Zen And The Art Of Thinking Straight

Author Ed Hallowell has some solutions for the frazzled and overwhelmed

Are you suffering from any of these symptoms? You frequently feel rushed and impatient, you're easily distracted, you're forgetful, and you have little time for creative thought. If so, Dr. Edward Hallowell, a Sudbury (Mass.) psychiatrist, has a diagnosis: You're probably suffering from environmentally induced attention deficit disorder, brought on by technology and activity overload. Hallowell spoke to Associate Editor Anne Tergesen about the solutions he outlined in his new book, CrazyBusy: Overstretched, Overbooked, and About to Snap -- Strategies for Coping in a World Gone ADD (Ballantine Books; $24.95).

What are the consequences of living in our attention deficit society?

Everybody is trying to do more in less time. People literally channel surf through the day. During conversations, part of our minds are elsewhere. We want to move on. When you gradually take on more and more, it can reach a point where everything, even good things like friendship, starts to feel like a burden. In that mode, you won't function well at work or interpersonally.

Are business people vulnerable?

Yes. They are conditioned to never complain. They want to be good team players. So when they're asked to do more, they suck it up and work harder until they become so frazzled, they're not enjoying the work and performance trails off. It's a safe bet that anyone who works and has kids also understands these issues. They're juggling deadlines, games, rehearsals, and school meetings. They're worrying about how the grocery shopping, cooking, and laundry will get done. People want to do all these activities. But they take on more than they can reasonably do. E-mail tends to facilitate the overscheduling.

What's the solution?

Do not allow the world to have access to you 24/7. Set aside time to work before you check your e-mail or snail mail or voice mail, before you allow the world to intrude on your fresh and focused state of mind. Turn off your BlackBerry and cell phone. Stretch or have a five-minute conversation. When you sit down again, you'll be focused.

What else do you recommend?

Prioritizing is crucial. If you don't, you'll find yourself spread so thin you'll only be able to see your good friends on the first Tuesday in February. Give yourself permission to end relationships and projects that drain you. Do what you're good at and delegate the rest. This is important, because when we do what we're good at, the work can take on the quality of play. Keep in mind that some of our best thoughts come when we're doing nothing. Downtime is a forgotten art.

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