What is fascinating about the new '
' website is not that the kid behind
is very much in tune with the moment, but that it is disturbingly hard to actually do nothing for two minutes for many, many people.
We have become trained to have our brains on 'receive' constantly, always needing to absorb information from almost any source, whether it be useful or something less so like
(must... not... go... read... more... funny... misspelled... text... messages...)
The sheer quantity of crap we absorb daily is incredible, and if we ever actually find a theoretical storage limit of the brain, it will not be because a rocket scientist fills theirs with numbers, but because some average Joe has looked at too many A
, and they will simply explode.
I remember tweeting a few months ago after a short period of bad health that I was "going off the grid to reboot", and a week in the sticks actually made me a lot better. That week was indeed a reboot, during which time my brain had a good old fashioned spring clean and dumped all of that clutter that was not adding value. My RAM cleared, I could operate better. I had no idea how true that Tweet was.
I have now discovered some basic changes in the way I work that have made a huge difference to my productivity, and have switched me from being a slave to information to being in control of it.
(Firstly, I do not have a job that involves saving babies. If you do then this isn't for you and please ignore all references to not responding immediately to messages!!)
So let's imagine having tea with your mum (as all us Brits do), or having dinner with your most important client. And during the conversation someone taps you on the shoulder and asks you a question. Overhearing this question several of the intruders friends decide to express their opinions to the group too. But you don't hear all their points of view because the server wants to give you dozens of reviews on the menu from people you don't know, and before you can absorb them all the mailman arrives and drops off some letters which you open immediately. Glancing up occasionally to mum or your client you fake attention a moment, holding it long enough to hear their next question but not long enough to respond before answering your phone.
As you wave off the mailman (armed with all the responses you wrote to the letters of course), finish considering the menu reviews, deal with the shoulder tapper and his friends (including one who you didn't think had originally heard, but somehow got the initial communication privately) and dealt with all the incoming calls, you look up to see that mum or the client left.
Who can blame them?
We have become a society where the incoming information stream takes priority over the existing one. It makes us rude and less effective.
So I tried something simple - I turned off all my notifications.
My Outlook no longer chimes, my cursor doesn't take on the form of an envelope, nothing tells me 'I have got mail', my
doesn't do it's charming double chirp and my iPhone does not vibrate every time I get an email. I go and check those channels when I am ready, sometimes that is a few minutes, sometimes it might need to be an hour.
And my productivity has improved greatly. As have my personal interactions - if you have my attention then you have my attention, I will not accept the shoulder tapper, the mailman or the phone calls... until you get up to go to the bathroom of course, then I will check everything through my iPhone.
And I am sorry to my colleagues and clients if my response comes a few minutes later than it normally would, but it will be better and more considered for it.
It is somewhat liberating; I feel like I am in a support group -
"hi, my name is
and I sometimes don't check my email for 20 minutes, and I am not a bad person!!"
So I challenge you to do the same. Start with the site that simply asks you to
and then graduate to turning off your own notifications. Take back control and give your attention to what you are doing, not the next incoming and unknown piece of information. That can wait until you are ready for it.
And if you think you can't do this then you probably need to try this more than most.
In my latest read, "
" (a brilliant collection of answers to that question from diverse thinkers including
), the author,
, states about books:
"As a technology, a book focuses our attention, isolates us from the myriad distractions that fill our everyday lives. A networked computer does precisely the opposite. It is designed to scatter our attention. It doesn't shield us from environmental distractions, it adds to them. The words on a computer screen exist in a welter of contending stimuli."
It's an eye opening comment for sure. But by turning off those notifications you create the best of both worlds, the concentrated absorption of information that a book provides, married with the instant access to almost anything you could wish to know.
Go on, try it. Be a better person, pay attention to your mum,