Monday, April 7, 2008

Zen Kitten: Singletasking

Something else I've noticed about my cats, including the visiting kitten, is they are extrodinarily good at singletasking. Singletasking is a skill that is rapidly disappearing in our culture, replaced by multitasking, ADHD, ADD, and a variety of other acronyms. Before I go any further, please understand that I'm not saying that these things don't exist - but I am not convinced that they are as prevalent as our society seems to think, and doctors tend to diagnose. How is it that a child diagnosed with ADHD doesn't seem to have a problem sitting and playing Halo for 8 hours straight, but is medically incapable of paying attention in school for a 45 minute class?

I think there is a strong possibility that if I were growing up now, I'd be classified as one of the ADD or ADHD kids. Just a few years ago, the marketing for some new drug had me seriously wondering if I might have Adult Attention Deficit Disorder. Do I have any of these? No, I don't. If it's a book I like, I can read for hours, watch TV, play video games, whatever - concentration isn't an issue. If it's something I don't like doing, I have to use the skills I was taught growing up, focus and concentration. Skills my teachers and parents taught me in the standard ways - if I didn't concentrate, I got bad grades, which carried with it a bunch of consequences - no TV, no phone, no radio, grounding, etc. If my lack of concentration disrupted other students, there might be detention, in school suspension, or corporal punishment.

At work, when working on a task or project I don't like doing, I don't have the same options I do at home. I bring my concentration and focus to the task, but then I have to stop and answer the phone. Or talk to someone at my door. Or check e-mail for an update. These things are part of my job - I'm required to multitask. In our society, we've come to expect multitasking. Despite study after study after study that clearly shows us that multitasking undermines productivity, quality and service levels, we still insist on it at work, and in our personal lives.

My cats don't have this issue. They are what they are, and they do what they do. Whatever it is they are doing, they are focused on it as completely as possible, and they are at their happiest when they can focus on the task at hand completely. If they're forced to split their attention, they quickly become agitated, and it doesn't take much to push them over the edge where they decide to go hang out in the other room, or under the bed. I bet you know at least one co-worker like this.

So why do we insist on this destructive behavior? I don't know. I do know that the more I focus on the one thing I am doing, the happier I am at that moment. Even if it's doing nothing more than petting a cat.

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