The last 6 months have been super slow when it comes to running a retic business and I’ve found myself with a fair bit of time on my hands. Also since January I have had an ongoing muscular issue that has seen me most days in mild pain/discomfort and looking for a distraction.
Since March I have noticed my ‘screen time’ has increased (it was already in the ‘significant user’ zone) and my use of ‘the screen’ (primarily social media) to simply kill time was growing. Alongside that my ability to hold a complex thought for an extended period seemed to be decreasing. Reading was becoming harder and study harder still. I was concerned at where this was heading and while I’d known of the idea of ‘brain re-wiring’ for a while I didn’t like the thought of investing the effort required to get things back on track. So one day two weeks ago I decided to take back some control.
Yeah – it was pretty much like that. ‘Enough of this – time to stop some stuff and recalibrate how my mind operates.’
All the research around this area indicates we are headed for 20 second concentration spans and a life dominated by screens. I’m a fan of technology, social media and the internet. I like what it has brought to our lives, but I’m also aware of its double edged nature and my own seemingly easily addictive personality.
To begin I read a couple of books, the most useful of which was ‘Deep Work’ by Cal Newport, a book that suggests that in the future the ability to think and concentrate for long periods will be a rare (and valuable) commodity and that we need to regain the ability to do this kind of work. ‘Shallow work’ is low value and easily replicable, but deep work requires extended time of concentrated focus. He offers insights into how we can do this, but that’s for another post some other time.
I have noticed over the last few years that when I sit to write a sermon or to read a book I am quickly distracted by random thoughts and apparently ‘urgent needs’. I wrote them down one day. The list looked like this
- ‘check weather for Saturday’,
- Invoice X’
- ‘has Y paid invoice? – check bank acc’
- does Bunnings sell shed door flashings?
- when is McGregor / Mayweather fight?
- when is high tide?
All answers are available online so I find myself feeling that ‘this is important NOW’ so I chase down the answer. And what I am doing gets fragmented – smashed actually!
So i’ve put in place some practices to try and establish new patterns and habits. Here’s a bit of what I am doing to reshape my way of interacting with the online stuff. I’ve put these in order of how valuable they have been to me.
Mornings Go Analogue – I often used my tablet for my morning prayer and Bible reflection, but on opening it there were always a million notifications to deal with – so sometimes I didn’t get to the Bible and got distracted down a Facebook dogleg. I regularly gave up on meditation and prayer and just surfed the net. Lately I have been practicing using a ‘book’- a Bible with pages – before I pick up my phone/tablet. Its a small discipline, but it sets the tone for the day.
ALL notifications off – And then it simply makes sense to turn notifications off for EVERYTHING and I have been doing this over the last week or so. It has freed me from the distraction that comes when I am reading a book. Someone liked my instagram post… better check it out… Its just phone calls and text that get thru and often the phone is on silent after 5pm so even then I may not get them. The effect has been quite dramatic on my ability to focus and interestingly I had no idea just how many apps had automatically turned themselves to ‘notifications on’.
Toolbar Bookmarks deleted – on Chrome I had all my primary bookmarks loaded on my toolbar, which meant I would often realise I hadn’t looked at ‘X’ for while and would check in. Inevitably I would get stuck in the ludic loop and emerge an hour later Since I deleted it I have noticed I rarely visit Swellnet or Coastalwatch etc…
Practicing Waiting – more about that here, but essentially not pulling out the phone to kill the 5 minutes I ‘wait’ for a doctor/kids/train etc. I want to have that headspace I used to have as I think it was valuable for allowing ideas to percolate. This is so damn hard! I often feel like I have so much to do, but by practicing not doing it I seem to be re-training my brain and my capacity to behave differently.