Technology and Distraction

Tristan Harris, former design ethicist at Google, discusses at TED the interplay between technology, attention, and distraction.

For additional discussion of this TED talk, see Alexandra Dempsey’s post on the Freedom blog.

For additional discussion the significance of focus, the importance of guarding it, and a helpful tool to that end, see Focus—there’s an app for that. For more information or to try Freedom, see the Freedom website. For additional similar discussion and tools, see also timewellspent.io.

Ode to to-do lists

Kristina Malsberger discusses managing oneself and one’s commitments amid what can be a hectic whirlwind of incoming information and requests. According to Malsberger,

there’s a simple, centuries-old solution: the daily to-do list. Sure, checklists have their detractors—folks that claim they constrain creativity or induce undue guilt—but when done well, a to-do list functions like a trusty aide-de-camp, greatly improving your ability to remember, plan, and prioritize.

Malsberger then provides several practical recommendations about using and managing to-do lists. Among these are not “treating your to-do list like a junk drawer for all your ideas, wishes, and reminders.” Instead, a someday-maybe list that’s regularly culled for dead wood is much more helpful.

For the balance of Malsberger’s reflections, see her original post on the Dropbox blog. For discussion of someday-maybe and other types of helpful list ideas and workflows, see David Allen, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (rev. ed.; New York: Penguin, 2015). See also other discussion of productivity-related matters here.

Reading for writing

Cal Newport outlines the basics of how he reads when working on a project. According to Newport,

The key to my system is the pencil mark in the page corner. This allows me later to quickly leaf through a book and immediately identify the small but crucial subset of pages that contain passages that relate to whatever project I happen to be working on.

For the balance of Newport’s process, see his original post. For broader suggestions about effective and efficient reading, see for example Rick Ostrov’s Power Reading and James Sire’s How to Read Slowly.

Focus—there’s an app for that

For various reasons, focus can be difficult in a whole host of contexts—at work, at home, or during recreation. One contemporary culprit that can all too easily hamper efforts to “lose” oneself in the “play” of the real world are the digital devices and media with which some of us are constantly surrounded. As a helpful set of “training wheels” to foster better focus amid such distractions, enter Freedom.

 

For a quick overview of how to configure and begin using Freedom, see the clip below.

 

For additional discussion of the significance of focus and concentration, and (especially Internet-enabled) humans’ susceptibility to distraction, see Better attention than a goldfish, Eliminating distractions, Hyatt’s interview with Newport, Productivity assessment, Skills to cultivate for better work, Staying focused, Tips for better focus.

Staying focused

Over at the Evernote blog, Valerie Bisharat has some helpful reflections on “how to avoid focus-stealing traps.” One particularly interesting study that Bisharat cites is

from the University of Texas at Austin [and] suggests that having our cell phones within reach – even if they’re powered off– reduces cognitive capacity, or ability to concentrate.

The cognitive pull of our devices is something that can be difficult to recognize, present with us as they often are. But the possibly deleterious effects on concentration that derive from having too much access to novel stimuli is certainly something that bears careful consideration.

For the balance of Bisharat’s comments, see her original post on the Evernote blog. On the same theme, see also Michael Hyatt’s interview with Cal Newport, author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World (Grand Central, 2016).

Toward not multitasking on the Dropbox blog

The Dropbox blog has a short essay on the downsides of trying to multitask. Rather than multitasking,

deep and singular focus is just what the doctor ordered, but in our hyper-connected world, it isn’t always easy…. You could chuck all your gadgets and move to the woods, but luckily you don’t need to get that drastic. Experts say you can begin to retrain your brain and take advantage of deep focus by concentrating on one thing at a time, managing your use of technology, and reframing the “instant-response” expectations of your colleagues—and yourself.

For the rest of the post and a handful of practical suggestions about taking steps in this direction, see the original post on the Dropbox blog.

Todoist + Google Calendar

Todoist logoI’ve recently started using Todoist as a personal task and project management tool. The immediately prior iterations I’d tried with Google Inbox and Google Reminders or Microsoft OneNote each had various pain points.

Inbox and Reminders integrate with Google Calendar, but can be difficult to adjust in Calendar. Any tasks scheduled at the same time group together in Calendar, and the group is tied together unless the tasks are individually rescheduled to different times (no dragging-and-dropping allowed). In addition, Inbox’s ability to schedule email is quite nice, but retrieving a list of all the email needing a response is sometimes cumbersome. Also, snoozed email doesn’t get added to Calendar unless some specific “remember to” text is added for it. So, daily planning seemed somewhat encumbered by the still-evolving implementation of integration among Inbox, Reminders, and Calendar.

OneNote is a tool I’ve been using and have found very helpful for some time now. But, sometime’s I’d forget to copy tasks over to a new day’s page, and planning out what emails needed to be written when proved not to be the easiest thing either (i.e., copy-and-paste the URL in Gmail to get back to the email later).

Thus far though, Todoist has been a happy medium for a lot of this, and they’ve recently rolled out a robust, user-friendly two-way sync with Google Calendar. The implementation with Google Calendar is really quite transparent and helpful. The Todoist for Gmail extension for Google Chrome also makes planning when and how to address incoming email quite straightforward.

For a survey of the Todoist’s new integration with Google Calendar, see the following YouTube clip:

For further discussion of Todoist and its use with GTD, see Todoist’s site and the following YouTube playlist:

GTD Times

David Allen, via Twitter

It’s certainly not new, but I recently came across the GTD Times blog run by the David Allen Company. The most recent entry is the first part of a keynote in which Allen overviews his approach to “getting things done,” as covered more fully in his book by the same title. If academia should ever manifest itself as an environment with an overabundance of demands, Allen’s advice may be a helpful starting point in adequately coming to grips with that situation.

On similar notes, see also David Allen @EntreLeadership.

Hyatt’s interview with Newport

Cal Newport, "Deep Work" coverMichael Hyatt recently interviewed Cal Newport, author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World (Grand Central, 2016). According to Newport,

Focus is now the lifeblood of this economy.

Why? Because focus is rare and distraction abundant. As Hyatt comments,

Even when we think we are focusing, we usually aren’t. When we work intensely on one problem but do quick “check backs” on email, social media, and the like during breaks, we run into the problem of “attention residue.” Those things come back with us when we return to our core work and make it harder to focus on our most important tasks.

For the balance of Hyatt’s summation of the interview, see his blog. Or, for the full interview, see the recording below: