April 12th, 2011

Electronic Distractions & Priorities

I’ve been contemplating self-sabotage lately. I’m sure I’ll have more to say about that soon. Today I’ll say it’s not exactly rocket science that if I leave a glass-half-full of water near a powered-on laptop in the same room with a cat that loves to tip over water glasses that I’m playing a dangerous game with fate.

My old macbook has been having fits and starts lately but I was determined to get more miles out of it. After the inevitable water damage occurred sometime in the middle of the night I rushed it to the “emergency room” and they didn’t hold out much hope for it – but assured me it’s heart (hard drive) might be salvageable. I went home for the weekend, internet-less.

Addictions & Distractions

The internet is an addiction I’ve been acknowledging and pledging to do something about for months. Okay, years. It’s not easy to sort out the parts that are necessary and what needs to be shed when I make my living developing content, designs and experiences on the internet. I have to use it as part of my job.

Distractions are so seductively alluring. I’ll set off to do something perfectly productive and an hour later I snap out of a trance – 38 web articles, 52 emails and 157 clicks later – and realize I’ve strayed way off-topic. That graphic I was hunting for is a distant memory.

Like Hansel and Gretel, I don’t drop breadcrumbs and often can’t even remember how I got in front of the candy-coated house. Meanwhile hours and days of life are eaten away by bytes of information. Most of what I’m doing doesn’t move me a single inch toward my goals and, instead, fills my brain with more clutter to clear away before getting back to business.

Lost time is never found again.”

—Benjamin Franklin

Ben’s soooo right.

Oddly, the place where I kept my computer drew me like a magnet even when no enticing device occupied that space. Wow. That’s a strong hold and embarrassing to face. I felt out of control. And I wanted my internet back.

Forced Limits

Forced to check email at the library, I was limited to an hour chunk of time for all my internet activities. If other computers were unoccupied I could extend my session in 15 minute increments. I hit that button like a rat in an experiment begging for cheese and extended my time to two hours.

An internet time limit may be no big deal to most people. You know the ones – they pop on to their computer to check and respond to email for 10 minutes every few days and then turn the computer off. But for the rest of us, it is a strange thing to handle all of our daily electronic business in an hour, strictly during library hours.

I was suddenly aware how quickly time is sucked away while clicking away and answering a few emails. My priorities came into focus. Was I going to read that email? Watch that video post on Facebook? Read that incredibly interesting article? Did I really have the time for it? It was much easier to decide what to attend to and what to ignore. So many previously important attention-grabbing links were relegated to “I don’t have time for you” status.

I was in a rush to get as much done as possible. This is a crucial revelation.

We all have our own lists of our biggest time consumers that have the the smallest payoff. Twitter? Facebook? Games? Email subscriptions you delete every day without reading? RSS reader with too many things you’re scrolling by? Any of these things can be productive or depletive. How we use the (otherwise useful) tools will determine our results.

It’s time to implement the time-limiting tools for TV, internet and the rest of life that’s providing me with ample distraction from what I’m really doing. And, of course, I wish I would’ve conquered it all sooner.

By prevailing over all obstacles and distractions, one may unfailingly arrive at his chosen goal or destination.”

—Christopher Columbus

It’s time to capture the energy of that library clock ticking down.

Start clocks and stop watches will act as timers for both what I want to do and what I want to stop doing. More to come as this develops into new behavior, new attitudes, new doses of productive life…which is important not only for me, personally, but for our culture as a whole.

Photo Credit

Discipline