Law is not quantum physics, but nonetheless requires some heavy lifting. Why then do lawyers check e-mail and phone messages constantly?
In a recent study, a group of Microsoft workers took, on average, 15 minutes to return to serious mental tasks, like writing reports or computer code, after responding to incoming e-mail or instant messages. They strayed off to reply to other messages or browse news, sports or entertainment Web sites.
Yes, multi-tasking is a myth. Why does the myth persist? Like all myths, multi-tasking lives on because it's personally comforting, and expressive of wider culture.
Hard work is hard. It's comforting to think we're working hard, without actually exerting ourselves. Switching back-and-forth between mindless tasks to real work makes us feel productive without actually getting the headaches that accompany actual work. We have a personal incentive for believing in the myth of multi-tasking. As narcissists, we can have the self-image of a productive worker without the productivity.
Multi-tasking also exists because of social pressures.
When doing serious legal writing, I disable e-mail notification; shut down IM; and do not answer my phone. Aside from better work product, I create angry people.
In a society of narcissists, "checking out" is rude. How dare you not be present when I beckon you?! How dare you not eat lunch with everyone else? Do you think you're above that? What are you, anti-social?
It is, of course, possible to like the same people that you ignore. Want to take a walk in the park/grab a cigar/hit the gym to talk about life? Sure. Just leave me alone while I work. And don't talk to me during my sets.
In a world of narcissism, every petty tyrant feels entitled to access you. Multi-tasking gives them the intellectual justification to impose upon your time. Often the idiots will mockingly say, "What?! You can't do two things at once?" Well, of course I can't; and neither can you - at least if you want to play a level above pee-wee league baseball.
I don't make New Year's Resolutions. I do, however, reflect on the prior year. In 2009, I spent too much time distracted. It's time to cull the blog subscriptions, turn the cell phone off, and stop reading newspaper articles about world events that I don't shape.
Before one is able to check in, he must first check out.
Happy New Year.