Time for Everything: Letting Go to Find Flow

A Time for Everything

To everything there is a season,
A time to drive, a time to eat,
A time to type, a time to hear,
A time to connect, a time to reflect,
A time for phones, a time for elevators.
To everything, there is a season — paraphrased from Ecclesiastes 3

A few days ago, Kathy Sierra at Creating Passionate Users wrote about a product called Twitter.

For those of you who don’t know about Twitter, it has one purpose in life–to be (in its own words)–A global community of friends and strangers answering one simple question: What are you doing? And people answer it. And answer it. And answer it. Over and over and over again, every moment of every hour, people type in a word, fragment, or sentence about what they’re doing right then. (Let’s overlook the fact that there can be only one true answer to the question: “I’m typing to tell twitter what I’m doing right now… which is typing to tell twitter what I’m doing right now.” Or something else that makes my head hurt.)

Click the title to see the product page


Why would anyone want to do that?

Twitter also a tool for

  • Social Networking System
  • Chatroom
  • Microblogging
  • Multiplexer
  • Group Communicator
  • RSS Feed
  • Salon
  • Meme
  • MLM

For me, that makes it worse. I had seen Twitter, and frankly I hoped that it would just go away. I see it as one of the weird worm holes of an overly plugged-in culture that I’m trying fiercely to avoid.

Kathy Sierra makes fun of twitter for the same reason that I avoided it. We both see it as one more way to fragment our attention in a world that already does a great job of doing so.

Finding focus is impossible when we live in a state of constant interruption. Call me cold and unfeeling, but I don’t care about some stranger’s cat named Fluffy — and it irritates me when that stranger makes a call in an elevator to find out about Fluffy, invading my space, my thoughts, making me virtually invisible — practically screaming that I don’t exist. Exactly how rude is that?

I’m all about finding Flow.

No More Scanning, No More Anxiety

It was last May that I decided officially that multitasking was history for me. I had solid reasons for that decision. One of which was that I knew that doing too many things at once wasn’t productive at much more than making me tired and cranky.

The more I considered the idea of constantly tracking every detail, the more I realized what it was stealing from me. I was losing my ability and time to reflect, to consider, to sit back with wonder. Most importantly, it was taking my ability to listen with my heart and my humanity. I’d only get part of any message that passed my way.

Linda Stone described it this way in an interview with Stephen Levy at Newsweek.

. . . there’s a problem in the workplace when the interruptions intrude on tasks that require real concentration or quiet reflection. And there’s an even bigger problem when our bubble of connectedness stretches to ensnare us no matter where we are. A live BlackBerry or even a switched-on mobile phone is an admission that your commitment to your current activity is as fickle as Renée Zellweger’s wedding vows. Your world turns into a never-ending cocktail party where you’re always looking over your virtual shoulder for a better conversation partner. The anxiety is contagious . . .

Just what we all need more anxiety.

Letting Go, Finding Flow

I decided to let go of the scanning to live every moment. I stop myself when I get “whelmed” with reality. I now take time to breathe and remind myself that the world turns fine without me. Here are a few things I do to help that happen.

    • I close tabs and windows on my computer. Suddenly, I have room in my mind to work.


    • I list things I might want to check later. I don’t let them sit in my head to nag me.


    • I make appointments with myself for when I’ll do things. I’ve become a serial producer — no more parallel activities. Messaging systems stay off when there are tasks that need attention with focus. Telephone calls happen away from the computer, unless I need to talk about something that’s on the screen.


    • I relax into what I’m working on as if it’s the only task I have to do, looking for the fun and the promise it holds. I ask myself what’s the part or the place where I can add value, knowing that’s the place I’ll find flow.


    • If an unavoidable interruption occurs, I ask the interruption to wait for two minutes while I put things together in a way that I can return to it without having to sort things out. Then I set it aside completely and fully, and I breathe before I take on the new thing.


    • When the interruption is over, I return to my flow task without worry or guilt.


    • I check my messages on a regular schedule. They seem quite happy to wait those few minutes for me. They become my break for thinking while I do the more rote-like task of answering them. It’s a win-win reward for me. Einstein went this violin when he needed to get away from a problem. I go to my email to do the same thing.


I do care about what you’re doing. I just don’t want to know what you’re doing every second of every day. You probably don’t want to stop what you’re doing to tell me. When I think of how inefficient that is I start thinking of movies that show future societies. I picture AIs running the world because humans don’t remember how to do anything.

You have my complete attention. I’m listening to you. I want to process what you say fully. I might not get everything even when I do that — I surely won’t get it, if I don’t focus on you. At the very least, it’s is a sign of my respect.

Time is the most precious of my resources. I’m not twittering it blindly, or trying to do too many things at once. What I’m finding is that I have more time in larger chunks. I’m finding a time for everything just as the famous words say.

Are you ready to quit tracking everything?

–ME “Liz” Strauss
If you think Liz can help find focus, check out the Work with Liz!! page in the sidebar.

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  1. says

    What bothers me even more than the ever-shortening attention spans caused by things like Twitter is that all this *connection* we now have, thanks to technology, is actually decreasing the number and degrading the quality of the real connections we have.

    If you’re dorking around on a site like Twitter throughout the day to “connect” with random strangers, you’re missing opportunities to stay connected with the people already in your life.

    The 30 seconds (or whatever) that it takes to go to Twitter and report what you’re doing, you could send a quick, one-line “We haven’t talked for awhile. Was thinking about you and wondering how you’re doing” e-mail to a friend you haven’t talked to in a while. The simple fact that you were thinking about them and dropped them a note could possibly mean a lot to your friend who, for all you know, could be struggling at the moment, be feeling ignored at work, be feeling isolated in their personal life.

    Or, better, add up all those 30-second intervals and spend that chunk of time in person or on the phone with a friend, a parent, a significant other, a kid, a pet — someone you have more than a superficial relationship with.

    As a society, we’re doing increasingly poor jobs tending to our relationships — including those that we deem to be our most important. And, I fear we’re about to unleash a couple of generations of young folk who don’t know how to carry on a real conversation because they’ve spent much of their youth IM-ing and text messaging. (I sincerely hope I’m proved wrong on this point.)

    With any luck, the novelty of Twitter will wear off in a few months and everyone will get back to living (and working).

  2. says

    You’ve packed a ton wisdom in that comment there. It bothers me too. That’s a lot to with why I stopped multi-tasking and decided to focus on one thing at a time.

    Every moment is a bit of my life. I want to be present for it. Every person is worth listening to, even those who don’t know what they’re talking about. I should listen long enough to decide that.

    Being half there is not being there. When I’m old and look I want to say I was part of my life.

  3. says

    Oh Liz~

    What a great post! I agree with the “twitter effect”…why waste time zoning out with things like that when we could BE more of who we’re meant to BE.

    “DOing” is just a distraction. I’m in agreement about mulit-tasking too…if we’re typing an e-mail to a friend while talking on the phone to another, aren’t we shortchanging both? And ourselves?

    I get a bit miffed when I hear ppl doing that when on the phone with me. It’s like, “Hey, why did you even call me if you were just going to do something else?”

    Lists are great for focusing on the present. Get it out of your head, (therefore not worrying about the future) tackle the tasks one at a time and flow more freely from one item to the next…no need to juggle, there’s time for ALL of it to be completed. All with a lot more enjoyment and fulfillment and adventure.

    Thanks for always helping us expand our vision Liz!


  4. says

    Picking up on Kammie’s comment about people audibly doing one thing while they’re on the phone with you, we should add call waiting.

    I have a friend who never turns off call waiting while she’s on a long-distance call. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on the phone with her…on MY dime…that I’ve been put on hold for countless minutes while she’s answering the new call. Her reason: “They’re calling long-distance, I hate for them to talk to voice mail.” Well, I’m calling long-distance too and I’m already on the line! It goes back to Levy’s comment: “Your world turns into a never-ending cocktail party where you’re always looking over your virtual shoulder for a better conversation partner.”

    Picking up on another Levy comment — “A live BlackBerry or even a switched-on mobile phone is an admission that your commitment to your current activity is as fickle as Renée Zellweger’s wedding vows”…a friend works in real estate. When he’s with a client, his cell phone is OFF. His only priority at that moment is the person he’s with. One time, he forgot to turn off his phone and it rang in the middle of an appointment. He pressed a button to push the call into voice mail quicker, and then turned off the phone. The client, taken aback, said “You don’t need to get that?” My friend’s reply was, “I’m meeting with YOU now.”

    The client said he couldn’t count how many real estate agents had walked away from him mid-appointment to spend 5, 10, 15 minutes on a phone call…some of which sounded like non-critical personal calls. And he’d never had an agent outright turn off their phone during appointment.

    It’s bad enough when this kind of stuff happens in personal interactions, but it’s really bad when it happens in business interactions.

  5. says

    I’m in the “we’re forgetting how to relate to real people” camp too. I just hope I never get to the point where I tell my wife to read a blog post instead of actually telling her about something. :)

  6. says

    Hi Kammie!
    Thanks. I agree that people shouldn’t be typing or clicking or anything else when they call you. What is the story there?

    How hard was I listening when I was typing? It was so rude of me when I did that. I’m so glad I quit.

  7. says

    I agree Whitney!
    How many things are there in our lives that actually MUST happen at this second? How many phone calls do we have to take?

    I’ve found my life goes easier when I let it happen naturally. I wasn’t made to serve it. I was made to live it. :)

  8. says

    What a great line.

    Here, honey, read this. I think it says “I love you.” Let me know if there’s a typo. I’ll get to it as soon as I finish this phone call. :)

  9. says

    Never been good at multi-tasking myself. One thing at a time is all I can handle. But it does get all my attention.

    Being a minimalist, I don’t have a fax machine, cell phone, hand-held gadget (Blackberry, etc.), or any other communication tool.

    I have one phone, which is a landline with an answering machine connected to it. Anyone wants to talk to me, they call me on that. Anyone else calling at the same time gets a busy signal.

    Regarding email, most of what comes in these days is spam. For the real mail, I answer some of it immediately, if necessary, and the rest can wait for later.

    As far as my time is concerned, I’m a very selfish person, and see no need to make myself available to anyone and everyone 24 hours a day.

  10. says

    I can see the value and the values in your thinking. You make so much sense to me.

    I sat on a plane once next to a guy who told me about his new van that had a copier, computer, fax, television, telephone — I can’t remember what else. He was so pleased with it. I told him that I go places to get away from those things and said “One of us is doing something terribly backwards.” I smiled at him.

    I don’t think he assumed it was him. I sure didn’t assume it was me. :)

  11. says

    Heh. I sat on a train once (happily, it was a short trip out to the island). There was a guy sitting behind me. He took out his cellphone and called a friend. Then he went on about his gig last night (he was some sort of musician), what he did afterwards, blah blah blah.

    Then he called a second friend, and went through the whole thing again.

    Then he called a third friend and did it all over again.

    None of those calls was of any real importance. He wasn’t sharing any exciting news like: “Wow, we got the recording contract!” or “Hey, we won first place in the contest!” It was just a prosaic conversation (where he did most of the talking).

    I was wishing about then that I could push a button and destroy every cellphone in the world 😉

    We have too many toys. That’s what a lot of these devices really are, just toys. And we can’t resist playing with them.

    Even worse, they tend to make you feel “important”. “Wow, i have a cell phone, a Palm Pilot, and a beeper! I’m somebody!!”

    That Twitter blog is the same thing. “I can post to the world about my cat upchucking hairballs! I’m special! I’m important!”

    I think too many people have forgotten that being special or important to anyone doesn’t rely on gadgets or sharing details of your mundane routine with strangers everywhere.

    Then again, who knows? If people slowed down and examined their lives carefully, well, it might just be a little empty in there.

  12. says

    I agree.
    I think that many people are afraid of silence. Some folks have lost the ability to be alone with their thoughts.

    How would the world be different, if everyone was forced to take a collective breath, look at trees and sky, and think of things that weren’t made by people?

  13. says

    Bravo everyone. Now this is MY kind of blog, where every “social media” gimmick is NOT blindly applauded.

    I am puking sick of all the chattering blogs where everybody wants to hold hands and “feel the love” and do all sorts of unethical stunts, just because they can.

    Like PayPerPost and Twitter and WOMMA and etc.

    Paid enthusiasm comments used to be called “blog whoring”: where a blogger will say nice, or nasty, things for compensation, rather than it being a genuine, use-based remark.

    We may have differing opinions on the huge variety of internet interactivity devices and marketing programs.

    But at least we retain our critical thinking skills and soberly assess what’s going on, and where it leads to.

    Whitney, your remarks really hit home with me.

  14. says

    Hey Vaspers!
    This particular social media “gimmick” can’t die soon enough for me. I’m a relationship blogger and I think relationships take longer than 10 seconds to have meaning! :)

  15. says

    I don’t see Twitter as being as evil and anti-blogosphere as PayPerPost and WOMMA, but it is a pretty stupid pile of clutter.

    What I love is this refusal to embrace and celebrate any ridiculous “social media” gimmick that comes along.

    I am actually in tremendous fear and loathing about the subtle and pervasive attacks on Real Genuine P2P Networking that are happening all around us, including pseudo/RSS blogs that use programs to suck content off our blogs and aggregate it into a pseudo, non-human blog full of Google ads or whatnot.

  16. says

    Yeah, V. , “stupid” is a good word for it. I don’t see anything worth celebrating there.

    Content theft by “autoblogging” is another thing. That makes me crazy . . . in 1000 ways. Content theft by people is outrageous beyond my ability to comprehend. I have too many adjectives for that.

  17. says

    On the other hand, being almost a member of generation Y myself, a lot of this sounds like typical generational “Oh the young ones they won’t be able to cope!” nonsense.

    Look, there’s a few million of us out there now, twenty-somethings who grew up glued to nintendo, who don’t see the “information onslaught” as so much of a problem.

  18. says

    Nah, this has nothing to do with “the young ones,” really, Candice. The folks I see sitting on airplanes who can’t sit for a second without using their cellphones, who walk through the aiports connected and talking, who talk in elevators are boomers not GenYers.

    Rudeness and fear of being alone — the need to be connected and always plugged in is pervasive and throughout the culture from where I’m sitting.

  19. says

    I’d like to start a new “social networking site.” I think I’ll call it MANNERS.

    Doesn’t that make me sound like an old lady? But I learned that being polite was how you showed other folks that you respect them.

    I always get surprised when someone says,”You’re welcome.”

  20. says

    It’s not dead everywhere. Not here, at least. A friend of mine just returned from Florida, and was commenting on how incredibly rude everyone was there.

    When I worked in a tall office building for a year or so down here I think I never once left an elevator last.

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