Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Driven to distraction

It's often the case that we don't think about something until we come face-to-face with it. Case in point: everyday distractions.

Sometime, long long ago (was it in grad school? or during an internship?), I discovered the "survival tactic" of always carrying some paper and a pen with me. A notebook, a legal pad, random scraps from the recycled paper bin---it didn't matter, as long as there was enough space to write, to sketch, to doodle, to compose to-do lists. There's no such thing as a boring meeting when you have these simple tools on hand---it's so easy to check out, to capture your wandering thoughts, and still look engaged. I've written entire tests during boring talks or dull faculty meetings. Or, if you're stuck somewhere waiting for someone, or your flight is delayed and you're sick of reading---voila! Instant entertainment. Just whip out the paper and pen. These low-tech tools have been my salvation from boredom.

The thing is that now I'm so conditioned to distract myself during meetings that when I forget my paper and pen, or when I'm in a setting where I can't for whatever reason take notes, I get bored very easily. I get impatient with the pace of things. I feel trapped and unhappy. But I was not aware of this, until today, when I found myself in this very situation. It surprised me, but also saddened me. Am I really that incapable of sitting still, of concentrating on the moment, of not distracting myself, for a few short hours? Shouldn't I have greater will power than that? Why must I always be distracted?


C said...

Why worry about it? What's so bad about having a mind that likes multitasking, or processing lots of information in a short time?

So long as you're not being impolite to anyone or missing out on something by your distracting, then what's the problem?

I (very egotistically, I'm sure) do the exact same thing myself, and think of it as my brain wanting to whizz along real fast and process lots of stuff. I don't think it's a failure of willpower to go slowly (read: the speed everyone else seems to go at) any more than it is a failure of willpower for other people's brains not to go faster.

academic coach said...

I've never been able to sit in meetings. Even with doodles and notetaking I find it difficult. one of the reasons I decided not to be a professor -- too many meetings

Jane said...

C, your point is well taken. I guess more than anything, what surprised me was how *quickly* I grew impatient with the pace of things. I mean, I know that I'm impatient, but I didn't really realize the extent of it until that happened.

AC, ironically I used the very same reason (too many meetings) as an argument that I shouldn't go into industry! I guess it's all a matter of perspective.

Zuska said...

In my experience, there are just as many meetings in industry as there are in academia. And about the same percentage of them are interesting enough to hold your attention span...the best meetings are when it's a small group, 5 or less, and you have a focused task - we need to complete this section of the NDA (new drug application) so what is everyone's status and what help do you need? or, in academia, you're all working on a project together and meet to discuss progress and make plans for next steps - this mostly happened when I was working on outreach programs. All other meetings dragged on. The reason they seem so frustrating, at least to me, is that so little gets done by so many.

Turtle said...

I've found practicing meditation and yogic breathing to be very helpful in such times. At the dentists' office, for example, or sitting in rush hour traffic during commutes. At the same time I love having my hipster pda handly at (almost) all times.