This is the first in a short series of things I'll likely write about the coming year (2007). The end of the year is often a good time to look back and think about what has happened and why, not to mention how they compared to my expectations and goals (assuming I had any).
Distraction and Productivity
In the last couple of years, my self-improvement efforts have centered around physical health. I've lost a bunch of weight and kept it off (see: Diet Tips or How To Lose Weight with a Spreadsheet and a Web Site, The Diet Plan and The Three Habits, The Diet Spreadsheet, Diet Tips: How To Eat Less), improved my eating habits, and am beginning to exercise more.
But my mental health has been slowly going down the crapper. While I've made half-hearted efforts to reduce the non-essential demands on my limited brain time and power (see: The Hopeless Email Battle, Shooting E-Mail Like Bullets, E-Mail Stress Disorder or Burnout?, E-Mail Tension Syndrome, E-Mail Newsletters and RSS, My 30 Day GMail and Yahoo! Mail Challenge), there's a lot more I can do.
I need to put the same amount of effort, time, and dedication into drastically reducing the "inputs" in my life, most of which are computer assisted and amplified. I need to reduce, focus, and filter my inputs.
In thinking about it, I've come to realize that there are surprisingly few underlying reasons for my mental distraction. Here they are:
- Longevity. As of a few days ago, I've been at Yahoo for seven years. I started in late December of 1999 and it's now late December of 2006. That means I've managed to get myself on a lot of mailing lists, many of which are "legacy" in the sense that I'm not involved with the stuff on a daily basis anymore, but I can't seem to convince myself to cut the cord. Similarly, I often get asked for my opinion on things that I only care about in a minor way (see next item) or that can be handled just as well (or better) by someone else.
- Difficulty saying "no!" For whatever reason, it's easy for me to over-commit and difficult for me to say "no" when I ought to. The strange thing is that I often know I'm doing it at the time (or shortly after) but can figure out how to correct the problem.
- Many Interests. I'm too interested in too many things. I always have been, so when someone passes me an interesting link or I stumble on a web site about some topic that I don't read about often enough, another 45 minutes can vanish in a flash.
- Availability of information. For someone of many interests, the web is a seductive technology. Information is so abundant and easy to come by that it rarely feels like "work" to dig it up. It's not like you have to travel to a library, navigate the bookshelves, and read without the aid of a search engine. So much of the friction is gone.
- Lack of obvious penalty. Unless I become more ruthless about setting goals (even simple ones) and somehow punishing myself for not meeting them, there's a lack of obvious penalty or downside to all this. That's not to say there aren't any but they're certainly not strong enough in most cases that I'm forced to change my habits.
What to do?
With all that in mind, I'm setting a few goals. Well, there're more like rules, but if I can stick with 'em, who really cares?
- I will unsubscribe from every email list that I don't consider essential to my work or hobbies. It's so easy to get occasionally interesting information when I need it (via search) that I shouldn't be spending mental energy reading a large stream of incoming hay on the off chance that a needle shows up.
- I will end every day (both at work and at home) with no open tabs in my browser. I've been using tabs as a sort of ad-hoc todo list that has no obvious order or priority and often spirals out of control. No more of that.
- While the echo chamber is fun, entertaining, seductive and often frustrating, I will check the various blog amplifiers and aggregators only once a day (barring unusual circumstances).
- I will try harder to say no.
There aren't many and they sound simple, but they represent pretty important changes to my daily workflow.
My goal is to spend more time on quality stuff: getting deeper into stuff that I already do and want to do more of, building more stuff (more on that later), and spending less time on trivia, and generally trying to have a clearer head and less of a sense of urgency.
Do you have any distraction reduction plans in the works too?
Posted by jzawodn at December 31, 2006 02:40 PM