Thinking About Attention

CGP Grey posted an excellent video on Friday articulating something we’ve likely all noticed in ourselves and in those around us: a spiraling inability to focus our attention on things that matter.

The “attention economy” of today’s world rewards platforms that are engineered to hijack your attention. As Grey says in the video, “Who among us has not opened an app, looked around, seen everything new, closed it, then immediately reopened to check again?”

That’s troubling, and all too relatable.

If you find yourself struggling to focus, or even just to be alone with your own thoughts, it may be time for a break from Internet consumption.

Back Soon

I will be mostly absent from the web for the next ten days or so as I focus singularly on meeting some incredibly ambitious deadlines for a product launch at the end of April. Enter Monk Mode.

Back soon.

Simplifying My Digital Life

One of the downsides of instant, frictionless communication is that everyone and everything is constantly in your face, which leads to reduced productivity and a sense of general sluggishness.

For example, if I’ve got a set of tasks I need to accomplish today, I’d like to focus on those. But it’s really easy for emails, messages, tweets, and other random notifications to get in the way.

Every time you pull out your phone to respond to a message or read a reply or DM on Twitter, you’re allowing other people to manipulate your schedule at will. You’re also robbing yourself of the coveted mental state of flow.

I’ve recently made some changes to deal with this, and as a result I’ve seen a significant increase in my productivity and a greater command of my time.

Social Media Notifications: Off

Social media is the biggest uninvited time-suck in the world. They lure you in with a push notification, hook you with the algorithmically sorted timeline, and before you know it you’ve spent an hour in this damn app you didn’t even plan to open.

The solution? Turn ’em off.

I’ve completely disabled push notifications for the three major social networks—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram—and the result is pure serenity.

I used to get bombarded with notifications all day every day, mostly from these three apps. So-and-so liked your post! So-and-so mentioned you! And Twitter’s amazing new feature that everyone totally wanted: So-and-so and So-and-so are tweeting about #SomeStupidFuckingThing.

These notifications are not useful to me. They’re disruptive.

Now, when I want to know what’s happening on Facebook, I’ll open Facebook. When I want to know who’s been liking my tweets or sliding into my DMs, I’ll open Twitter.

Spark Email

Spark (for iOS and Mac) may be the best email app I’ve used this decade. It’s reminiscent of the now-defunct Mailbox in that it allows you to “snooze” messages and deal with them later. Great feature, but not the main attraction.

You see, Spark is smart. It automatically sorts your emails into different visual chunks in its Smart Inbox view. You’ve got newsletters, notifications, personal emails, etc.—and they show up in groups of three, which you can easily dismiss in bulk to plow through your inbox like a pro.

Even better, Spark knows what matters, and it only sends you notifications about important email. Never again will a stupid newsletter buzz my Apple Watch while I’m eating dinner.

Speaking of which…

Unsubscribe!!!

I used to be on hundreds of email lists, some of which I’d opted into, others I was added to by inconsiderate PR people. But I digress…

I decided that after years of struggling with my nightmare of an inbox, it was time to take control. So instead of deleting unwanted newsletters, I made it a habit to open each of them, as they came in, and click the unsubscribe link. Every. Single. One.

I spent about two weeks doing this, and while I still see occasional list emails, I’ve trimmed things down to the point where I can kind of breathe again.

Take Back Your Life

There are three things I know for sure:

  • Technology should be a tool to make my life happier and more productive.
  • Notifications should serve up useful, timely information that matters to me.
  • The time I spend with digital media should always be conscious and intentional.

When these expectations aren’t met, it’s time to simplify.

RIP News Feed

Today I installed a Chrome extension that makes my Facebook News Feed invisible.

Facebook’s algorithm is very good at making the feed addictive, like a slot machine. This extension short-circuits it so I don’t get sucked down the rabbit hole in the middle of my work day.

I still have access to messages, notifications, and business stuff like pages, but the News Feed is out of sight and out of mind.

Efficiency Tip

Efficiency tip: set a stopwatch while doing things. You’ll become more aware of the time you’re wasting and move faster.

How To Become A Morning Person

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a night owl—go to bed at 3 a.m., wake up at noon. My productive hours have always been late at night, when distractions are limited. But over the past few weeks, I’ve managed to change that.

Since childhood, dawn has been my favorite time of day—I love seeing the sunrise, and I love the smell of morning air when I go for an early jog. My problem is being awake to experience it—so I decided to train myself to become a morning person.

As I’m writing this, it’s 5:30 a.m., two hours before sunrise, and I’ve been more productive this morning than I ever was in my late-night work schedule.

So how did I do it?

Well, I’ll admit my headline is a tad misleading because it implies I know some kind of secret process, and that’s not the case. It wasn’t easy. I just forced myself to wake up early on a consistent basis, and the rest fell into place. I have a daily alarm set on my iPhone for 4:15 with the label: “Success doesn’t happen while you sleep.” That’s a gentle reminder to my groggy morning self of why I’m doing this.

The first day is terrible. The second day is alright. By the third day, you can start calling this your regular schedule. When you wake up tired and feel like shit all day, you’ll realize you need to go to sleep earlier, and you will. As soon as that adjustment has been made, you’re good to go.

The key, the way I see it, is to force yourself to get up at the same time every morning—tired or not. If you do anything on a consistent basis for a little while, it becomes a habit.