14 May 2010

The fine art of distraction...

I'm telling myself that I'm just letting some thoughts germinate as I let my mind and efforts drift to everything except the work I need to be doing. I have three writing projects that I keep dancing around the edges of ("just a little more research, just a few more notes, then I'll get it all written up"), a book I need to finish reviewing, and a presentation coming up in two and half weeks which I haven't even started. Then there are the overflowing email "inboxes" - the personal one with reminders about all the family activities and welcome notes from friends; and the professional one with reminders of webinars I could attend, and new ideas that I can quickly link to and convince myself I'm learning things that will help with my projects, even if half the time I'm just distracting myself. And all the while I have the Giro d'Italia streaming on two live feeds (Gazetta TV has the best video, but Eurosport has an English language feed. Sheesh! Think about it - I can stream two video feeds at once and my laptop is not even flinching!)

Thanks to the ever-growing efficiency of high speed internet, I have built the skill of Continuous Partial Attention to a highly evolved art form.

Actually, I could blame parenting for my distractibility as much as I do the internet. One evening last week, I tried to keep track of everything I did. I couldn't manage it.

A partial listing of an evening with the kids: altered daughter's graduation dress and did practice hair and make up, discussed Chinese characters, bounced around thoughts about national politics and the soccer World Cup, removed a splinter from a child, removed a tick from a dog, explained where some biblical events lined up with the political history of the time, illustrated details of the periodic table and subatomic particles, built with lego, made up another episode of a continuing story about nocturnal creatures in the rainforest in Borneo, talked about the origins of the Cultural Revolution, and made some popsicles. Oh, and got people to and from track, ballet and baseball practices.

Ten years ago, I was still a perfectionist and the constant stream of tasks partially, or imperfectly done, would have driven me mad (in both senses of the word); now I usually just roll with it. This whirlwind is a short-lived one, and I love every bit of it (well, except maybe removing ticks from dogs - I could give that a pass). At some point along the way, you realize that a lot of the "distractions" in life, actually are Life; the things that matter go by in a blink of an eye; the most important conversations in a day might happen in that fifteen second time-slot between teaching someone how to put on eye makeup and how to factor an equation.

Distraction is a fine art - you need to know when the distraction is really the main thing.

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