Blog 2014

Concentration (or, What Forgetting My Power Cord Taught Me About Focus)

I forgot the power cable for my computer this past weekend.

It’s not too surprising. I travel a lot, especially these days where my weeks are divided between the Triangle (Raleigh-Durham NC) and Asheville. There’s a skill to traveling and it’s one that I don’t think I’ve mastered but I do think I’ve gotten a knack at. Still, accidents happen and stuff gets forgotten.
In the case of the power cord, though, it wasn’t like I could easily run down to the local store and pick up a replacement. Yes, technically, I could have but it would have cost me a small fortune. And since I’d be going back down to the Triangle in a few days, that seemed like a bit of a waste. So, I decided to just see if I could muddle through. My computer had 50% charge so I’d see what I could do.

I started by not leaving my computer on. Like most people, I rarely turn my computer off, instead leaving it in hibernation. Not this time; I turned that bad boy off the second I was done writing.

Secondly, I did nothing with the internet. No surfing, no chatting, no nothing. Start up the computer, go right to writing, and the instant I was done with the day’s goals, close it all down. Any surfing was done on my phone (which, because it’s a subpar internet tool, meant my surfing was also kept at a minimum).

Thirdly, I had to condense my goals. I couldn’t just sit staring at a blank screen for an hour as I tried to get my thoughts to coalesce. I had to write. So this meant that I didn’t fill time with writing but wrote with specific goals (this is something I do anyway, but this experience underlined the importance of it). Wake up, write six pages (or whatever the goal was for that day), and close shop.

The result was that I powered through a tremendous amount of work in a very short period of time. Six-pages-in-two-hours kind of thing. There were no distractions, no checking email or checking Facebook or even researching anything I was writing about. I wrote from my gut and I kept it going. The results have been phenomenal.

People far more committed than I to the optimization of time have written about isolating internet, email, social media, etc, to specific times of the day. I’m merely seconding what they’ve been advocating:
– Resist the allure of the internet and other distractions. If you’re sitting down to work, work.
– Resist the allure of multi-tasking; focus on getting one thing done. When it’s done, then and only then go on to something else (this doesn’t need to be a whole project; one stage of a project or one piece at a time will suffice).
– Check email, social media, etc, at designated times of the day (ideally when your productivity usually takes a nose dive anyway). Check email at lunch and before the end of the work day. Odds are, it can wait a few hours.
– Shut off the electronic devices when they aren’t in use. That will help curb the ‘I’ll just see what’s happening on Facebook’ habit.

It’s been really illuminating working this way. I’ve read considerably more these past few days than I normally do. And, much like a previous article about a healthy diet making food taste better, spending less time online has made me resistant to ‘killing time online’ (I’m looking at you, online personality quizzes).

So, I’ve gotten more done in less time and enjoyed the process. Give it a try and see what you think.

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