Guest Post: Divided Attention with Jessica Miller

Why is it that divided-attention has become a social norm in our world today?  For example, this morning in the wee hours of 5:00am to 7:30am, I was tasked with the following activities:

  1. Getting myself ready for work
  2. Making breakfast and lunch for my children
  3. Follow up with both kids to make sure they were prepared for the day and discussing their cares and concerns
  4. checking the news for any notable criminal activities I needed to alert my supervisor to and/or post about on social media
  5. Follow up with emails and messages relating to my side-hustle that needed attention before my traditional 9-5 started
  6. Review the day’s activities with my husband so we had a coordinated attack
  7. Checking on my professional development group to get my daily assignment
  8. Reviewing a packet of legal material I had not gotten to the day prior that I needed to be able to discuss immediately upon entry into work
  9. Review emails regarding agenda items for a meeting tonight and then update said agenda via Google docs so all in attendance were prepared

Such a frantic pace will most definitely continue for me as I start my regular routine once I arrive at work.  I won’t go into the details here, but with the immediate access I have to individuals and information coupled with the immediate access they have to me, my day is usually divided into a series of smaller conversations and activities relating to many different aspects of my life.

All of these activities occur on in a non-linear way and I wonder if such a constant push to be able to multi-task to the extreme is making the quality of my endeavors diminish.

Let me put it another way.  I love to read books set in the Victorian era; the period of time when men and women had hours to devote to their passions, their education, and their vocation.  It is not uncommon in these books to read about individuals almost tediously pursuing their hobbies.  I used to think it was out of boredom and a lack of industry afforded to the wealthy Victorian set, but recently I have had a shift in this thinking.  These characters are educating themselves in a methodical and deliberate way.  I think there is something to be learned from this time period.  Focus on the task at hand and do it well.

This concept goes hand in hand with developing an approach to purposeful education.  Too often we get caught in the trap that we need to immediately get an answer to whatever question we may have via Google and we forget the fact that sometimes it is the process of figuring out the problem itself that is the most valuable part of the educational experience.  I see this in my children.  My son as a small child really wanted to play the guitar.  At age 8 he started formal lessons and was shocked that he could not immediately play some of his favorite rock songs (most of which are written by Green Day by the way, we are trying to raise that kid right).  In his mind, he had been playing Guitar Hero for years and thought that the actual guitar would be just as simple.  He became frustrated when he learned he could barely play a C Note at the beginning, but he did not give up.  It was through the experience of weekly lessons and daily practice that he was able to become proficient at the guitar.  He has since moved on to focusing primarily on the piano—where he is living the dream of playing rock music, but it is that initial experience that I believe helped him to understand that he had to purposefully focus on the task of learning music in order to do it well.

Too often I have heard someone say to me “I wish I could do X” or “If only I had the time to learn to Y.”  I’ve come to the realization that if it is that important and you really want to do X and Y, in order to do, so you must be able to drag yourself out of the world of divided-attention and instead focus, in a purposeful way, on gaining the necessary education to really be good at what you do.  This goes well beyond a simple Google search.  Improving the quality of your daily activities starts with deliberate planning, with locating and digesting resources and with focus.  Through focused activity, through education, and through discipline we can improve the quality of our lives and our self-directed learning experiences.

– Jessica Miller

What do you think?  Have some insights? Come on over to our closed facebook discussion group to share your thoughts and join in the discussion.  Or you can email me directly at  IF you are interested in further reading check out other Food for Thought articles and learn all about the Archetypes of Skill.  You can also sign up to receive The Friday Huddle, a short weekly email from me that gives you the tips, insights, and musings that have gotten me through the week.

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