Attention

A few weeks ago after realizing here just how many hands were in my attention wallet, I put at the top of my GTD projects list a new project: Reclaiming my attention. I suspect it’s going to be one of those long projects – there are so many people, companies, causes, information sources and things out there, all wanting slices of your attention until you have nothing for yourself, your work or your future.

In some ways it’s kind of like all those friendly sounding companies and services out there : “Just let us charge your credit card automatically our tiny little fee each month and you’ll be happier, sexier, taller and even more attractive! Just click here and forget all about it.”

If road to the poorhouse is paved with automatic debits, the road to a living hell of knowing you can get things done but you’re not is paved with attention robbers.

I’m still feeling my way here, so what follows are something of a grab bag of solutions and quick fixes for reclaiming your attention. Your mileage may vary.

Let Scoble do it. Robert Scoble is a really smart guy with a plan, a purpose, and the ability to churn through an ungodly amount of RSS feeds to find the stuff that’s going to matter re the Web, the software industry, and new tech stuff. So I’m going to let him do it for me and let the one feed he shares substitute for the 622 or whatever number he reads. (See 2nd graf of this post by Robert for details.) Robert, if you want $20 a year for this incredible attention reclaiming service you are providing, just let me know where to send the check – baby’s going to want new shoes! Anyone else have a Google Reader Shared Feed to share?

Three for One. Here’s how it works:

  1. Make a mental list of the next 3 things you are going to do.
  2. Do nothing else but #1 until it’s done, you’ve pushed it as far as it can go right now, or someone screams in your ear the building is on fire. Concentrate on it. Turn off email, telephone, iTunes, IM, Skype, other programs, your browser and your cat if you can find an off pause switch and Just. Do. One. Thing. Until. You. Are. Done.
  3. Repeat for items 2 and 3. Then go back to step 1.

The beauty of Three for One is you make a single decision – what the next three things you are going to do are – and then you do them. You make no more decisions, you tolerate no more distractions. You exert your will that you are going to do just these three things and (for the moment) to hell with everything else.

Singletask. Okay, I brazenly stole the guts of this idea from this Lifehack.org post, but the fact remains that while multitasking may scale up so you can work on multiple projects over the course of a day, week or month, it sucks when you try to scale multitasking down to this hour, minute, or second. So all hail Singletasking – the long lost and newly found joy of just doing one thing at a time, well.

Break your agreements. Not all your agreements, just these two you’ve been suckered into:

  • If you check email often you’ll get something nice. Liar! Fraud! Thief! The more I check email, the more crap gets poured in my eyes, the more decisions I have to make about what is and is not crap, the more people expect me to do, the more alluring opportunities get dangled in front of me when I can’t deal with the opportunities I already have and the more my head hurts.I defy anyone to process email for two hours straight in the morning and get one damn thing worth doing done the rest of the day.

    Every single email you process is a decision you’ve wasted. You have a finite number of decisions you can make in a day before you’re brain turns to mush. Should you spend those decisions on your work, your life, your future? Or spend them like some hopeless loser sitting in front of a slot machine feeding it money at 2am in the morning? Your choice.

    I’ve decided to process email three times a day, never, ever before 9am and everything that isn’t from someone I know, something I expect or has a good subject line goes straight to the trash. The stuff that I don’t immediately trash will go into a folder called “@ End of Today” where at the end of the day I will actually process each email for reply, reference, waiting on or bump to @End of Week.

  • We’re notifications, and we’re here to help. Email notifications, network notifications, patch notifications, too-many icons on your desktop notifications, too little disk space notifications, and on and on and on. My PCs over the years have become the single biggest source of interruptions in my life. Everything from marketing ploys crossdressed as Important Notifications! (“Crap software has a new version, would you like to interrupt your pitiful workflow or actually use the software and maybe lose everything you work on?”) to Windows OneCare everything is fine, but we thought we’d interrupt you anyway notifications.A never ending stream of happy friendly balloons in the lower right hand corner of your screen, breaking your concentration. If my PC were a coworker sitting next to me, I would have long ago put a bullet through that sucker’s head because he won’t SHUT UP!

    This from Microsoft’s Vista User Experience Guide, the official word for programmers: “A notification informs users of events that are unrelated to the current user activity through a balloon briefly displayed from an icon in the notification area. The notification could result from a user action or significant system event, or could offer potentially useful information from Microsoft Windows or an application.

    The information in a notification is useful and relevant, but never critical. Consequently, notifications don’t require immediate user action and users can freely ignore them.” (emphasis in the original).

    Yeah, right.

    While I can turn off Security Center notifications, low disk space notifications, maybe all notifications (Warning – use these at your own risk!), I hope some enterprising developer comes up with an application that just takes all these damn notifications and logs them so I can at my leisure review them. If that microISV’s application applied some basic rules so I have to use even less attention on it, so much the better.

    Oh, and don’t you Mac/Linux people get too smug – I see there’s a Software Update on my new MacBook Pro that’s grabbed my attention once already and two programs have reported they really want to update themselves before I’ve even had a chance to use them. It’s a slippery slope there and you won’t enjoy the slide down here where the rest of us Windows users are.

More on the battle to reclaim my attention and incidentally a productive life next week.

Bob Walsh sells MasterList Professional, a Windows task management and writes, codes, podcasts and blogs about different aspects of the digital lifestyle at MyMicroISV and Clear Blogging. His second book, Clear Blogging, is now available at Amazon and elsewhere.

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