He argues that the best way to get more done is to do less. Leo talks about being constantly connected to the cloud as an addiction, one that must be treated just like any conventional addiction. This goes for both my work and personal life. At work, I have a ton of different projects on at once, people coming to me all through the day needing questions answered, issues resolved, priorities decided, and a constant stream of emails, meeting requests, instant messages and phone calls. Focus: a simplicity manifesto in the Age of Distraction.
Age of distraction: why the idea digital devices are destroying our concentration and memory is a myth. Developing razor sharp focus with zen habits blogger, Leo Babauta. How to organize your workspace. Jennifer G. The information in this article is provided for education and informational purposes only, without any express or implied warranty of any kind, including warranties of accuracy, completeness or fitness for any particular purpose.
You might start it by closing down your browser and maybe other open applications, and maybe even take a walk for a couple of minutes to clear your head and get your blood circulating. Then return to your list of Most Important Tasks and figure out what you need to accomplish next. Before you check email again or go back online, work on that important task for as long as you can.
Repeat Alternate focus and rest. This is almost like intervals in exercise — alternating between periods of hard exercise and rest works well because it allows you to do some pretty intense exercise, as long as you allow yourself some rest. Focus works much the same way — if you give yourself built-in periods of rest, you can get some great periods of focus. Some prefer short bursts and others like longer periods of undisturbed creativity. Alternate two focuses.
Instead of alternating between focus and rest, you could alternate between two different focuses. For example, you could work on two different projects at once, or study for two differentclassesatonce. But you could work for 10 minutes on one thing and then 10 on another, or stay focused on one as long as you are interested in it, then switch when your interest lags.
The great thing about this method is that switching to a new project can help give your brain a rest from the other project, and it can keep you creating for much longer before getting distracted. Communicate first, then blocks of focus. Set a timer and give yourself45minutestodoemail,Twitter,FacebookIM,andanyreading you would normally do. Then use an Internet blocker to block these distractions for a couple of hours up to hours if you like while you focus on creating.
Then another 45 minutes of communicating End of day. Weekly focus rituals. Other ideas. The rituals above are just some of the ideas I like best — you should find the ritual that works best for you. There are an almost infinite number of possibilities. The Stream of Distractions The more connected a person becomes on the Internet, the more distractions they face in their day. A saner way. We do it consciously, with intent. Social networks, blogs and news sites you read, different ways to communicate and consume information … these tend to build up as you spend time online.
You build them up without much thought, but you end up being consumed by what you consume. I suggest becoming more conscious of this, and choosing what you consume and how much you communicate carefully. I also suggest starting from scratch. Assume that nothing is sacred, empty your plate, and only put back on it what you absolutely need or love. Let the rest fade away. Let the rest go. This is unbelievably important. You have to accept this, and be OK with it. Go on a mini-cleanse. Do this once a week. Later, as you get used to this, try a day cleanse, and maybe even work your way up to a week.
Be vigorous about this rule. Again, start with half a day or a day — something manageable. Do it once a week, and gradually expand the time you spend on the cleanse. Cell phone? What are the most essential information streams you consume? What blogs? What news? What other reading or watching or listening? What can you cut out? Can you cut half of the things you read and watch? Slowly reduce your stream, leaving only the essentials.
Using the Stream Wisely Just as importantly, reduce the time you spend using the essentials.
If email is essential, do you need to be notified of every new email right this second? Do you need to be in your inbox all day long? Only check email for 30 minutes, twice a day, for example or whatever limits work for you. Only read the limited number of blogs you subscribe to for 30 minutes a day. Only watch an hour of TV a day for example. Write these limits down, and add them up for a grand total of what you plan to spend on reading, consuming, communicating.
Is this an ideal amount, given the amount of time you have available to you each day? The smaller the overall limit, the better. If we allow these messages to force us to respond, almost as soon as they come, then we become driven by the need to respond. Our day becomes responsive rather than driven by conscious choices.
We flit from one task to another, one response to another, living a life driven by the needs of others, instead of what we need, what we feel is important. Think about why we feel we need to respond to everything. But what if we weaned ourselves from this compulsion? And what if we addressed these fears? What would it be like? You could still respond to emails and other things, but it would be because you decided it was important to communicate something, not because someone else sent you a message and you felt compelled to reply.
Next, address the fears. Figure out what your fears are — there are probably more than one. Now address them with a tiny test — go without responding, just for a few hours. What happened? Did you lose anything? Did you miss anything? Did someone get offended? If nothing bad happens, extend this test — try half a day, or a full day.
See what happens. In most cases, nothing bad will happen at all. Finally, start weaning yourself. If you agree that being free of these compulsions would be a better way of living, start moving towards this life. We are information junkies in some way: we watch TV news all the time, or entertainment news, or keep up with lots of blogs, or our RSS feed reader, or Twitter, or Digg or Delicious, or email, or one of the many news aggregator sites. The need to keep up consumes much of our day, and creates a kind of anxiety our minds barely register. What is this need based on? Actually, we can get free.
In short: fear. How is it adding to our lives? If anything, it takes away from these things. How to break free Two ways: 1 examine each fear individually, and 2 test them. When we shine a light on our fears, they lose power. When we test them to see their validity, they will usually fail, and we can overcome them.
We might seem ignorant. How often do people quiz you on current events, or laugh at you for not knowing? Maybe some times, but even if it does happen, so what? Let others be fueled by this need, and let yourself focus on things you care about, not what others think is important. We might miss out on an opportunity. There are always going to be opportunities we miss. When we do this, we lose time we could be using to pursue exciting, real opportunities.
We might not see something bad that we need to respond to. I hear things on Twitter, even if I only pop in once in awhile, and friends and family will always tell me about a storm or economic collapse or something similar. This is highly unlikely. The next step is to actually test the fears. Do this by tuning out of the news or whatever information you try to keep up with, for one day. Then see if any of your fears came true. If not, feel free to read the news you want, peruse the websites you follow.
Then try a second test of two days — see what happens. Keep repeating this, but extending the test, until you can go a couple weeks without staying up to date. Then see if your fears are true. Testing will show you facts. The question is, what are we busy about? This is the opposite of focus, and nothing exemplifies the need for focus better. Here are some suggestions: 1. Get your task list out of your inbox.
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Instead, choose a simple A notebook or index card works fine, as does a simple program such as Taskpaper or Things, or even a text file in Notepad or TextEdit or Notational Velocity. If you set up a keyboard shortcut for your to-do app or file, it just takes a second to copy and paste a to-do from an email. Examples might be: check email 5 minutes at the top of each hour, or just twice a day say, at 9 am and 3 pm , or once a day at 10 am, or twice a week.
Again, these are just examples — your needs will dictate the best schedule for you, though I would suggest trying a less frequent schedule than you think you need and seeing if that works. Do your work with your email closed. This principle, by the way, also applied to any other forms of communication, such as Twitter, Facebook, IM, forums, etc. Now work without distraction for at least a short period. Choose your tasks wisely. What tasks will have the most impact on your life and work, rather than just seeming urgent right now?
Milne R eading this book, you might get the idea that distractions are evil and that we must strive to be focused at all times. Not at all. Distraction, in most cases, is the enemy of focus, and so if we want to get anything done, we must learn to find at least a modicum of focus, some of the time. And in fun, we often find things we truly love. Let yourself be open to these new paths. The secret is balance: conscious, purposeful balance. There are lots of ways to find balance.
The key is to think about what you need to focus on, when your peak focusing hours are, and try different styles to find a method that works best for you. Let yourself do email and other communicating during the others parts of your day. Focus for minutes, then do minutes of distraction, and repeat.
Again, these are just some ideas.
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Letting go of addictions to information and distractions is just as hard. We might want to let go, but when the rubber meets the road, we balk. We have urges. We falter and fall and fail. Why is that? And how can we overcome these hurdles? Information, news and distractions can become an addiction, as we discussed in previous chapters. Even when our motivation to beat the addiction is strong, the urges we feel and rationalizations we make to ourselves can be even stronger. How do we beat this addiction?
We talked about this previously, but in a nutshell, we must beat them individually not a whole bunch of addictions at once , figure out what our triggers are for that addiction when do we automatically do the addiction and feel the urges , and become mindful of the triggers and our urges. Take some deep breaths, and replace the habit with another habit — like doing pushups, going for a walk, or finding a quiet spot and reflecting.
If you enjoy the new habit, you can more easily replace the old habit. Ride the urges and you can beat them, one at a time. Filling an emotional need. Each distraction fills a need in some way. You do the distraction for a reason. So do new replies on Twitter or Facebook or other online forums, or text messages or phone calls. Entertaining distractions fill a need to avoid boredom, or a need to rest from work that strains our mind. There are other similar emotional needs that these distractions fill, but the key is to consider each need.
What happens when we try to remove these distractions? We feel a void where they used to be. Which means we need to find a way to fill that void. Why do these interruptions, notifications, make you feel good? Is there another way to get validation? Whatever the emotional need, be honest about it, be conscious of it, and find other ways to fulfill it. As we discussed earlier, often we feel the need to stay up-to- date, with news or by checking email constantly or other similar ways of staying in touch.
We fear being out of touch, being uninformed.
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The only way to beat fears is to face them, and confront them with facts. So the key to beating these fears is to face them. Be honest — what are you afraid of? Then shine a light on these fears with actual facts — what harm has actually been caused so far?
Try to do a short test — an hour, a day, a few days, a week — and see what the results are. In most cases the actual harm will be much less than you fear. For example, try going a day without responding to email — see whether you missed anything that was truly important. More on beating fears later, in the chapter by psychologist Gail Brenner. Sometimes we have trouble letting go of these addictions because of desires — the desire to be successful at something, for example, or the desire to be seen as good at something, or the desire to build wealth.
If we have a strong desire to be a successful blogger or Internet marketer, to take just two examples, we might try to connect with as many other bloggers or readers or marketers as possible, and try to attract as many followers as possible on Twitter and our blog, all of which would require lots of time emailing, tweeting, blogging, commenting on blogs, and so forth.
Just like addictive urges, desires will come and go, and taking some deep breaths and riding out the desire will help you get through it. Mac Freedom — An extreme tool, but an effective one. Disables your entire Internet connection for a time period set by you. Perfect when you really need to focus for an hour or three at a time.
Selfcontrol — Disable access to mail servers and websites that distract you. For example, you could block access to Facebook, Gmail, Twitter, and your favorite blogs for 90 minutes, but still have access to the rest of the web. Concentrate — Create an activity design, study, write, etc and choose actions launch or block websites, quit applications, speak a message, and more to run every time you concentrate.
Focus: A Simplicity Manifesto in the Age of Distraction
When ready, just click WriteRoom — Perhaps the first, and still one of the absolute best, distraction-free text editors. Goes full screen so all you have is your text. No formatting, no nothing — just writing text. Beautiful program, copied by many others. Ommwriter — Beautiful app just for writing.
Has a serene backdrop with background music, perfect for creating the distraction-free writing environment especially if you use headphones. Ulysses or Scrivener — Two great programs for writers, many more features than WriteRoom but great for longer works such as novels, screenplays, academic papers and more. Both feature full-screen text editors. Megazoomer — A cool little app that allows you to put almost any Mac program into full-screen mode ala WriteRoom using a system-wide keyboard command or menu item.
Allows you to focus on one document at a time, clearing the distractions. StayFocusd Chrome — Choose certain sites to block, and you get 10 minutes total by default per day to go on those time-wasting sites. You Readability bookmarklet, Chrome extension — clears the clutter on any web article or blog post you want to read. Removes everything — ads, icons, widgets, and more — and just leaves the content in a nice, uncluttered, readable design.
Quietube does the same for videos. CreaWriter — Distaction-free writing tool inspired by OmmWriter above , with a peaceful background, full-screen writing, soothing ambient sound, and not much else. Q10 — Full-screen text editor with a timer for focused writing, typewriter sounds as you type if you want them. WriteMonkey — new entry into the full-screen editor field. No whistles and bells, just empty screen, you and your words.
WriteMonkey is light, fast, and perfectly handy for those who enjoy the simplicity of a typewriter but live in modern times. Typewriter — A minimalist text editor that runs in Java which can run on most operating systems — Mac, Windows, Linux. All you can do is type in one direction. You can