I recently did a little experiment.
I’ve been getting into Medici: Masters of Florence on Netflix. I like to watch to it with a coffee as I start my day. One morning last week, I put it on.
After a couple of minutes, I had the urge to check my phone, and from that point on, throughout the whole episode, I sort of flitted between watching Medici , and scrolling on my phone – with no particular aim – through Reddit, Instagram, The Guardian, my emails…
After 45 minutes or so, the episode finished, and it hit me that although I’d spent plenty of that 45 minutes looking at the TV, I couldn’t remember hardly anything that had happened. How could that be?
So I decided that – since I had the time, and the curiosity – I would switch off my phone, put it in the kitchen, and start the episode over.
The difference was night and day.
There are a few reasons why the results of my little experiment surprised me so much.
The first is a matter of intention – if somebody had phoned me and said “what are you doing right now?” I would have answered “watching Medici: Masters of Florence. It’s great.” And yet… that’s not really what I was doing, is it? Part of me was. But not much of me, if I could hardly remember anything when it finished. I was basically fooling myself.
The second is how little enjoyment or fulfilment being on my phone gave me. It’s not like I sat down to watch Medici and instead had an amazing time on my phone. I can’t recall a single thing that I did, looked at, looked up, scrolled through… I just know that for 45 minutes, I was generally “on my phone.”
And the third thing is that I would have assumed watching TV – the thing I was trying to do – to be fairly low on a scale from “needs almost no attention” and “needs your full, undivided attention.” And yet when I diluted my attention by being on my phone, it made an incredible difference to the experience.
If it needs your attention, give it your attention
By trying to kind of do two things, I didn’t really do either of them – I never really got into the episode of Medici, and I certainly didn’t do anything of any real worth or value on my phone.
Compared to how I could have spent that 45 minutes, it was a total waste. It wasn’t relaxing. It wasn’t enjoyable. It wasn’t satisfying. It was pointless.
Yet when I allowed myself to only do one thing, then something as mundane as “watching TV” opened up and became a genuinely pleasurable and engaging experience.
Why am I telling you this?
Am I telling you this to preach the evils of being on your phone whilst you watch TV? No.
I’m telling you this to encourage you to explore what difference being intentional about what you’re doing can make.
If single-tasking could transform my experience of watching TV – something that you wouldn’t required much attention – just think what it could do for something that actually required a decent amount of attention?
If something needs any of your attention, try giving it all of your attention. See what happens.