Over the last while I’ve had to work in ways that I don’t really prefer. I’ve been okay with that, but I’ve recently been able to make a shift in my life and it was so shocking to my brain that it took a few months just to feel comfortable about feeling comfortable. Since then I’ve been making conscious adaptations based on those experiences and the benefits have been so great that I wanted to share them with all of you.
Because of the research I and others do etc. I don’t use a smartphone, and many leading brain researchers are minimizing their use as well. The research is not very positive despite our enjoyment of the devices. So facing those facts I now try to stick to just my homephone. But that’s a smaller part of the battle.
Even without a smartphone I felt constantly interrupted by a barrage of notifications, warnings, calendar events, and updates etc. etc.. I could feel my focus and my ability to think deeply about things fading. I would get up and walk around every few pages when reading a book. I would hesitate to click on videos more than 5 minutes long. I would get lost for 20 minutes on the web for no good purpose.
And then one day I checked the computer for messages even when there wasn’t reason to think there was one there. And that stood out to me as entirely Pavlovian. I had been trained by software. I was going to push the lever to get my food pellet. And at that moment I began developing a plan to get my life back.
Here’s the simple things I’ve found that work for me. The nature of the modern world has lead me to be much more intentional in focusing my attention:
- I only do certain things at certain times of day. Email gets checked twice, phone calls twice, social media twice, plus whenever I’m on hold on the phone. Yes I miss some stuff. But not much, and I gain a ton of focus.
- I get back to people as I’m able to. There was no point in rushing to get them rushed work, solutions, ideas or plans. Some days I get back to everyone. Some days I get 100 messages and it’s just not possible. Every day I do my best and am satisfied with that. Working this way you tend to be very productive so it’s easy to feel good.
- If I’m using a device I make sure any software or pages aren’t open if I don’t need them.
- I turned off all notifications.
- I only carry my phone if I’m expecting a call or expecting to make one. Otherwise it stays at home.
- If I need an answer to a question and I know I do know the answer, I will not look it up I’ll concentrate on remembering it instead. I suspect this will become an increasingly valuable skill year-by-year.
Yes, I’m harder to get a hold of, but I’m still 100X easier to reach than anyone from 10 years ago. And my work has never been better. I’m focused. I can read very long passages very comfortably. My management of the information is better, it’s less stressful than bouncing around and I sleep better and longer as well.
But the best thing is the work. Every thing I work on has my full attention and it makes a difference. A friend just wrote about how she loves spending time with me because when she does she knows she’s my focus 100%. I hear things better and can respond better in working situations. I’m more creative, faster and my ideas are more novel and involve more data points. In short, the focus has created a wonderful level of personal success that feels terrific.
I know your culture is screaming at you to be available all the time. But your devices are like a leash that lasts forever. I would urge you to cove most of your day off to be available to yourself instead. I know it would be hard. The CBC Radio One show Spark has done numerous episodes on people trying to quit. But based on my experience and many others, whatever you lose in speed you’ll more than gain in quality. And that goes for not only your work, but for your life as well. So as crazy as it seems, it might just be the shortest route to more sanity.
Have yourself a wonderful day.
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own overthinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.