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5 ways to reclaim some of your attention.

5 ways to reclaim some of your attention.
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.

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    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.

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    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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    I want, I learn, I do, I get Getting Attention by doing a Good thing I want my attention back 5 ways to reclaim some of your attention. Surprise!

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    Last Updated on August 20, 2019

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard. Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

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    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

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    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

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    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

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    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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