Yes, its one of those Medium posts about organising one's self for minimum distraction. Note that I said ‘minimum distraction’, not ‘maximum focus’. Those are two quite different things.
Before I begin I should note that by nature my brain is:
- Easily Distracted
- Prone to rumination
- Addicted to problem-solving.
Rather than fixing my brain, I’ve adapted to simply filtering what I put into it, so this is what I’ve done to ‘turn down the noise’ over the last several months:
My 12 point plan
- Give up Twitter as a regular habit
There’s no plausible way that my brain can consume Twitter in anything less than a way that distracts and harms me. I tend to find myself in a constant state of reaction and it's generally to matters of little to no impact on me.
So, I’ll get my news the old fashioned way, support the social and political causes I choose to in real practical ways, and generally seek to stay in touch with the people in my life who are… well... actually present.
- Split my work/home phone
For a long time, I carried one phone for home and work. This resulted in the unfortunate habit of working all the time or being triggered by the usual work noises at times that weren’t appropriate (i.e. family time). Most of these interruptions weren’t meaningful but given my brain, not something I could simply look at and not think about.
- Organise my phone(s) to turn off most notifications, including badges.
Every single application wants to be your lifetime friend and tell you everything and unread badges would result in leaving me with ‘undone’ activities, so I turned them all off. Only the most critical items send me notifications or have a badge.
- Setup an auto-archiving rule using a script in Gmail / Filter my work email
Gmail lets you write and execute a script to automate your mail so I wrote my own to aggressively archive email that was in anything other than my direct inbox, (and even then, archive the inbox after 3 days). This organisation means I have inbox zero most of the time, and I find that much more soothing.
Outlook isn’t quite so sophisticated, so I’ve set up rules to file emails into different folders such as Email only to me, Email to me and others, and Email I’m cc’d on. Other specific topics/subjects or senders are auto-archived, or filed away.
- Turned off Linkedin requests (unless you have my email address)
I’ve gotten a lot of LinkedIn requests, most of these are, to be frank, low value and the angst of deciding who to accept or reject was playing on me (some days I accepted everyone, others I was choosy). Also, connecting would auto-follow, and that would bring even more noise into my stream
- Pre-schedule as many things as possible.
I’ve actually scheduled a time to spray the lawn in Winter for weeds, yes, I’m nuts, but I found that setting up appointments for car services, blood donations and the rest has tended to mean I keep those appointments, and the regularity is comforting
- Stick to comfortable routines
As above, I’ve got regular routines outside of my work now for social and family activities, this means I’m more likely to be doing them and reaping the benefits.
- Deal with things in batch.
Context switching is time-consuming and mentally demanding so you should aim to get through a lot of the same stuff in one go. When reading email, triage things for later activity in a Getting Things Done style. Accomplishing several outstanding short items can clear a lot of mental noise
- Pick the time and place for certain things / Willfully ignore certain items until later.
Meetings, topics, projects, customers. I tend to try and focus my calendar for work and my location on a single topic. This allows me to invest most heavily in that topic for the duration and deal with the next topic in due course.
- Avoid the news, except where it affects me directly
You’d be surprised how much news has little to no effect on you. I’ve always been engaged in the news, but now I stick to ‘low speed’ news sources such as ABC News (Australia’s national broadcaster, like PBS or BBS), which tends to publish on a less frequent basis but always covers the key items.
- Tune my channels to specific topics
Facebook is now primarily for my hobbies, other apps and channels have also been tuned to a single topic. This allows me to use the channel as a filter. If I restrict the channel, I focus on other things.
- Go to bed
As a general rule, I try to avoid anything involving problem-solving/work in the late evenings, my brain tends to go to bed running at high speed, so this allows me to ‘drift off’ without too much on my mind
All of these choices are basically about giving my brain space, being more deliberate in choices, and focussing on the now.
The main results have been:
- I’ve been having some of my best times with my kids.
- I’m finally reading again…. well, things over a hundred characters or a few thousand words!