Some thoughts on multitasking

Jack Vinson has had several posts of late on the evils of multi-tasking and the unfortunate (yet seemingly unavoidable) and relentless march toward more and more multi-tasking. This comes from management styles, focus on action, and indeed the technologies we use.

Jack’s post today started me on a blog journey that resulted in several other worthwhile posts on the topic.

Chris Spagnuolo has an interesting article on multitasking, The Myth of Managed Multi-tasking:

Lifehacker:  Multitasking: Stephen Covey on Balancing Work and Life
To a chronic multitasker, everything is a task. Soon, the things in life that are really important to them are in the same list as everything else, and the only tasks that get done are the ones that have become urgent, but often aren’t very important.

Steven Covey: How to strike a work and life balance [Stephen R. Covey]

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Lead – don’t manage – your (autistic) kids

Autonomy  –  Mastery  –   Purpose

Aimed at adults who have already heard the starting gun, these are three things that Malcolm Gladwell (Outliers) and Dan Pink (Drive) have written about in terms of meaningful work and a meaningful life. These are also incredibly important parts of growing up.

As infants and toddlers, the focus for kids is to learn, to master things like walking, language, and play. There is not a whole lot of autonomy, nor is there any long term purpose.

As kids grow through adolescence they start to accept, and demand, more and more autonomy. If they are lucky enough to discover a passion that demands all of their attention – sports, academics, music, writing – they will seek out mastery. Some will begin to see their purpose in life, and begin to move in that direction.

As teenagers and young adults our kids become completely autonomous – within bounds, of course – and are free to pursue their purpose and continued journey toward mastery.

As I hinted at last time, though, parents – especially parents of autistic kids – sometimes have a tendency to focus too much on the “mastery” part and defer, sometimes indefinitely, the “autonomy” and “purpose” parts. For parents, it is all too easy – and tempting – to try to control, to MANAGE, our kids’ lives through each of these various stages. To decide what our kids should be interested in, what their purpose is. To make decisions for them, and not allow them the autonomy they crave. (“He’s only 10 years old, he can’t make a decision like that for himself.”)

Much more difficult – and, in my opinion, ultimately more rewarding – is for parents to be a LEADER for their kids. To observe and discover what our kids strengths are, what they are interested in, and encourage mastery in that. Even if it something we don’t understand or that we would never do. To accept the purpose they discover for their life, and encourage them to live that purpose even if it seems “stupid” to us.

To always challenge our kids to reach just a little too far instead of always pulling them back from the edge.

It’s not about easy; thoughts on a world without e-mail

I’ve been following Luis Suarez’ (@elsua) thoughts on a world without e-mail for quite a while now. His arguments have always made sense, and yet I’ve always had this nagging feeling of, “Yeah, but….”

Last week I had a chance to view/listen to a recent presentation Luis gave about making the jump from e-mail to social media tools, along with the mind map – no PowerPoint, either! – that goes with it, appropriately subtitled E-mail is where knowledge goes to die. I think I finally understand.

After listening to the presentation, and talking with some co-workers and others about it, one of the most common comments I heard was, “That sounds great, but it looks so hard. Why would I want to do make my life and my work harder?”

It was then that I realized that when most people who are tied to e-mail hear this argument about social media vs. e-mail, they apparently think that moving their work is supposed to make doing their job easier. But that’s not what it’s about at all.

Using social media isn’t about easy, it’s about better. More effective, more productive, less wasteful; however you define “better”.

In e-mail, there is no learning, no opportunity to learn.  In fact, e-mail practically screams “non-learning environment”. Despite what it is you are actually trying to accomplish in your work, you spend a good amount of time trying to stay out of “mail jail”. When someone new joins your team or your project, they will never catch up. How can they, when all the knowledge has died in e-mail archives that are “somewhere else”.

With social media, nearly every transaction is a learning opportunity. Sure you’ll spend as much time sorting through all your social media contacts and messages as you do processing e-mail. But with social media, you are forced to make sense of the information, all the while creating and sharing new knowledge about whatever it is you are working on.

Of course, if you don’t care about learning, about improving, about becoming more effective, then sticking with e-mail is fine.

Music, movies, and higher education

Music. Movies. Higher education. What do these three things have in common?

A solid entrenchment in the ‘good old days’ and an incredible unwillingness to engage the present, much less the future, of their industries.

At least that’s the impression I have a little more than halfway through Anya Kamenetz’s latest book, “DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education”.

Kind of like the story of librarians told in “This book is overdue”, where there are many dedicated individuals who see the possibilities but who must first overcome the ‘institution’.

A lot to think about.

Ignore everybody (but don’t ignore this book)

Like Rework (which I reviewed last week), Ignore Everybody is my kind of book. Written by Hugh MacLeod of gapingvoid.com, it is made up of 40 short essays that each dive into a very specific idea or question. And pictures, lots of pictures from the cube-grenade gallery at gapingvoid.com.

Based on many years of experience, the advice that MacLeod dispenses is almost brutal in its description of what aspiring artists (used in the loosest, Seth Godin-esque way) have to look forward to, and what they have to do to get there. Just reading the essay titles gives you an idea of what to expect:

  • Put the hours in
  • If your business plan depends on suddenly being “discovered” by some bit shot, your plan will probably fail
  • Keep your day job
  • Selling out is harder than it looks

If you are looking for an “easy ticket” to success, this isn’t the book that will get you there. (Hint: such a book doesn’t exist.)

None of this is new, of course, to those who are interested in pursuing mastery and are willing to put in the effort it takes to achieve that mastery. Who aren’t focused on a specific outcome but are interested in the journey on which they find themselves. There is plenty in the book to reinforce the importance of that attitude:

  • Don’t try to stand out from the crowd; avoid crowds altogether
  • Sing in your own voice
  • Worrying about “Commercial vs. Artistic” is a complete waste of time
  • Write from the heart
  • The best way to get approval is not to need it

In some ways, this book simply tells us what most of already know. Maybe we know it subconsciously, just under the radar of what we are willing to acknowledge. Maybe we know that it is true but just can’t bring ourselves to do anything about it. But as MacLeod lays out in the opening essay:

GOOD IDEAS ALTER THE POWER BALANCE IN RELATIONSHIPS. THAT IS WHY GOOD IDEAS ARE ALWAYS INITIALLY RESISTED.

Good ideas come with a heavy burden, which why so few people execute them. So few people can handle it.

Ignore Everybody simply lays it out on the table to where you can’t ignore it, where you have to decide for yourself, “Can I handle it?”

One of my favorites...

Autism and “Drive”

Most autism interventions focus on making the child “more normal” or “less autistic”, and this is where many of the problems come in. (I’m sure parents who try to make their “geeky” kids more athletic or their “jocks” more academic run into basically the same problem.)

Earlier this year I read (and reviewed) Dan Pink’s latest book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Addressed primarily at the world of work, and geared toward leaders / managers, I also read this from the perspective of a parent. After all, what is a parent if not a leader for their kids.

A key part of Pink’s argument is his defining of the three things that makes for meaningful work: Autonomy, the pursuit of Mastery, and Purpose. I see no reason to think that this is different for those with autism.

And yet….

As our typical kids grow, the level of autonomy we grant – and that they demand – increases. Our autistic children also demand that same autonomy, but we are more reluctant to grant it.

The same is true with the opportunity to pursue mastery. Because our autistic children’s interests and what they wish to pursue is often quite unusual, overly specific, or otherwise outside the realm of what we ourselves are comfortable with, we often try to dampen or redirect.

I’m sure you can guess where I’m going with “purpose” as well.

Much of our own personal success has come from accepting our son’s oddity in interests, giving him the autonomy to pursue those within the bounds that any child must live within, and realizing that even though we have no idea what purpose he has in mind for himself that he does have a purpose in mind.

That, I think, is the power of the message in Drive. Not only for parenting an autistic child, but just parenting in general.

This is a slightly modified version of a comment I originally posted as part of the New Yorker Book Club discussion of drive, specifically an article entitled Reading “Drive” With Autism in Mind.

Kids, sacrifice, and the master’s journey

I don’t remember exactly where I read this, and I’m paraphrasing a bit, but this little anecdote captures the essence of mastery, and the sacrifice that often goes with it:

A world class, and world famous, dancer was approached by an excited fan following a performance.

“You were fantastic!” the fan said. “I’d give half my life to be able to dance like that.”

“That’s exactly what I did,” responded the dancer.

Ian competing on TrampIf you are the parent of a child involved in athletics at the elite level, or an adult who was one of those kids, you know exactly what this dancer is talking about. My own personal experience as a parent is with gymnastics.

My son was (is) very talented on the trampoline (he was a national champion at his age / level), but when it came time to make the move into “elite”, he recognized that he wasn’t willing to make the sacrifice demanded of that level. We know plenty of others who chose to make that sacrifice.

(As an aside, there is quite the business in “online education” for those young athletes who are unable to attend school – middle, high – because of their intense training schedule.)

The hardest part of embarking on the master’s journey is the knowledge of the sacrifices you must make, the things that you must give up or resign yourself to never experience. That is why I think it is so much easier for kids – or younger people – to commit themselves to that journey.

As parents, we have a responsibility to make sure that our kids have a “childhood”. Many times this takes the form of making sure they are “well rounded”, and don’t spend too much time on any one thing. In other words, setting up roadblocks on the master’s path.

How much of this is because we really think this is best for our kids, and how much of it is an expression of our own fear of the tough journey?