Yes, Yes, I’m Listening …

Oh no, you’re not! Multitasking has left us drained, depleted, ultimately less productive. Down tools, or at least use them one at a time, says Antonia Hart

I was on the phone to a medical consultant a couple of weeks ago when she interrupted herself: “I just have to send a message, sorry, hang on there.” I listened to the distant tap, tap, tap, whoosh that told me an email was leaving her building. What had happened there, during our phone consultation? As she advised me, was she reading her incoming mail and formulating a response, deciding it had to go before our five-minute call was over? As she answered my questions, had she suddenly remembered an unsent mail, and felt on balance now was the best time to compose and send it? If it were an urgent medical query, didn’t it warrant her whole attention? As a patient, didn’t I? Our exchange, and her absence from it, left me disgruntled, but of course I’m frequently as guilty as she was of trying to do more than one thing at a time. Do we shortchange others because of it? Are we shortchanging ourselves? Will 2015 be a more productive, calmer year if we can relearn the skills required to focus?

Multitasking feels like one massive con. It doesn’t mean you achieve many things at once. It usually means a lot of fussing about at the wrong tasks and failing to give adequate focus to the task of highest priority. It happens at every level, from those who are unable to set their phone down during a meeting (or date) for fear of missing a Facebook, email, Twitter, Tumblr or Instagram update, to members of senior management teams trying to do 30 work-related tasks in a day that can realistically accommodate five. Research carried out at the University of Sussex showed that people who engaged in tech multitasking at a fairly everyday level – sending texts while watching television and tweeting, or flitting about the web while on the phone to their mum – had less grey matter than those who didn’t. (Other academic studies have found that this kind of multitasking decreases your memory, shortens your attention span and makes it harder for you to achieve focus when you do eventually slip your now boiling hot phone back into its case.

This story appears in the January issue of The Gloss. Find more features like this in next issue, out Thursday February 5

The Fantastic Freedom of Midlife

So, here you are, at life’s midpoint, with a little more time on your hands but feeling vaguely unfulfilled. Are there things you wish you’d done before now? Languages you’d have liked to learn, trips you’d loved to have taken? If it’s fear that’s stopping you, don’t let it. It’s now or never, says Aoife O’Brien, who’s working her way through a sort-of bucket list, doing the things that really make her happy

There’s another birthday coming up next week and I’d swear the last one was only six months ago.  I have a theory which I frequently expound upon to my sainted friends, and that is that time has speeded up since the beginning of this millennium. According to my calculations, although the clock and the scientists would disagree, an hour’s massage feels like half an hour, it feels like only seven years since my 14-year-old was born and it can’t possibly be a year since my last birthday. Oh God, empty nest syndrome awaits and I’m already two-thirds of the way there. Time is flying and I haven’t done half the things I meant to. I definitely don’t want to be that woman who celebrates her 80th birthday with a parachuting lesson compliments of her doting grandchildren. No no no – I want to do things now. 

The New Year isn’t the only time for gear changes and resolutions. Life is littered with opportunities to change tack and deal with the watershed moments it throws at us, we just need to know ourselves well enough to grab them.

A new decade, mid-life, empty nest, divorce, bereavement or just plain old disappointment – they all provide us with a choice of dwelling on it or moving on.

“If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it. Don’t complain,” said Maya Angelou.
Maybe it’s because I’ve entered my fifties that I’ve had a rethink. It’s a watershed of which one is constantly reminded, not only by the mirror but by every element of one’s life. Getting the knack of a new computer/car/television remote fills me with despair and makes me yearn for the one RTÉ channel of my youth. I find the idea of going to any lengths in order to look ten years younger slightly creepy. I’m damned if I’m going to fall for anything invasively youthifying – even if it were to work, how freaky would it look to one’s nearest and dearest? Why would I try to look like my eldest son’s girlfriend? I’ll do a bit of yoga and avoid cakes now but whereas my forties were about physical maintenance, I’m turning towards mental maintenance – doing the things that really make me happy.

I am definitely not one to even consider yomping up and down Kilimanjaro twice a year in between Buddhist retreats. There’s a much cheaper way – I’ve decided that I’m just going to be happy to be me and my age because I’m too lazy to rewire and too young to throw in the towel.

This story appears in the January issue of The Gloss. Find more features like this in next issue, out Thursday February 5

Your Hair in His Hands

Don’t be diverted by discussion of the relative merits of political parties. The power to make you happy actually rests with your hairdresser, says Maggie Armstrong

There is a hair salon in Ireland that everyone who is anyone goes to. It’s in an elegantly imposing three-storey building situated in the capital’s booming hairdressing quarter. The interior feels like a lavish nightclub. It advertises itself on its website as “Ireland’s most elite and prestigious hair salon” and you can sense the footfall of celebrities inside its crepuscular ambiance.

There you relax on toffee-coloured velour banquettes until your hairdresser comes and plants a kiss on your cheek. He takes you to a Snow White mirror, where he runs his fingers through your locks and gazes at you with solicitude. Beautiful water nymph girls bring you cups of coffee and maybe a crab salad. As the hours pass your thoughts are blissfully anaesthetised by pop tunes, petal-scented hair products and phosphorescent visuals, and your every whimsical want is provided for.

There is a nail bar, make-up artistry and elite tanning booths if you fancy. You can have a glass of Prosecco, chocolate-covered raspberries and mini lemon meringue pies. Your hairdresser offers a pastoral care service and if you are having work issues, an extramarital affair or simply have a slight tension headache he gives impartial advice. The visit costs about €300 plus tip. Afterwards you don’t even need to go to a nightclub or call a friend.  
It’s true that this isn’t, in fact, a real place, but an amalgam of about six different hairdressers’ at large in the country. Hair salons, I mean. It’s so easy to forget that going to the hairdresser has become visiting the hair salon; stepping into a Proustian living room of social and spiritual and alimentary nourishment, revived in the beauty world. An exclusive treat, not a chore. The salon is a place richly furnished, deep in its knowledge of what you want, large in its promises to personally transform you.

But when did hairdressers’ become hair salons? When did we let this French word in? A rough guess is that a hair “salon” was a boom-time addition (hair “groups”, hair “technicians” and hair “therapists” came and went). The anomaly is that today they are still prospering in beauty bubbles of their own. They call themselves “hair salons” even if we, their clients, prefer the Anglo-Saxon “hairdressers”. The difference is that salons, with their plump décor and refreshments, offer an experience, not a mere service. The salon, like the white tablecloth to the hungry diner, or the celebrity cookbook, furnishes you with a lifestyle, not just a meal. The famous motto of Vidal Sassoon –“If you don’t look good, we don’t look good” – is switched to “If we don’t look good, you don’t look good.”

This story appears in the January issue of The Gloss. Find more features like this in next issue, out Thursday February 5