by Anne Tergesen
About a year ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Edward Hallowell, a Sudbury (Mass.) psychiatrist, who believes many of us are suffering from environmentally induced attention deficit disorder, brought on by technology and activity overload. Tonight, as I dashed from email to homework to dinner to laundry and back—interrupted periodically by my four-year-old pleading for help with just about everything you can imagine— Hallowell’s message was on my mind (that is, to the extent that anything was on my mind for more than a fleeting second).
Not surprisingly, he feels that working parents are particularly susceptible to this syndrome. I have to admit, Hallowell’s description of my life is pretty much dead-on: “They're juggling deadlines, games, rehearsals, and school meetings. They're worrying about how the grocery shopping, cooking, and laundry will get done. People want to do all these activities. But they take on more than they can reasonably do. E-mail tends to facilitate the overscheduling.”
The good doctor has a number of tips for the frazzled masses. I’ve tried to incorporate many of them into my daily life. Despite tonight’s chaos, I feel I’ve made some progress—although I obviously still have a ways to go when it comes to multi-tasking, a tactic Hallowell is particularly down on. (In his recent book CrazyBusy: Overstretched, Overbooked, and About to Snap – Strategies for Coping in a World Gone ADD, Hallowell presents convincing evidence that the brain cannot focus on more than one thing at a time. The notion that multi-tasking is efficient is simply a myth, he says). Here are some of his other tips:
1) Set aside time to work before you check your e-mail or snail mail or voice mail, before you allow the world to intrude on your fresh and focused state of mind.
2) Do not allow the world to have access to you 24/7. Turn off your BlackBerry and cell phone. Stretch or have a five-minute conversation. When you sit down again, you'll be focused.
3) Prioritizing is crucial. If you don't, you'll find yourself spread so thin you'll only be able to see your good friends on the first Tuesday in February.
4) Give yourself permission to end relationships and projects that drain you.
5) Do what you're good at and delegate the rest. This is important, because when we do what we're good at, the work can take on the quality of play.
6) Keep in mind that some of our best thoughts come when we're doing nothing. Downtime is a forgotten art.
Anne Tergesen, an associate editor for BusinessWeek, writes about personal finance and investing. She joined the magazine in 1998, when her oldest child was seven months old. Prior to Business Week, she was a fellow in the Knight-Bagehot program for mid-career journalists at Columbia University and worked as a reporter at The Record in Hackensack, N.J. and the Philadelphia Inquirer. Anne is based in New York, where she lives with her husband and their three boys, ages 7, 5, and 3. During her career at BusinessWeek, Anne has worked both full-time and part-time.