December 11, 2006
Liz published this at 8:17 am
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
- Group Communicator
- RSS Feed
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.
. . . thereâ€™s a problem in the workplace when the interruptions intrude on tasks that require real concentration or quiet reflection. And thereâ€™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 RenÃ©e Zellwegerâ€™s wedding vows. Your world turns into a never-ending cocktail party where youâ€™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.