Thursday, May 4, 2017

Reclaiming Our Own Lives

Isaac B. Werner's Journal
We are the beneficiaries of a homesteader named Isaac B. Werner who kept a daily journal from 1884 through 1891 describing his daily activities and what was happening in the surrounding communities.  From his journal I learned about weather and implements and barn dances and illnesses and young deaths, and I have shared that on this blog.  I have also shared how communities built school houses, established newspapers, formed local organizations, and joined national organizations.  They slaughtered their own hogs, plowed fields one row at a time, sewed and mended their own clothing, built homes in dugouts, from sod, and with dearly bought lumber.  They fought prairie fires and built roads and bridges with their neighbors. From Isaac's journal we know that he and other ordinary people accomplished amazing things, day in and day out.

Homemade Sand Hill Plum Jelly
How did they manage?  We have the benefit of automobiles, microwaves, frozen dinners, ready-made clothing, hospitals, computers--tools, equipment, conveniences that they could not have imagined, and we have diversified labor so that we no longer build our own homes, sew our own clothing, build our children's school houses, grow our own food, fight our own fires or build our own roads and bridges.

Most of the things Isaac Werner and his neighbors did for themselves we no longer do.  And yet, how many of us complain that we are overworked and tired all of the time.  As hard as we try, we never seem to get everything we meant to accomplish finished at the end of the day.

A recent article in "Live, Write, Thrive," a writer's blog I follow, was intended as guidance for writers who struggle to find enough time to write, but I think many of you who read my blog will find some of the ideas meant for writers very applicable to your own daily lives.  The title of the article is How We've Ruined Our Brains in This Modern Era.

Quilt making--hobby or necessity?
When I was practicing law, I had a routine around which I organized my day.  It began the evening before, when I stacked all of the files I had to handle the following day in order of priority--the ones I absolutely had to attend to on the top, the ones that might be put off another day in the middle, and the ones I hoped to find time to look at on the bottom.  When I arrived the next morning I was able to focus my attention on one matter at a time, without being distracted by concerns that perhaps something else deserved my attention.

The point of the article How We've Ruined Our Brains in This Modern Era is that today many of us fail to prioritize and concentrate on one priority at a time.  We multitask!

Sod School House
In thinking about your own day, consider how many times you are interrupted by your phone.  Consider how you use your computer, turning it on to do one thing and realizing you have spent two hours jumping from one interesting distraction to another.  Consider how much time social media interrupts what you are doing.  Even when you think you are relaxing, do you take your phone when you go for a walk, work in the garden, go to the gym?

In the book, Disorder:  Understanding Our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming Its Hold on Us,"  Larry D. Rosen, PhD, writes:  "The bottom line is we are all constantly self-distracting, whether you're in school, at your job, or just at home."

In "Live, Write, Thrive" the following statistics were cited:
Multitaskers experience a 40% drop in productivity.
Multitaskers take 50% longer to accomplish a single task than if focusing only on that task.
Multitaskers make up to 50% more errors.
Multitaskers take four times longer to recognize new things.
Multitaskers spend 40% more time switching tasks.
(The source for these statistics was not identified.)

When Ira Flatow on NPR's Science Friday interviewed, Clifford Nass, a Stanford University professor and researcher, and author of the book, The Man Who Lied to his Laptop, Nass said, "People who multitask all the time can't filter out irrelevancy...They're chronically distracted.  They initiate much larger parts of the brain than are irrelevant to the task at hand...they're even terrible at multitasking.  ,,,they've developed habits of mind that make it impossible for them to be laser-focused.  They're suckers for irrelevancy.  They just can't keep on task."

Main street:  Iuka, KS 
When I reflect on how Isaac Werner described his days, he did many tasks during the year, but he prioritized what was to be done, without jumping unnecessarily from one to another.  He planned work to match the seasons.  Crops had to be planted, weeded, and harvested when those tasks were essential at a particular time.  Homes had to be readied ahead of dropping temperatures by stuffing or plastering cracks and readying fuel if occupants were to survive the cold winter weather. Winter was the time for mending, repairing tools and sharpening shears, studying seed catalogues, and socializing.  The year Isaac was distracted by attending political rallies and taking photographs he failed to market his potatoes when he should have, and the price dropped from $1.25 a bushel  to a third or less.  He ended up feeding potatoes to his pigs.  Tasks that had to be done in town were accumulated so that the trip accomplished more than one thing.  Homesteaders multitasked in the sense of being able to do many things, but they learned how to stay on task and prioritize.

Not all of us feel as if we have "ruined our brains," but many of us agree that we are self-distracting by the way we allow ourselves to be interrupted.  Not only the distractions initiated by others cut into our days, but also our own choices.  Do you go online to check your e-mails and find yourself following links for two hours?  Do you allow yourself to half-watch television every evening when you could have been reading a good book or playing games with your children or having a real telephone conversation with an elderly parent or friend.  Do you start making a grocery list in the kitchen and wander off to put clothes in the washer only to return to the grocery list and spend five minutes rethinking where you were in remembering the things you needed.  Do you get sidetracked by the greeting card rack or the holiday display just inside the entrance when you run into a store just to buy aspirin?  
Gardening--hobby or necessity?

I came upstairs this morning to print something, and since I was at my computer anyway, I thought I would quickly check my e-mails.  I opened "Live, Write, Thrive," and decided a comparison of today's distractions and tasks with the distractions and tasks of Isaac Werner's times might be interesting.  My morning is gone and I didn't finish reading my  e-mails.  I did draft this blog, however, and at least I remembered to print the document that was the reason for my having come upstairs!


Anonymous said...

Good advise for all of us. Now I have to get back to checking email before going to my exercise classes.

The Blog Fodder said...

I've been neglecting my blog reading because I have actually been working on a project, crunching numbers. The internet has slowed my reading to a stop, though. I have been so busy reading news articles since January, trying to follow America, Britain, Turkey, France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia is a full time job since Trump. The Highland Clearances and a biography of Alexander Dumas' father are 70% finished and now they sit. My organizational skills don't quite enable me to organize a drunken brawl at an Irish Distillery, I am afraid.