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I want my attention back

I want my attention back
fail safe

    A long time ago, I had most of my attention. I could spend it on work, on friends and family, on a sunset after a perfect day at a beautiful beach, on what I want to do, on myself. When it came time to produce an application, work with a client or take a class I could rest assured I had enough attention in the bank to cover it.

    Back in those pre-Internet days, I had control over my attention spending without even thinking about it. Yes, I’d watch a few shows (Miami Vice was great), but I could count who and what had dibs on my attention account easily.

    Then the Internet happened.

    It started oh so slowly – oh look, someone has sent me an email, cool! Then the World Wide Web and one page of What’s New on Netscape’s Home Page. I remember thinking in a very nice hotel in Sydney wouldn’t it be great if they had a “Web Site” and wouldn’t it be even better if people could post their opinions about hotels they had stayed in on the World Wide Web. Then things started to move faster.

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    And faster.

    And still faster.

    And now I whirl around, connecting via email, skype, twitter, blogging, social networks, IM, forums to more people than I can possibly remember. [one minute while I check email-done,where was I?] Getting more news about things I can possibly read – and more news about things I really care about than I can possibly read. [another email – sorry.]

    And when I actually have time to work, what is most of what I do now? I go find information on the net – ten, a hundred, ten thousand fire hoses of information all at my beck and call, all taking their little debit of my attention. So much so, I have to use a search engine to search my bookmarks for sites I have already found because I can’t remember them all, or find the one site I remember bookmarking amongst all the other bookmarked sites. More of my attention lost.

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    I could go on writing a paragraph on each of the ways my attention is being debited now, but just the nouns will do: email, voicemail, podcasts. Spam. 500 channel TV, 50,000 channel Internet TV, 50 million channel youtube and youtube wannabe TV. Spam. Utterly unimportant important updates, upgrades, notifications, security fixes, patches. Spam.

    My attention is being split, nibbled, multitasked, frittered away, seduced and outright stolen from me every day, all day long. Most of my time and most of my energy goes into making ten thousand decisions a day about what and who is going to get or not get my attention. The results?

    “Making choices led to reduced self-control (i.e., less physical stamina, task persistence in the face of failure, more procrastination, and less quality and quantity of arithmetic calculations)” Thats from a study by Dr. Kathleen Vohs at the University of Minnesota.

    Sound like anyone you know?

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    Want to know why “Web 2.0” apps are cool? Fewer decisions hurt your head less.

    At this point in my posts I like to write a few bullet point suggestions as to how to solve the problem I just talked about. No can do today. I don’t know what the solution is – only I had better put it at the top of my to do, agenda and Getting Things Done process.

    I do know this – constantly deciding over and over and over what now is going to get my attention is draining my productivity as surely as thousand little cuts would drain my blood. And it’s just as serious.

    And it’s not just me. Every single person I know offline and on, every blogger, every podcaster, every programmer, every manager, every executive is bleeding out there productivity through a thousand cuts of their attention. We laugh about it, joke about it, try a million productivity hacks and techniques and we are still bleeding out.

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    Back in the last century, there was this great black and white movie called Fail Safe. A six buck part in a roomsize computer burns out and a Strategic Air Command wing of bombers nuke Moscow. (Me bad, we’d say now). The U.S. President sees only one way to avert all out nuclear war – nuke New York to balance the scales. All because a little computer part burned out and sent a command out for those planes to fly past their fail safe point – their point of no return.

    We are so far past our fail safe point of attention it’s not even close to funny.

    Bob Walsh sells MasterList Professional, a Windows task management application and writes, codes, podcasts and blogs about different aspects of the digital lifestyle at ToDoOrElse, 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 October 15, 2019

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Procrastination is very literally the opposite of productivity. To produce something is to pull it forward, while to procrastinate is to push it forward — to tomorrow, to next week, or ultimately to never.

    Procrastination fills us with shame — we curse ourselves for our laziness, our inability to focus on the task at hand, our tendency to be easily led into easier and more immediate gratifications. And with good reason: for the most part, time spent procrastinating is time spent not doing things that are, in some way or other, important to us.

    There is a positive side to procrastination, but it’s important not to confuse procrastination at its best with everyday garden-variety procrastination.

    Sometimes — sometimes! — procrastination gives us the time we need to sort through a thorny issue or to generate ideas. In those rare instances, we should embrace procrastination — even as we push it away the rest of the time.

    Why we procrastinate after all

    We procrastinate for a number of reasons, some better than others. One reason we procrastinate is that, while we know what we want to do, we need time to let the ideas “ferment” before we are ready to sit down and put them into action.

    Some might call this “creative faffing”; I call it, following copywriter Ray Del Savio’s lead, “concepting”.[1]

    Whatever you choose to call it, it’s the time spent dreaming up what you want to say or do, weighing ideas in your mind, following false leads and tearing off on mental wild goose chases, and generally thinking things through.

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    To the outside observer, concepting looks like… well, like nothing much at all. Maybe you’re leaning back in your chair, feet up, staring at the wall or ceiling, or laying in bed apparently dozing, or looking out over the skyline or feeding pigeons in the park or fiddling with the Japanese vinyl toys that stand watch over your desk.

    If ideas are the lifeblood of your work, you have to make time for concepting, and you have to overcome the sensation— often overpowering in our work-obsessed culture — that faffing, however creative, is not work.

    So, is procrastination bad?

    Yes it is.

    Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re “concepting” when in fact you’re just not sure what you’re supposed to be doing.

    Spending an hour staring at the wall while thinking up the perfect tagline for a marketing campaign is creative faffing; staring at the wall for an hour because you don’t know how to come up with a tagline, or don’t know the product you’re marketing well enough to come up with one, is just wasting time.

    Lack of definition is perhaps the biggest friend of your procrastination demons. When we’re not sure what to do — whether because we haven’t planned thoroughly enough, we haven’t specified the scope of what we hope to accomplish in the immediate present, or we lack important information, skills, or resources to get the job done.

    It’s easy to get distracted or to trick ourselves into spinning our wheels doing nothing. It takes our mind off the uncomfortable sensation of failing to make progress on something important.

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    The answer to this is in planning and scheduling. Rather than giving yourself an unspecified length of time to perform an unspecified task (“Let’s see, I guess I’ll work on that spreadsheet for a while”) give yourself a limited amount of time to work on a clearly defined task (“Now I’ll enter the figures from last months sales report into the spreadsheet for an hour”).

    Giving yourself a deadline, even an artificial one, helps build a sense of urgency and also offers the promise of time to “screw around” later, once more important things are done.

    For larger projects, planning plays a huge role in whether or not you’ll spend too much time procrastinating to reach the end reasonably quickly.

    A good plan not only lists the steps you have to take to reach the end, but takes into account the resources, knowledge and inputs from other people you’re going to need to perform those steps.

    Instead of futzing around doing nothing because you don’t have last month’s sales report, getting the report should be a step in the project.

    Otherwise, you’ll spend time cooling your heels, justifying your lack of action as necessary: you aren’t wasting time because you want to, but because you have to.

    How bad procrastination can be

    Our mind can often trick us into procrastinating, often to the point that we don’t realize we’re procrastinating at all.

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    After all, we have lots and lots of things to do; if we’re working on something, aren’t we being productive – even if the one big thing we need to work on doesn’t get done?

    One way this plays out is that we scan our to-do list, skipping over the big challenging projects in favor of the short, easy projects. At the end of the day, we feel very productive: we’ve crossed twelve things off our list!

    That big project we didn’t work on gets put onto the next day’s list, and when the same thing happens, it gets moved forward again. And again.

    Big tasks often present us with the problem above – we aren’t sure what to do exactly, so we look for other ways to occupy ourselves.

    In many cases too, big tasks aren’t really tasks at all; they’re aggregates of many smaller tasks. If something’s sitting on your list for a long time, each day getting skipped over in favor of more immediately doable tasks, it’s probably not very well thought out.

    You’re actively resisting it because you don’t really know what it is. Try to break it down into a set of small tasks, something more like the tasks you are doing in place of the one big task you aren’t doing.

    More consequences of procrastination can be found in this article:

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    8 Dreadful Effects of Procrastination That Can Destroy Your Life

    Procrastination, a technical failure

    Procrastination is, more often than not, a sign of a technical failure, not a moral failure.

    It’s not because we’re bad people that we procrastinate. Most times, procrastination serves as a symptom of something more fundamentally wrong with the tasks we’ve set ourselves.

    It’s important to keep an eye on our procrastinating tendencies, to ask ourselves whenever we notice ourselves pushing things forward what it is about the task we’ve set ourselves that simply isn’t working for us.

    Featured photo credit: chuttersnap via unsplash.com

    Reference

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