Monday, August 15, 2011

Ways to improve focus pt3... kill all distractions

I am easily distracted. I think this fact has been with me since it was first ’reported’ by my Primary School teachers. I’m like the dogs in ’Up’... and, as such, for me to be productive I need to remove all the ’squirrels’ in my immediate location.

Twitter is a squirrel... as are Facebook, Yammer and Google+... to name a few of the apps that distract me. In fact, my iPhone is the biggest squirrel of them all. Whilst I have removed the notifications from these apps... the wee button still shows how many ’unread’ messages I have.

Email is a squirrel too... and one I have an ongoing fight with like Brendan Fraser in ’Furry Vengeance’ (an awful film but good in a so-bad-its-good way). As is Instant Messaging which is a wonderful tool but one that can be misused.

The Internet is also squirrel... a very tempting squirrel that calls to me like the Child-catcher in ’Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ trying to distract me with all his tasty treats.

Music can be a squirrel, if I let it... but I have think I have this one beat. See previous post.

Similarly, I can't and don't have a TV on when I'm trying to focus. Simply put... I can't watch TV and work... so I don't or I move to where I can't see the screen.

People too can be squirrels but they are, if anything, the most worthwhile squirrels of the lot... and I'm not talking about an attractive girl who walks by (unless she’s my wife), I mean the meaningful interactions.

How do I cope? I have a number of ideas that work in combination... but I do stress... this is an ongoing battle and one I haven't won and doubt I ever will.

First off, my iPhone. I have 2 iPhones. An iPhone4 and an original iPhone (2g). During work or times of ’digital fast’ I forward my calls to the 2g one. I don't have a data contract for the 2g iPhone so I can’t access twitter etc. My wife has my number of this phone if she needs to text me. I then lock my iPhone4 in a box on my desk. It's locked with a key so I must intentionally open the box to retrieve the phone. I can’t accidentally access it through habit... I must intend to. It is, in essence, this intention that I am seeking to break.

I also need to condition myself to what is truly ’urgent’. Twitter, Facebook, Yammer, Google+ etc are not ’urgent’... they are all ’nice to have’ and will keep until I can get to them. This is no reflection on the folks in my various timelines... I love the interactions I have... but when I need to focus, I must temporarily stop these interactions. I also don’t expect an immediate response from them... so if I wanted my wife, for example, I'd call or text her... not message her via Facebook (she's unfortunately not on twitter).

Next up is email and I cope with email in a couple of ways...

Firstly, I use as many filters as I can to keep the regular ’for information’ emails (such as newsletters) out of my in-box. I don't aim for ’in-box zero’ but I try to keep only those emails I am working on in there... with everything else filed away or deleted.

I also switch my email off for periods of time during the working day. If it's urgent, the person can phone me... I never let my phone got to voice-mail, if I can help it. Again, it's coming back to what's really urgent and what’s not. I’m trying to condition myself to see the truly urgent and react accordingly.

We then have the Internet... which is a timesink of Herculean proportions. I don't ’need’ to read my RSS feeds or catch up with the BBC News or read ’’ or following links to the latest this or that. These are things I want to do. I must, therefore, condition myself to what I need to do in moments of focus and leave ’catching up’ to when I have spare time... like at home or commuting or in a queue for this or that.

Unfortunately, as I support Sharepoint at my work, I need to have the Internet... because I'd do without it, if I could.

Whilst I am working on a graphic at home, I switch off Chrome on my MBP. I also tend to write on my iPad now... without connecting it to the Internet, especially in Starbucks. That's the benefit of a wi-fi only model - it isn't connected when away from home unless I want it to be! No connection = no distraction.

I use iA Writer... which is a fantastic app that works like an old word-processor and removes all unnecessary formatting bells-and-whistles. I can get this app for my MBP but not sure I see the point... my iPad does what I need it to do in this space now.

Lastly, people are squirrels but they are the most rewarding of the lot. I'm not adverse to a distraction from a flesh-and-blood person... in person, via IM or the telephone (I tend to use SKYPE intentionally so it's never an interruption)... because these interruptions tend to be the most important.

Yes, it could be my dad on for a blether but having a blether with my dad is worthy of interrupting what I am doing... and our relationship is strong enough to say ’can I call you back?’ if I need to.

Similarly with IM but, to be honest, I only use IM at my work and it's an internal, closed system. I treat IM like a phonecall... albeit I do set my status to ’busy’ or ’do not disturb’ most of the time... to screen out all but the most important.

I don't use IM at home and I loathe Facebook Messenger... because I’m not in control of when I can respond.

Response is key, in my opinion - face-to-face, phone and IM demand an instant response... whereas email, twitter, Facebook etc don’t or shouldn’t. Texts tend to be in the middle (unless they are from my Olly). This is how I work and how I prioritise.

I also seek to condition my intentions... and minimise any habitual checking of things... you know the kind I mean, the ones that come from a figital lifestyle.

I also reward myself with surfing, twitter etc after periods of focus. They are distractions when I need to focus but compelling attractions when I don't.

I hope this makes sense? How do you battle distraction?



Roy said...

a really helpful post - I have started screening and intentionally stopping things. I sometimes adopt a selfish attitude 'my phone is their for my convenience, not everyone else' but this is often to provide sanity and quiet rather than ignorance in relationships

Dave Jones said...

Excellent advice! I will be pointing a few friends to this

Angus Mathie said...

Another well thought out piece.

I think it is right to choose your channels of priority and ensure people use the appropriate channel. As a manager of yesteryear when email was in its infancy, it became a tyrant which had to be answered by return and timescales became compressed. Now I only expect certain individuals to reply to an email consistently within a short timescale and, more usually, I have needed to confine its use to business mail plus these certain (generally older) individuals. It is infuriating to find people expect certain standards from myself and don't accord me the same courtesy.
I think most people will respect periods of concentrated, "do not disturb" isolation but there are some who want to crash your diary no matter what priorities you have set. No-one reads your diary or to-do list beforehand. I think it is right to respond to mobile (including texts) and/ or landline but to limit other interaction to set periods you can handle without seriously affecting your own schedules. There is no harm in trying to "educate" other people and discipline yourself, especially to allocating the most time to your urgent/important tasks.


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