Founder Diary

March 22, 2022

The on-the-go pandemic

The on-the-go pandemic

Doing things on the go is all the rage these days. But is it really that cool?

A hamster walking outside and eating wafer rolls on the go
A hamster walking outside and eating wafer rolls on the go
A hamster walking outside and eating wafer rolls on the go
Nikita Kazhin's headshot

Nikita Kazhin

Co-founder at Brick

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From banking to food, shopping to social media, streaming to videoconferencing, emailing, investing, movie making and everything in between — looks like it’s all “on the go” these days.

Don’t have time for a snack because of work? No problem, here’s your favorite snack, now on the go! Munch away while in the middle of a spreadsheet, why not. Who ever got hurt by some mindless eating, pff?

Don’t have time to sit down and dig into the news from diverse sources? No problem, here’s an on-the-go version where we squeeze current events and complicated phenomena into just a few headlines and minimal explanation. No matter that algorithms might increase polarization, I’m in the “know” and I’ve already jumped to conclusions; long reads and non-obvious angles be damned.

Don’t have time to analyze your investments? No problem, why not just do it on the go? Who in the world does serious investment research in the age of meme stocks anyway? After all, if that doesn’t work out, there’s always another, even more hyped-up “blockbuster” stock (or, even better, a SPAC!) to invest in, just add something along the lines of Web3, crypto or NFTs (or, even better, all at once) and you’re golden.

What’s the problem anyway?

Of course, no one forces you to actually engage in all those things while walking, being outside, or whatever your non-stationary setting is. Some businesses only use “on the go” to let customers know that whatever they’re offering can be done on a mobile device.

I think there’s nothing wrong with that.

The issue is that the on-the-go mantra has been embraced by a lot of folks who don’t assign any particular meaning to it.

To them, it just sounds cool. They might want to show what resourceful workers they are (they do everything on the go!), or how presumably versatile, nimble, or universal their products are.

As a result, when we’re bombarded with this messaging all the time, it might get subconsciously wired into our brains that “on the go” is somehow a default, that it’s commonly accepted or that it’s even an encouraged mode of behavior.

To me, that sounds very similar to “always hustle,” no wonder some dictionaries tell you that “on the go” means “very busy”.

This kind of pressure implies that even if you might not have the time to do something, be it listening to the musicapplying for a federal grant, or meditating (yes, really), as a standalone activity, you surely can stack one on top of another. It hooks you into the belief that you’re somehow more productive when you’re constantly on the move and multitasking, when you’re doing it all at once. Then to-dos presumably bounce off you like pucks off hockey rink boards (spoiler, they won’t).

No boundaries

The whole on-the-go narrative often works like a perfect excuse to obscure the distinction between work and non-work activities, and between one work activity and another.

Why sit down to eat mindfully if you can do so on the move?

Or, why just sit and eat if you can read the news or scroll through your feed at the same time?

Why just do a spreadsheet, if you can simultaneously watch the game (I personally know people who do that!)?

Why focus solely on a phone call when you still have a free hand (or two if you’re on speaker or use headphones)?

Why lose time, it’s so unproductive to only do one thing!

It can go on and on and on and on.

Research shows a general tendency for work projects these days to become less well-defined while time pressures, and the number of inputs required in any particular project, increase over time. Knowing that more tasks might fall on our head any minute, adding to our already long list, is stressful and, as a result, people resort to multitasking or more “on-the-going” as a way to cope with that ever-growing strain.

I think working from home is especially fraught with these dangers. On the one hand, it might seem like staying at home all day is the opposite of being on the go. On the other hand, stacking work pressures on top of home responsibilities is often a sure way to make things worse for both.

Chasing control

Have you ever caught yourself thinking about a task at hand: “Oh boy, I need to get this over with quickly, I have a shit-ton of other things to do!” And then you try focusing intently on finishing that task but thoughts about those other assignments hang over you and just won’t let you focus.

We try to “get a jump on things” by doing what we already have on our plates as fast as we can, which often means doing them simultaneously or, that’s right, on the go. That way we try to convince ourselves that we’re more in control. We’re terrified of letting it slip from our hands. But guess what? No depth and less control is the result. When we do this, we just end up not having the time to focus at all anymore.

The reason is we allocate more and more cognitive resources for self-regulation rather than the work itself. In other words, a big chunk of our bandwidth is spent just managing ourselves, making sure we juggle tasks efficiently rather than actually making progress on those tasks. It’s pretty much like putting a huge pile of dishes in the sink and then having one hand on the pile all the time just to keep it from crumbling. Actually washing them with only one hand doesn’t seem like a viable strategy, does it?

So what?

You might not feel like a victim of this craze. Maybe you just like your crunchy wafer rolls in an on-the-go packaging. Fair enough, but I believe it’s the tendency that matters. The more we embrace the whole on-the-go narrative (even if, and especially if, we’re doing it subconsciously), the likelier we become to pick up a bunch of destructive habits that hurt our focus and pummel our attention spans.

When half of our cognitive resources are engaged in simply holding the whole dish tower from collapsing, common results are mental fatigue, impaired focus and difficulty thinking, especially long-term. No wonder we keep complaining about overwhelm and stress.

The true problem is in values and priorities. If we’re encouraged to do everything on the go, we might come to believe that it’s okay to engage in an infinite number of tasks at the same time and that it’s okay to never be fully present, that it’s okay to be partly at work all the time, and that it’s okay to rush our way through whatever’s on our plate just to reach the next to-do.

But nothing could be further from the truth. If we’re not afraid of eliminating and letting go of constant control over everything at once, we get a chance to do one thing at a time. And isn’t that all we need for true progress?

Thanks for reading!

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