I hate notifications.
I hate having my attention and focus withdrawn by that tiny little number or red dot on the doc or on the corner of the page I am working on, that hijacks my intentions to something else every time I pick up my phone, that instills in me a sense of urgency ( to do something else or be somewhere else ) when I should be fully and deeply in this time and place.
If I am in the flow coding, I don't want to be distracted by a colleague pinging me multiple times on Slack just to quickly answer a question (that turned out to be something he could have answered easily with a just with a search in the codebase or by googling)
If I am playing with my kids I don't want to be tempted to browse my Instagram wall, to see ( and envy) in which amazing places people I know are snowboarding, climbing, or hiking.
If I am talking with my wife, I don't want to stop looking at her to giggle at the latest meme or gif my friends sent me on WhatsApp.
Of course, some of those notifications are important, I don't know how many meetings or doctor appointments I would have missed without Google Calendar popping out, but I find notifications and in general the flow of information ( be it breaking news or a neverending feed) one of the biggest problems for attention and even for stress management.
I am noticing it lately with my kid who, somehow forced by the social distancing circumstances and homeschooling, got a smartphone. It is so difficult to have him stay seated fully concentrated on his homework without checking the classroom chats
- Everyone is so funny! ( just forwarding gifs or replicating other people's challenges on TikTok...)
- Everything is so awesome! ( look at that double flip off a cliff, look at that crazy workout!).
And I noticed it all the time I manage to leave my own phone away for a couple of hours and at the first break, I check it and find more than 200 messages from friends in the Lockdown Whatsapp group...
How could I have possibly written more than 10 lines of code or read more than half an article if I had to check the phone every single time my connected armband had vibrated??
The thing is, you don't have to read and answer every single message. You can let go, and stay focused. You are not losing much anyway and the world goes on.
The problem of attention - being constantly interrupted by something else happening somewhere else - is also related to the huge amount of information being available.
Besides being a boring friend that misses most of the jokes on Whatsapp groups, I am probably a very boring person to chit chat with, since I mostly know nothing about the News, ( no sorry, I don't know the number of new Covid19 deaths in the last six hours, nor I heard whatever Trump might have said about whatsoever) - no wonder I dread so much ( and I always challenge myself doing that) the Table Topic session at my Toastmasters club (where you are on stage and have to speak impromptu for 2 minutes about any topic thrown at you)
No, I barely read the news. No, I don't spend my weekends binge-watching the latest Netflix/Amazon Prime series.
I simply have no time for that or simply put, I don't want to spend my time on that.
I used to do that in the past. I used to read a couple of newspapers to have a clearer and unbiased overview of what was going on in the world. Besides the fact that it is still difficult to decide what news to read and most online newspaper are full of useless news and click baits (like Cop stops a woman on the highway, you can't imagine how it will end up and then after 20 seconds of unskippable ads, you see a shitty video of well.. nothing really more exciting than a speed ticket and a couple of swearwords..) I always feel that is not really bringing me any value.
Will forwarding that meme, refreshing compulsively the online news page, comment on that conspiracy post on Facebook, bring any value to my life?
Will it allow me to improve myself? Will it allow me to make the world a better place? Will it prevent me from being ripped off by politicians?
Will it make me happier or smarter or rather leave me with a sense of envy, or anger, or insecurity?
The moment I realized that I wanted to concentrate more on myself and people near me (or far away, like my parents or friends in Italy), I noticed I could work, study, and live with more focus and purpose.
I still have to get better at dealing with these temptations:
- my to-read feed is always endless,
- I find myself reading about coding all the time,
- I realize that often I am still distracted while playing with my kids thinking about the architecture of our next project, at that damn bug, or a future speech at toastmaster.
But at least, I am not there pretending to play or listen with them while I actually scroll Facebook...
In these times the amount of information available, the amount of possible distractions is endless.
The flow of information is constant:
- infinite scroll in Instagram and Facebook,
- autoplay next video on Youtube, or the next episode of your series on AmazonPrime/Netflix.
- even just surfing the web ( if you are curious and weak like me) leads to opening hundreds of tabs to follow all those interesting links!
For a long time, I was convinced, and to some extent I still am, that to achieve more, I have to become faster ( at typing, at reading, at watching videos, at learning) and sleep less.
It turns out that being sleep deprived does not really help to have more time on your hands... much more helpful is finding out where you waste time.
It's not what you read, it's what you ignore. (Scott Hanselman )
I love the quote and the relative speech from Scott Hanselman
because it summarizes a lot where our struggles should aim to.
For some time you might keep track of what you do every day ( I used Clockify for a while to get used to it) to find out where your time goes.
You will be amazed by discovering those 5 minutes of Instagram while on the toilet, were actually 20!, that those 3 minutes of Facebook, while waiting for your deployment to be completed, became 15, (and your integration tests failed!)
Just some tips, to take with some grain of salt, nobody wants to become a hermit:
- stop reading the news online.
- stop updating and checking social networks.
- avoid Whatsapp groups, and anyway mute notifications.
- silence your phone and keep it away from your desk.
- clean up the list of subscriptions in your Feedly / RSS Aggregator
- try to minimize the number of Chrome Tabs open (if I find myself having too many, I close them after saving them with One Tab Plugin, so I can always go back to them )
- learn and practice what is necessary and important for your job and your career. (20 minutes every day of coding on a pet-project or reading an article that gives you more insights on what you just adopted at work, can bring so much more value than forwarding gifs or discuss with conspiracy theorists in some forum.
- be selective of who you hang out with (colleagues, friends, etc)
It might sound snobbish and opportunistic, but try to surround yourself with people that help you achieve your goals, are interesting, positive, supportive, challenging. Avoid toxic people, avoid lazy and passive people that just complain about their ( or your ) life without making anything to change it for the better.
Avoid wasting time with and for people that do not bring you happiness
Be it watching a Reality Show or accepting the invitation to that dinner where you know you will meet only boring or annoying people, always ask yourself:
Is that thing important?
Is it contributing to my happiness or my success?
Is it a step toward my goals?
Something that helped me a lot was switching my mindset from being a consumer of information to becoming a producer.
It's a virtuous circle of quality awareness, selective attention, and selective exposure.
In order to produce content, you need some skills, that you gather reading content. But those skills that allow you to produce content, also allow you to recognize the quality of the sources you consume. You become more critical and selective.
You immediately spot low quality, rubbish article, sloppy blog posts with outdated or unproven sources, and you start to avoid them.
You raise the bar of the quality you want and need and as a consequence, you will get better and increase the quality of what you produce.
The better and the deeper your understanding of the topic, the deeper and more accurate has to be the next content you'll be reading.
This is an important switch of mindset I always try to pass on to my kids. Showing them that rather than spending 2 hours every day playing video games, they could build their own game with Scratch. Instead of watching random youtube videos, we could film and edit short movies together. And the list goes on with blogging, drawing or making music on Garageband.
Of course, consuming is very important. Youtube and the internet, in general, is an awesome source of useful content, that sparkles curiosity, from which you can learn a lot. But we need to be able to tell the difference between valid and useless content and we need to know when to stop consuming and start practicing.
No, all this doesn't necessarily have something to do with your job or your career.
You don't start blogging only to become a famous blogger.
You don't start publishing videos about what you like or what you are good at ( be it like video games, crossfunctional training, decoupage or vegan recipes) - to become a YouTuber.
Your passion is your drive.
Your personal growth is your motivation.
Visitors and Money might come.
Career opportunities might come.
But even if they don't, at least you still had a life that is more enjoyable and lived to the fullest.
Not every single minute of your life has to be dedicated to our job.
You can practice an instrument, do yoga, learn to juggle. Simply sit on a comfortable chair with headphones on listening to your favorite album ( with kids around and always something to do, and the "Spotify way" of listening to music, I miss so much those moments where I could just listen to music and not have it as a background)
Time is limited, this is true.
We all have lots to do, work, kids, exercise, laundry. This is also true.
Therefore, Having No Time is often our excuse for not doing something we should do - learn that freaking new framework or AWS service, do workout or meditation - or want to do, but takes lots of effort - learn to play the piano, paint or spend time with people we love.
Time is limited but we have lots of time in our day, that we are actually wasting on useless or toxic things.
Find those things and remove them from our life.
Eliminate the noise that distracts us from reaching our goals ( one of which, the most important, is our happiness)
Hope it helps. :-)