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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 August 16, 2018

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system”.

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    The power of habit

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being six hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The wonderful thing about triggers (reminders)

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to make a reminder works for you

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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