A friend and reader of the Thinking Faster blog sent me a link to a story I felt compelled to write about today. The link to the story, "Brain Overload: Too much to do, too little time" can be found here.
The reason I felt so compelled to write about this story is the set of false premises and assumptions the story makes.
Basically the article lays out a new psychological disease state - attention deficit trait. Now, attention deficit disorder is a real problem attributed to genetics. Attention deficit trait is a state caused when a normal brain is under too much stress, causing the person suffering attention deficit trait to make poor decisions, to ignore information and to limit their alternatives and options. But other than ascribing a name and a psychological state to this, there's nothing new here. We've known for years that people generally make poor decisions under stress. What these folks need is not a psychologist but just some perspective.
I guess the two things that bothered me about the article are right there in the title. First, too much to do. Well, I guess most of us are guilt of that state, but it's generally a state that we choose. Most of us can choose what we work on and what we ignore. It's not as though we HAVE to be busy, it's that we CHOOSE to be busy. If busyness is a problem, let's address that, not create another psychological disorder.
Second, the "too little time" issue. Too much to do and too little time are mutually reinforcing, so we are caught in a trap of our own making. Again, few of us operate in a world where our calendars and actions are dictated to us. We have all the time in the world if we use it well and plan accordingly. This article seems to suggest that we are all unable to make our own decisions and set our own calendars, so we are all susceptible to ADT.
What should we do?
First, decide what's important and spend our limited braincycles and time on those things. Only by prioritizing our work can we focus on the important things and not just the urgent things. This is well covered by Covey - but we need to spend time on what's important, not just what's urgent.
Second, learn to say no. Don't let other people place obligations and tasks on you unless they are part of your priorities. I know it's not always fashionable to say no to a request, but evaluate the request in the light of your priorities and free time.
Third, get a plan. Without a plan you and I are likely to jump from task to task, fighting fires but never getting the big things done. I've been a corporate fire fighter, and while its exhilirating in the mix, little gets done that's strategic.
Fourth, take some time for yourself. Plan 20 or 30 minutes a day to walk the dog, read the paper, perform yoga or read your favorite blogger (!). Clear your mind and reset your priorities and focus every day.
We are perfectly capable of filling our schedules with lots of stuff to do and using up all our time. But being busy for the sake of it is really not fulfilling. The main beef I have with this article is that it seems to suggest we are all doomed to live in the attention deficit trait state. We all are doomed to that life if we don't take control of our time and our activites and prioritize and plan accordingly.