Let’s be honest — we skim our way through life. There seems to be no way around it. We are inundated with information. Our email boxes are overflowing. There are more TV programs than we could watch in a lifetime. There are more cooking shows offering recipes on more meals than we could cook in a 100 years. Our Kindle offers page after page of new reading material. Yes, we are overrun by information. Even our relationships can feel this way, there is always something to do, always someone that needs something. It is one of the most exciting eras ever known to humankind.
So how do we make it work? We skim.
And this in and of itself isn’t a bad thing — in fact, I believe it is a critical skill. But, this powerful technique must not be applied haphazardly – it can be catastrophic if not harnessed!
I’ve begun to pay attention to this skimming process as it occurs all around me. I’ve noticed how often we skim our favorite TV programs using the “30-second skip-ahead button”. I’ve begun to notice how I skim articles in magazines. I “browse” the internet (a clever word for “skimming”). I’m catching myself skim books for nuggets of information. I listen to my Podcasts at 1.5x speed. What a rush! I have to admit, my skimming techniques do seem to help me feel more productive. Much like driving 10 mph above the speed limit helps me feel like I’m saving tons of time in my drive to work.
But, I’ve also watched people at restaurants sit across the table from each other, smart phones in hand, as they fade in-and-out of foggy, disengaged small talk. I’ve observed families sitting together in the same room and struggling to engage with each other, distracted by T.V., texts, Facebook, and Pinterest. Instead of taking the time to engage in wonderful, deep conversations and concern for each other’s lives, they seem inoculated to it — satisfied with superficial comments and ‘headlines’. And, if I do the math, driving 10 mph over the speed limit on my 17 mile commute to work only saves me 120 seconds on my overall time. (That doesn’t seem worth the stress it adds to my drive!) I have a growing suspicion that we’re missing out on more than we know.
It is ironic, because when we talk about skimming, we’re really talking about our whole approach to life. We want all that life has to offer! We want to take it all in, not miss out, not get left behind. And, as a result, we’re busy. Really busy. We’ll cram it all in — somehow! So, we multi-task — that magical ability to accomplish multiple tasks at the same time. And I’ll bet if I asked, 99 out of 100 people would tell me they do it well. But they’d be wrong.
MULTI-TASKING IS A MYTH.
Ok, so maybe your computer can pull it off with its ability to process millions of bytes of data per second. And, maybe even for us as a simple screening tool (like typing emails while listening for your name to come up on a conference call, or checking stock prices while watching TV) it can serve a limited purpose. But beyond basic mechanical functions (e.g., walking and chewing gum, breathing and a heartbeat), the human brain’s ability to truly multitask has an extremely limited capacity.
When we consider our brain’s ability to multitask relationally (i.e., to focus on people and conversation while doing other activities), our ability to successfully multitask is extremely inefficient. Sure, multitasking gives a sense of accomplishment, efficiency, and control, but in reality it sucks as a means of connecting/maintaining/improving our relationships. There is simply no human way to concentrate, focus on, and engage in human interaction and thought while performing multiple activities at the same time. (There is a TON of interesting research on this.***)
I THOUGHT I COULD CONTROL IT!
I thought I could control my skimming, keep myself in balance. I thought I could apply it here-and-there, but the allure is promiscuous. I was naïve. I can see the signs. My clever coping mechanisms of Skimming and Multi-tasking are beginning to cost me more than I bargained for.
In my efforts to be efficient, thrifty, and productive (efforts I thought would help me “get more out of life”), I’ve begun to skim novels, hitting the highlights so I can quickly turn the page and get on to the next book. I listen to songs on my iPod only halfway through. I even catch myself skimming the bible… looking for a word or phrase or concept. I listen to the Daily Audio Bible podcast at 1.25x speed. (What a shame to reduce this ancient book to a few factoids or a “thought for the day”.)
I’ve even begun to skim through my relationships. When someone calls, I’ve caught myself thinking. “get to the point!” I miss parts of conversations. I’ve developed “selective hearing”. I’ve unwittingly begun to reduce conversations to a few key words and sound-bites, reducing my relationships to a few “Headlines” with no time to read the full article. This is tragic. It’s one thing to skim a magazine or the internet looking for recipes, but another thing all-together to skim relationships.
TIME FOR SOME REALIGNMENT
All is not lost, but some tweaking is needed. In an effort to address my out-of-balance approach to Skimming, Busyness, and Multi-tasking, I’m re-aligning a few things in my life. Here’s my ‘list’ — maybe it will help you identify and tweak areas where you may be over-skimming. (Offered in no particular order of priority)
Give it a try yourself! Try one or two of these ideas for the next 2-weeks and see if life doesn’t begin to feel clearer, more satisfying.
7 WAYS TO APPROACH LIFE TO HELP GET THE MOST OUT OF IT
1. Limit the skimming and multitasking.
- Be present. Live in the moment. (Book Recommendation: Pablo Giacopelli’s “Holding on Loosely“)
- Agree to yourself NOT to skim or multitask when it comes to relationships (aka ‘people’)
- Try setting the phone or ipod or iPad or other gadget aside when in the presence of another human being. (Set it to OFF or silent. Not vibrate – silent) and see where the conversation goes.
- Carve out “No Technology” zones or times in your house (ours is no phones, etc at the family dinner table.)
Take time to soak in what you’re reading
- When you read a Blog or Article — read them o-n-e—a-t—a—t-i-m-e. Don’t read 10 of them all in one sitting – they’ll just become information. You’ll miss out. (My rule is to read only one or two a day and let them marinate.)
- When you read a book, resist the urge to skim. Read. Enjoy. (if you have to ‘skim’, maybe you’re reading the wrong books.)
- The author meant something — there is a message. Allow the message to marinade. Meditate on it. Consider it. Ponder the questions being asked. Don’t be quick to jump to the “next thing.”
- Talk to others about what you’re reading. It will add to your life in ways you can’t imagine.
- Re-Read it! Did it move you? Did it have a “message”? Then, set it aside for a few months and re-read it. (I have discovered gold-mines while re-reading a book.)
Create space to think and dream and pray and ponder things.
- There is a world going on around you. Pause to take it in.
“So much of life is in the way we see. We don’t see a desert at seventy miles an hour from an Interstate the same way we see it at, say, thirty from a two-lane. We don’t see the Great Plains from a car on a two-lane the same way we see them from a bicycle. We don’t see the Appalachians from a bike the same way we see them when we hike the trails. And we don’t see the mountains in the same way when we hike as when we stop and stay in one spot for an hour or a day or a year. . . there [are] two ways to see the world. . . One is to stand back, squint, and see the landscape in a beautiful blur of colors. The other is to go down on your hands and knees and examine the flowers one petal at a time.” ~ From “The Everlasting Stream”, Walt Harrington
- It won’t happen by itself — it will take intentionality.
- I’ve written on this several times. Re-read (one-at-a-time): (Time to take a walk; No Shame in Stillness; Space to Breathe Again; Hijacked Thoughts; Slipping from Heart to Head; Just Having a Bad Day?; Taking time to Dream; Taking time to Dream (pt 2))
4. Get to know yourself
- Be honest with yourself. You’ll find in most ways you’re not as bad as you thought (and in a few ways, not as great.) – It’s helpful to know that. In the long run, it doesn’t help to exaggerate or to ignore your life, your shortcomings, your blind-spots, and areas in need of improvement.
- Invite others along — ask them to help you get to know yourself
- Be kind to yourself. (21 Awesome Things To Say To Yourself!)
“What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves? This is the most important of all voyages of discovery, and without it, all the rest are not only useless, but disastrous.” ~ Thomas Merton, 1915
5. Get to know a few others
- Ask about someone else before you talk about yourself.
- Develop a few intentional, intimate friendships (And only a few. Or else you’ll risk a lack of time, depth, and commitment.)
- Others can often see things in use we can’t see in ourselves.
“In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets.” ~ C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves
- Build “relationship” into as many things as possible (Ask a friend along whenever possible)
- Let projects and causes bring you together — but then prioritize around the relationships (or else when the task is gone so are your relationships.)
6. Take time to play
- Stop and play ball with the kids
- Be silly sometimes
- Take a family vacation
- Develop a casual, non-invasive, life-giving hobby
- As if your life depends on it, find something to laugh at
- Invite others to join along
7. Deepen your relationship with God
- Wherever you are on this one, there is more available.
- This is a topic all on it’s own. But, in a nutshell — Invite Him in to your life, into the moments of your day. Talk. Listen.
- Develop a ‘Conversational’ intimacy with God
- A couple of good books filled with practical examples of this are “Walking with God“, by John Eldredge, and “Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God“, by Dallas Willard
- I’ve written several articles you might find helpful with examples of how myself and others are learning to walk with God: (Finding Life in a Fistful of Trash; Questions We Avoid Asking; Time to take a walk; Bringing Our Unique Self To The Surface; What does Love look like?; And that is why you fail…; Hijacked Thoughts; and others.)
Can you think of ways you “skim” and “multi-task” your way through your day?
Are any of the 7 thoughts (above) new ideas?
Is there one or two in particular you’d be willing to commit to for a week or two as a ‘trial’ run?
Learning to enjoy the view as life rushes along like a river,
.Jesus, I need your help on this one. Without even realizing it, I’ve begun to skim my way through life. There is so much coming at me that I have trouble sorting it out into the right bins — “Brings LIFE” and “Kills LIFE”. I need your help to add clarity and to reorient my pace of life. Help me to slow down and take in the best things. Time with you. People. Relationships. Friendships. A strong, growing inner-life. Fun. Put up a hedge of protection against all that would cause me to disengage, become distant, live half-hearted. Help me to offer the best of myself, to be present. Forgive me for letting the distractions win me over. Too often my example hasn’t helped those around me to live life-to-the-full either. In fact, I’ve crowded other’s time with life-sucking distractions, too. Restore what I have corrupted. Redeem my actions and make me a blessing. Rebuild and deepen relationships I’ve allowed to flounder. And build new ones where there are none. And that goes for You and me. I want to hear you speak. I want to know what’s on your mind. Help me be intentional, to carve out the time for you. Tune me in to the world as you see it. I want LIFE to the full! And, I want to bring the same to others. ~ Amen
*** A few of the MANY articles on the subject of Multi-tasking:
From the article “The Cognitive Cost of Multi-tasking“,
- “Multitasking can reduce productivity by approximately 40-percent according to some researchers.”
- “Switching from one task to another makes it difficult to tune out distractions and can cause mental blocks that can slow down your progress.”
From NPR, “The Myth of Multi-tasking“From “Inc.”, “Don’t Multitask: Your Brain Will Thank You“
Clifford Nass, a psychology professor at Stanford University, says today’s nonstop multitasking actually wastes more time than it saves—and he says there’s evidence it may be killing our concentration and creativity too.
In a 2009 study, Stanford researcher Clifford Nass challenged 262 college students to complete experiments that involved switching among tasks, filtering irrelevant information, and using working memory. Nass and his colleagues expected that frequent multitaskers would outperform nonmultitaskers on at least some of these activities. . . . They found the opposite: Chronic multitaskers were abysmal at all three tasks.