Growing up, I loved the movie War Games. What was really appealing wasn’t the threat of nuclear annihilation, but the fact that there were those who had access to information faster than anyone else. That was exhilarating! Imagine know before anyone else about a first strike happening — or about anything else for that matter.
I’d watch CNN Headline News over and over again and try to be first to know about something that came up. I was going to catch the break!
Then there was 1996 and I had access to the world wide web. I’d go on early sites like JPost and refresh constantly. I remember being in heaven when I found a ticker program that would scroll news across the screen as it came up. Soon I’d be the first to know about anything.
This became a problem. By 2000, there were many more interesting news sites than any individual could possibly consume and a casual visit to MSN.com (which would happen automatically when you logged out of Hotmail… because back then, you’d log out when you were done checking your email) could turn into hours of reading all sorts of articles, many of them, ironically, on productivity.
The medium has changed where the interesting news isn’t even from news outlets, it’s from social media, and it’s even more relevant to us . It comes to us from our pockets buzzing, or a new email, or a text, or alert, etc. This was one of the motivations for the Ubi — to allow us access to information without needing to carry a device that could distract us.
I’ve tried several techniques, including trying to check email twice a day a la Tim Ferriss and even have all emails skip my Inbox altogether (except for my wife’s emails). However, I end up leaving the email browser open in the background and refreshing every minute (just in case the auto refresh script stopped working). I’ve noticed my attention span for tasks getting shorter and shorter. As a positive, this short attention span allows me respond to emails and get to Zero Inbox very quickly, but it causes havoc when I need to think and focus.
Enter the Tomato Timer or Pomodoro Technique. Lots of people swear by this but the reason it works for me is that it lulls me into thinking it’s just a short period of focus. It’s just 25 minutes and then I can check my email again! The argument gets more powerful as the clock ticks down.
Over the next few years, we’ll probably see more studies come out about how detrimental always on connectivity is for our psychology and overall health, and we’ll probably see more techniques like the Pomodoro help reverse the damage.