above, are just suggestions.  One or two of those you may not need; but there may be others you do need.  The main thing is to have some intentional way to keep yourself from getting bogged down in all the flotsam and jetsam of the information stream.

If you don’t have a really good to-don’t list, then you’ll keep getting sidetracked, and never get to do all the wonderful things on your to-do list!

© David Evans 2017

David Evans

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