My struggle with computer attention sucking goes back to 1996. I was a 14 year old obsessed with the news and thought that I’d miss out if I wasn’t the first to know (so much for teenage obsessions). I remember the delight when I found a news ticker app similar to what you find on Headline News. Finally, dial up was fast enough to support such an app.
This continued onto the news sites and hyperlinks that endlessly dragged me into more and more stories. Very quickly, I realized that there just wasn’t enough time to consumer everything and I’d look at the headlines. Things toned down a bit for a few years… then Microsoft acquired Hotmail in 1998 and the sign out page redirected to MSN Network and the spiral continued again. Oh, then Geocities, then MySpace, then Facebook, then…
There are so many distractions on the web and there are teams — armies — dedicated to snatching our attention to get clicks and views. There’s endlessly interesting information and videos and better recommendations on what we might like to look at next.
I had tried tools in the past to set me free from the attention grabbing. RescueTime was one. It wasn’t very good as it was too extreme — cutting off Internet access. This wouldn’t help if my task was to focus on client responses. I also tried turning off Outlook Send/Receive. That was OK — when I was using Outlook as an email client. What was really limiting about these was that there was no target of focus time. Beyond completing the task, which could be one that could take days, there was no goal to achieve.
What’s changed me for the better for at least the past half year has been the Pomodoro Technique — setting aside 25 minutes to focus on a single task (or just focus on work, sometimes). The advantages of this technique are that it allows you afterwards to check Facebook, email, and other fun endorphin releasing things — but just not during the 25 minutes. I added this together with a low target to get to 100 tomatoes in a month (2500 minutes of single focused activities). This is actually a low number, making it easy to exceed by 20–30% in a given month.
The routine is usually like this… start a timer and be really motivated to tackle a task. Ten minutes in, get a little bored. 15 minutes in, start to really want to do something else. 18 minutes in… just keep at this, 7 more minutes. Oh wow, 30 seconds left! Bam! OK, let’s check out some news…
Similar to intermittent fasting, this little bit of extending pain leads to much more enjoyment and health. Highly recommend this!