Self Control

This article was sent to me and I gave it a good read. It's a New York times article about people discussing the ways the brain might be changing due to constantly multitasking with technology. The brain discussion was interesting, though I would have preferred some more concrete terms and research than the ones offered, but hey, it's the newspaper.

I couldn't relate to the main characters of the article! They're described as endlessly checking e-mail, to the detriment of the people around them (I often wonder how they find these random people for introductions in news stories); off checking Facebook as they're doing homework or reading Twitter as they're preparing for a presentation.

Why don't I feel the same way? Certainly I spend some time on the internet, checking Reddit like the family in the story do. But I don't seem to have issues beyond entertainment value. Could it be that I run a blog with the word "minimalist" in the title? Perhaps! I could offer some solutions at least.

The biggest thing that jumped out at me was not that the people in the story couldn't help themselves, but that they didn't. The biggest example was the father who knows that Twitter gives him useless information when he's trying to do work. Why doesn't he turn off the Twitter feed? A lack of self control? A misplaced priority? A desire to know information when it happens? Certainly all of these things.

No one would be surprised if you placed yourself under four screens and an iPad filled with distractions and when you were asked to do work, nothing materialized. It takes self control many of us do not possess to get work done in an environment that breeds uninterest, so we must have the foresight to eliminate these things ahead of time.

How does one focus with technology pestering us so often?

1) Eliminate the internet's immediate gratification.

I find that doing simple things like unplugging the router or using a blocking program on your computer doesn't quite do it. I've seen friends of mine simply get up and plug the router back in, or reboot their computer to get around their artificial limitations. It's sad, really, but I see why. Some pope just can't go on without something, anything.

The best way to eliminate the internet is to set up a torrent on a headless second computer in a remote location in the building. Download something like Ubuntu so that it uses all of your bandwidth, and choose a good file size so that you have an allotted time. You can still access web pages and email on your other computer, sort of, but it takes a long time to load and by the time it does, people who have low self control have already moved back to their work.

2) Get rid of everything else.

Twitter feed? Close it. Email client? Nuke it from space. RSS? Fagettabahdit. Just turn it all off. If you're managing text, go X-less. Remove until you cannot remove any more. And don't be like the people in the story, who would most certainly say, "I can't remove that!" You can and you will.

3) White noise. Yes, it works. If the white noise irritates your ears, try some thunderstorm sounds instead. The internet's full of both.

4) Make a schedule, Gatsby style.

From The Great Gatsby itself:

Rise from bed 6.00 AM
Dumbbell exercise & wall-scaling 6.15 – 6.30 AM
Study electricity, etc 7.15 – 8.15 AM
Work 8.30 AM – 4.30 PM
Baseball & sports 4.30 – 5.00 PM
Practise elocution, poise & how to attain it 5.00 – 6.00 PM
Study needed inventions 7.00 – 9.00 PM

Be even more ridiculously specific than that. Break down every task you have into smaller chunks. Estimate the amount of time needed and craft a schedule from that. Print out the schedule and paste it over your workspace. Stick to it. Cross off time sand appropriate if you need to, but your shame for muddying up your lovely schedule will most surely bring you back to your task.

5) Make resolves, Gatsby style.

Again from the book:

No wasting time…
Read one improving book or magazine per week.
Save $ 5.00 $ 3.00 per week.

You don't need to have life improving bullet points. Mostly "Get it done and do it right the first time." I like to make these more interesting by adding expletives and insults to the sentence, to make it sound gruff and edgy like a wise, tough old man is passing down his wisdom through tough love.

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