Pings and Productivity

An article in today’s NY Times about the perils of “pinging” – my word for the constant interruptions we face in our modern daily lives.

As the parent of young children, the pinging came from them: “Mom, I’m hungry (bored, tired, angry, mad at my brother, sick, in danger, have a dirty diaper); I need you NOW”. I don’t think I had a coherent thought for a seven-year period, except when they were in childcare. I was good only for low-level functions: buying and preparing food, cleaning up, running errands, arranging play dates.

Now, kids long gone (chatty husband too) the distractions are back. But most of them are (or should be) under my own control. It’s between me and the internet. Ping! I’ve got email! I do research for an article on Vitamin D (thank you google) and suddenly I’ve gotten from Vitamin D to auto-immune disorders to fatigue to distraction to this article – and now instead of further work on Vitamin D I’m writing a post about being distracted.

Maggie Jackson, author of Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age has this to say:

What’s needed is a renaissance of attention — a revaluing and cultivating of the art of attention, to help us achieve depth of thought and relations in this complex, high-tech time.

The first step is to learn to speak a language of attention. The exciting news is that the enigma of attention has just begun to be mapped, tracked and decoded by neuroscientists who now consider attention to be a trio of skills: focus, awareness and so-called executive attention. Think of it this way: You can be “aware” that you’re in a beautiful garden and then you can “focus” on an individual flower. The last piece, “executive attention,” is the ability to plan and make decisions.

Coincidentally I was dead-heading the amazing Westerlund rose earlier today in the garden. Hundreds of blooms in thick clusters. A few branches so heavy they had broken (below, the flowers on just two stalks). I was clip clip clipping but somewhere else in my head. Suddenly I realized I wasn’t present and began to focus on each spent head and the shattering petals that fell as I snipped. Such abundance! Wow.

I used to do most of my writing on my laptop, which I keep offline. It is so much easier to focus when there’s no place else to go, no emails to worry about. I talk about self-discipline, but talk costs nothing. I feel myself with a big SHOULD coming on: I SHOULD ONLY CHECK EMAIL ONCE A DAY. I SHOULD ONLY CHECK DailyKos ONCE A DAY. I SHOULD ONLY….

What will I actually DO????

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One response to “Pings and Productivity

  1. It’s helped me to turn off the “You’ve Got Mail” sound on my computer. It only checks once every hour–and that seems excessive. Still, this is a constant challenge for me. I’m considering an iPhone (my six-year-old cell phone is dying), which that will only bring more (exquisitely designed, touch-sensitive) disruption.