Our Life of Multitasking and Skimming in Search of Productivity

Maybe its photography over the past 20 years that has made me over sensitive to our cultural demands for productivity, which in turn has given way to our two worst developed habits in search of better productivity, multi-tasking and skimming text. I am probably the worst at putting aside distractions but photography is one of those art forms that takes time, sometimes, a lot of time, and has helped me immensely over the years. Photography takes time just sitting there doing nothing, waiting, waiting on the right moment (hunters will appreciate this too). This one shot of the bird above took me at least an hour to capture last night, and it wasn’t a multitasking hour, it was a setup and wait hour, something almost unheard of anymore outside of photography, hunting, and maybe a few other tasks like actual Christian meditation or prayer.

I am trying to walk (not run) my way through Tim Challies new book, “The Next Story: Life and Faith After the Digital Explosion” where he talks about these very issues. In one section on learning to live without distractions (because we live in a world of constant and continuous distractions) Challies points out that when we turn to the bible we see very little demand for constant productivity, especially in ways we measure today. What we do see is a constant effort by Jesus to slow the pace of life, making time for meditation, prayer, and communion with the Father and His friends. Challies puts it like this:

What is unique in our time is that skimming has now become the dominant form of reading… The danger for Christians is apparent. If we grow so accustomed to skimming words, to passing quickly over texts, we will eventually impose this practice on the words of God… The danger today, in an era of skimming and fragmentation, is that we will fragment the Bible into small bits and have no time or ability to craft unity from the parts.

Being Productive is Not Our Higher Calling in Life

Productivity is one of those things that came out of our big factories decades ago, something that has never diminished, and has only gotten more and more intense as the years go by. Brought on by an insatiable need for being productive (in anything) we multitask and skim. In fact, if you have actually read this far, you are a rare breed among readers today. Most of us just skim text, especially text on the Internet, in approximately 2-3 seconds, and then move on.

According to Challies research, when we “multitask” we really aren’t multitasking as much as we are just jumping from task to task, paying little attention to either. In fact his research showed that it takes us 50% longer to complete each task than if we had done the one task and then moved on, and when we have completed each task the overall quality was greatly reduced as well. It forces us to give partial attention to the task or person right in front of us.

We Can No Longer Give People Our Full Attention

One of the most annoying traits I run across today is that very few people are actually capable of giving me their full attention. I rarely have a conversation with someone without them constantly looking at their cell phone, checking their email, sending text messages, or whatever. Face to face may be more rare today, but even when we do give someone our time, we don’t get but a part of that person in return. I will often just stop talking and wait for them to finish what they are doing, but many times the person won’t notice at all (something Deborah has done to me for years as well).

The point to all this is that, at least in part, is that we as Christians are in a faith that requires us to learn. And one of God’s biggest chosen methods is text, completed paragraphs of thought, made into full letters and books. Thoughts that flow from one book to another and are all connected from Genesis to Revelation. The Bible isn’t full of bullet points, it’s full of completed thoughts. The more we multitask, the more we demand productivity, the less ability we have to sit and read full blocks of text.

It’s like a drug. The less we sit in one place working on one single task, whether that’s reading, photography, or work, without regards to productivity, the less we can. Over two years ago I wrote a blog post called The Internet is The Church’s New Drug of Choice and it’s quite fascinating to see how much father down the road of distraction, multitasking, and skimming text, we have come in only two years.

Thoughts About the Constant Search for Productivity

Because I know for a fact that almost no one is going to read the above 775 words, I give you the bulleted version. In case you didn’t guess by now, I am far less concerned with the productivity factor in life than I am in developing a history of quality. I personally want to be able to do a few things well, never a lot of things in a mediocre fashion.

Photography has been one of those grounding things for me, because it takes time to perfect. There are no shortcuts to learning how to be a good photographer, it takes time no matter what equipment you buy (even if it’s a cell phone). As the time I spent shooting went down in 2009 and 2010 I had forgotten the value of time spent doing just one task at a time, until I got to this point. Since then I have taken more shots (spent more time) in the first 4 months of 2011 than I did all last year, and it’s a good reminder that productivity isn’t the most important thing in life.

  • Productivity is not what we are called to achieve in life
  • Multitasking is just doing several things at once, poorly
  • Multitasking leads us to ignore people standing in front of us
  • Skimming leads us away from thinking and ultimately knowledge
  • Skimming text is detrimental to our ability to read completed thoughts
  • The bible rarely calls us to hurry up and be more productive
  • The bible is not a book we can skim, we have to actually read it
  • There is a difference between taking your time and being lazy
  • The more we live a distracted life the more we need it
  • Embrace tasks that can only be done by themselves

There you have it, my ten bullet point thoughts from this post. Better stop now, 1,138 words is certainly WAY longer than any successful blog post is supposed to be, next time I’ll try to shoot for the standard 250 words… but don’t count on it.

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