At the risk of being reprimanded at work and feeling more embarrassment than I already have, I’ll share a little tid-bit with you: earlier in the semester, I FORGOT to go teach one of my classes on an ordinary Wednesday. Yeah, you read that right—I forgot to go do my job.
“How does this happen?” you might ask—as I asked myself, once I recovered from my state of confusion and fear of having brain damage, followed by panic. Well, “pretty easily” is the answer. I could give you the long version of all the reasons that lead me to that moment but I’ll spare the details. Suffice to say, that the second class (of four) of the day varied from, but was also similar to, my usual pattern. I was preoccupied and I was operating on auto-pilot. The 2 most salient ingredients for mindlessness.
The 2 most salient ingredients for mindlessness = preoccupation + autopilot.
This is not my first foray into mindlessness. It could have been worse. The last time had more expensive consequences: I tore the front bumper off my car on a parking garage concrete post at the mall backing out of my parking space. The truth is, I was so preoccupied that evening, I don’t even recall walking out of the store or throwing my packages in the trunk. (And, no, my phone was not involved.) I am grateful that only the post and my car were the victims. There are many worse tales.
Mindlessness is risky business.
The absolute most tragic stories are the babies who die when accidentally left in cars. Yes, accidentally. While this seems unthinkable, Amy and I both know someone with a friend who did this. They were smart, educated, kind, compassionate, busy, successful, good parents who were preoccupied, on autopilot, and who had a distraction that varied from (but was similar to) their usual pattern. And it could not have ended more tragically. Horribly, heartbreakingly, tragic. Yet, an accident of mindlessness. Mindlessness is risky business.
I really do thank my lucky stars that what I did was laughably embarrassing at worst. My assistant, who is a former student, reassured (and assured!) me that my class was probably celebrating my absence. I did also chuckle at myself, recalling Steve Martin’s 1970’s comedy shtick in which he claimed, “I Forgot.” was the excuse for everything: “When the IRS asks, ‘why didn’t you file your taxes?’ just say, ‘I Forgot.’” Well kids, I Forgot.
Each time this happens, I use it as a wake-up call. I know that I need to slow down, clear my plate, and tune in.
Slow down. I do notice that my pace sharply quickens with mindlessness. I multitask more. I walk too fast. I probably speed from thing to thing. The problem is that the faster I go, the more mistakes I make. The more things I forget. Then I have to undo problems and double back. Which, of course, costs me more time and slows my progress. I did notice in the couple of weeks before forgetting to go to class, I had to return home in the morning to find my phone. I knew that was a yellow light, but I sped on, undeterred. After the missed class debacle, I started to take deep breaths and to literally move more slowly. It helped.
Clear your plate. Like so many people, I am arguably over-scheduled. Not typically a workaholic, I would sound like I’m in denial if I tried to say I wasn’t working too much. But my work is seasonal and I am clear this would not be a sustainable pace if I wasn’t looking forward to 12 upcoming weeks of working about 25% of my current schedule. Nevertheless, I took this warning sign to heart and re-upped my efforts to say “No” to new opportunities, delegated more mundane things that take up precious time and energy, and pared down as much as many responsibilities as I could.
Tune in. We are leading such distractible lives. We erroneously believe that multitasking is the way to live a productive life. However, multitasking is anything but productive: research shows that we lose more than 40% of our productivity when we are multitasking. For my students who believe that they can take notes in class and surf social media concurrently, I translate this lost productivity in the following way: “Just don’t come back to classes after Spring Break–take the rest of the semester off–and see the impact on your final grade.” They looked shocked at that preposterous suggestion, but it would have about the same effect on their grade as their multitasking.
Multitasking is anything but productive: research shows that we lose more than 40% of our productivity when we are multitasking.
I know this might read as a “do as I say, not as I do” skill, but at least I caught it and have worked on it. I can’t claim 100% mindfulness but I do remind myself to practice it in little ways every day. And with practice, hopefully I will become more skilled overall. And I hope this for you too!
So in our Messy, distractible lives, remember to slow down, clear your plate, and tune in, stay mindful to enjoy more Marvelous moments!