Nearly twenty years ago, when I started my first office job, the person assigned to train me confidently assured me that, “in a year or two, this office will be completely paperless.” The corporation I worked for was just in the process of installing its first computer system with a terminal at every employee’s desk. Besides being my entry into the business world, that week was my first experience with e-mail, with the steep learning curves that are generated by exposure to unfamiliar technologies, and with the sense of frustration and helplessness that comes about when these technologies, that we come so rapidly to rely on, just don’t work.
In addition to her belief that the microcomputer would eliminate paper from our working lives, my trainer also went on to paint a Jetsons-like picture of a sort of techno-utopia where we would all, one day very soon, have far more leisure time to spend with family and friends. The computer, she believed, would take the drudgery out of our lives, allowing us to complete a full day’s work in only a couple of hours. Every time I come back to the office after a week-long business trip, or a vacation, and find that I have two-hundred or so unread e-mails waiting for me, and a towering stack of faxes, I think back on this experience.
In contrast to this person’s glowing vision of the near future, a more cynical long-term employee who was closing in on retirement was equally confident that this new-fangled contraption was just a passing fad, and that pretty soon computers would be relegated back to the universities and government research centres where they rightfully belong. It has been said that at the time the Wright brothers were taxiing the Kitty Hawk along the ground preflight, there were surely some amongst the crowd those who swore the thing would never leave the ground, and an equal number who claimed that within six months, everyone would be flying one.
Throughout my life, I have waged an ongoing battle with disorganization. Believing that I am capable to efficiently multi-tasking, I have tended to have numerous different projects on the go at any one time. When I was a girl, these projects involved papier-mÃ¢ché, popsicle sticks, balls of yarn, and other craft materials covering every flat surface of my room. Now, evidence of my high-energy but unfocussed ways can be found, on any given day, in the form of scrapbooks, university essays, expense report forms, knitting projects, etc. all in various stages of incompletion. Because of this, I have always been a bit of a sucker for time-saving devices. I have owned countless agendas, daytimers, file folders, and electronic organizers. None of them, though, have really done me any good. All they have really done is add to the clutter and confusion.
What I have come to realize over the years is, that there is no magic pill we can take, no miraculous labour-saving device that can transform our lives and make us inhumanly efficient. Computers, faxes, cell phones, Blackberries and the like may make communication quick and easy, giving us the illusion that we are more informed (and important) than we really are. What we forget, though, is that having access to reams and reams of information does not necessarily mean that we are assimilating it or using it in any meaningful way. And with respect to communication, being in touch is not the same thing as being connected.
Instead of constantly searching for ways to speed things up, perhaps we should be looking at ways to slow things down. To spend more time carefully looking at what we are seeing, and letting things gradually reveal themselves to us as we mull them over. Instead of having to perpetually touch base with people in a shallow and distracted way, perhaps we need to actually devote some serious time to them, and actually be present with them, with nothing else on our minds.
On a personal level, I am coming to a sense of peace with who I am and the way I do things. I think being a multi-tasker is probably hard-wired into me. What I have slowly come to realize is, though, is that pretty well everything I begin does eventually come to some sort of completion. The Christmas sweater I knitted for my daughter may have been a bit too warm for midsummer, but at least she still loved it. And always the pattern of completion is the same: things come together when I finally sit down and lose myself in concentration on them, allowing them my undivided attention, rather than devoting only a tiny fraction of my awareness to them because I am distractedly thinking about all of the other things I need to accomplish. I am beginning to see that what it takes to be accomplished in any area of life, from being a good employee to being a good parent, is the same basic skill — being present in the moment.