I am reading a book by media analyst Howard Rheingold called Net Smart: How to Thrive Online, a book about empowering yourself through new media. In the first chapter he dissects our ability to pay attention for more than fifty pages. So naturally, I had trouble paying attention.

But I finished it, and it was interesting (debatable at points, but interesting). As an exercise, I’ve recorded a log of my activities below.

The First Hour

For the first half of this record, I was tasked with ‘performing naturally’, as if I wasn’t trying especially hard to focus on any one thing. I did have work to do, but if you read on, you can see how well that went:

 

9:00 – Turn on internet

9:01 – Youtube, find playlist.

9:01 – Pop open Gmail (2 messages), reddit (no messages), WordPress (the orange thingy lit up!), Facebook (the red thingy lit up-oh, spam)

9:01 – Read important emails

9:04 – Browse reddit

9:05 – New tab x 6

9:06 – Close a tab after reading about … crap, what did I just read about? Space? Cats?

9:07 – Close another tab

9:08 – Useless ‘lifeprotip’ tab closed

9:10 – Finished reading all other tabs

9:11 – Check Twitter. Realize I don’t know how to use twitter. What do I have to say that’s so immediate, it needs to be said in 140 characters? I’m not a quote machine, dammit

9:10 – Check out comments on WordPress

9:14 – Finished replying to most comments, start sifting through followers’ blogs

9:20 – 8 new tabs open, running through other blogs. Wow, how did he take those pictures?

9:25 – OK, I have work to do, better not start reading through new posts

9:25 – Reading through new posts

9:35 – Still reading

9:38 – Tempted to make a few comments, but kept some of them to myself. Decided to leave a like and move on. I’ll remember to get back to them later, right?

9:42 – Reddit. Nothing new. Close Reddit

9:42 – Reddit. Nothing new. Crap, I just did this

9:43 – Check email again. Realize I’ve left my phone in my room

9:43 – 4 new texts, 2 missed calls

9:44 – Call back, start talking, tell them I’m supposed to be doing an assignment

9:52 – Finally hang up

9:53 – Reddit. OK, I have a problem. I’ll stop messing around

9:55 – WordPress. The thingy is orange again!

9:59 – How has it already been an hour?!

The Second Hour

I knew I was wasting time, but that hour went by faster than I thought it would. I hadn’t put an exact number to my unproductivity before, and I’m sure if I wasn’t doing an exercise, it would’ve taken me a while longer to sit down and focus.

When I looked back over this list, it hurt me to realize how little I had gained from browsing; it was addicting without being enriching. I felt like I’d lost an hour of my life.

So, it was time for the second half. I had a goal in mind, I wanted to get something, anything done. And Net Smart had some suggestions for productivity:

  • Meditate: Focus on your breath. Every time you start thinking about something else, return to your breath.
  • Set Goals: Make a short list every morning of the goals you want to accomplish (a maximum of five). Write down only what you can expect to finish, you can write other goals elsewhere. Then, give yourself a schedule for technology use, and stick to it.
  • Tomato Timers (Pomodoro Technique): When you are ready to start working, work ‘with intent’. Focus on completing one task at a time, and don’t do anything else while you are working. Set a timer for 25 minutes, and work on that one task. Take a five minute break, and start over again (you can take longer breaks later).

 I’ve done all of these before, but not with intent, so I thought I’d give it a shot.

10:01 – Check phone and WordPress one last time. Take a breath. This is it.

10:02 – Set timer for 25 minutes.

10:03 – Gmail opened. OK, False start.

10:04 – Set timer for 25 minutes, for real this time.

10:21 – Phone buzzes. Try to ignore. Can’t ignore. Distracted now.

10:23 – Get up, walk around, stretch.

10:26 – Start timer for 25 minutes.

10:58 – Timer went off long ago, still working!

 

I feel ACCOMPLISHED. I feel in control. And I need a break.

Try it yourself. How is your attention affecting your life? Are you already using one or more of these techniques daily?

 

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