Everyone knows the things that literally GRAB your attention often get it. As much as you try to ignore the guy popping into your office, the woman calling non-stop, the screaming child pulling on your leg, those things can end up inadvertently trumping other things you could be doing. But all of those things are REAL world problems... now lets talk digital.
The barrage of instant messages bleeping and flashing on your screen, the tweets, the Google alerts, the noise you know means "you've got mail", the buzz of your phone with text messages arriving, a Facebook messaging arriving ... it's amazing people get ANY work done these days! For a lot of us, those so-called distractions are an integral part of our work.
For the last 15 years of my life, it's been almost impossible to find me on a laptop yet not online and on instant messenger (with a stack of chats open simultaneously). It keeps escalating, which is to be expected. With more and more streams directed at me, doing what I LOVE -- living my life, exploring, discovering new things, getting inspired and actually making things -- can get lost.
So I tried a little experiment, during a WEEKDAY, no less: No instant messenger constantly open; no Tweetdeck constantly feeding me more tweets; no Mail open; no Facebook browsing in my permanently opened tabs. I still couldn't resist spending hours on my laptop, but instead of impulsively checking everything every few MINUTES or keeping everything open, I looked, caught up for a few minutes, then CLOSED them. And here are a few things I learned.
1. It's lonely... at first! I'd find an amazing link, get excited, really want to share it -- too excited to just post it directly to NOTCOT.org. I wanted to tell someone! I'd find myself looking for that buddy list instantly. Then I'd try and fight the urge to tweet it. The strangest thing I did was look around the room, even though I was home by myself.
Beyond the moment of loneliness, I found ME. I'd stop and think about what it was that excited me, perhaps delve a bit deeper into the subject, find even cooler details, and end up formulating a bigger feature post to share more thoroughly on NOTCOT.
2. It helps focus! Don't get me wrong, I'm an a huge advocate of multitasking. I used to annoy my roommates in college because I would have the TV on while listening to music, talking on IM, perusing websites, and doing homework -- sometimes while on the phone. I love being surrounded by multiple passive streams while focusing on one (or two?) main tasks. The biggest problem with IM, Twitter, Email, and Facebook is that they aren't nearly passive enough. Somehow the pull of people being able to reach out and scream for your attention so directly (face it, TV just doesn't call you out like a tweet @ you does) changed everything! The extra focus let me enjoy what i was doing even more!
3. Reality changes. Sounds silly, doesn't it? But how many times do you check email and twitter on your phone? You're waiting to meet someone, whether you're early or they're late, what do you do to pass the time? Does the phone come out? Movie just ended, do you instantly see what you missed? Or even worse, when you're out to dinner with someone, do you check in during? Or at a red light?
After forcing myself away from that habit for two days, I felt less inclined to need to check everything while I was out. And it was kind of freeing -- gives you even more of a chance to appreciate and discover new things around you. And those people who are on your case for not tweeting them back quickly enough? They can wait.
4. Time slows down, and calm comes. It's better than the kind of calm I get after a good work out. That one is more exhaustion mixed with an adrenaline rush that gets my head racing. This one, I feel more relaxed, at peace with myself, and more in control of my life. Email responses happen when I'm ready. IM conversations take place when I'm open to people talking to me. Twitter and Facebook intake occurs only when I am ready for all the superfluous details of lives of both friends and random interesting folks I followed at some point. Beyond the calm, time begins to slow down, and the unnecessary sense of urgency washes away. And you know what? Somehow I answered even more email that usual.
5. Productivity shifts. Without that constant pull from various directions, inspiration evolved into creation naturally. Being alone in my head and being able to focus let the ideas and opportunities I never had time to fully think through took on lives of their own. And THAT is the rush i missed most as doing what I loved evolved into "work".
So, that's my experiment, and I'll definitely be tweaking my laptop habits to allow more of this productive calm into my life.
How do you balance your social media monitoring and constant contact as the physical and digital world pull at you? There will always be more IMs, tweets, emails, phone calls, and people than you can possibly handle -- how do you balance it, so as not to lose yourself in it?