The happiest, most productive day you've had in ages
I sighed with frustration as I looked at the little clock on the top right of my computer screen. For some reason, I was reading an online news article about a man trying to board a train in Wales with a pony. I should have been working, of course. But for over an hour I'd been flicking from Facebook photos of my friend's wife's best friend's new dog to news articles about oil exploration in Russia. Really? Did I care? And finally, clicking on articles about large animals trying to get on trains. This was just happening too often. (Getting distracted on the internet, that is, rather than reading articles about ponies on public transport.)
I decided there and then - ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.
Why is it us humans are totally suited to doing one thing at a time really well, yet modern life is mostly geared towards providing as many distractions as possible? And it's not just our productivity that's affected by these distractions. Recent research has found that we are simply happier when we focus on one thing at a time, whether it's sex or reading or shopping or working.
The problem is made A LOT worse by the internet. Author Linda Stone calls it 'continuous partial attention'. What have you devoted your attention to already today? Facebook? Twitter? Emails? Blogs? Online News sites? Apps on your phone? If an email comes in, do you stop what you're doing and read it? Or do you carry on what you're doing, and wait till you've finished to open the email?
As George Harrison once sang, "A mind that likes to wander 'round the corner is an unwise mind". So as I looked at the picture of the man trying to take his pony onto the train, I decided - enough is enough.
It's time to stop THE MARCH OF THE INTERNET, and reclaim our focus.
Here's three amazing programs I've started using on my computer to reclaim my focus.
1) Stayfocusd. 'Ooh, this sounds good already', I thought. I was simply asked to enter the websites that distract me the most. Perfect. I entered in Facebook, Twitter, Guardian and BBC. How long would you like to browse these sites for a day? 45 minutes? No problem. It's surprisingly effective. When you're on these sites, a little red timer counts down and shows you how long you have left. Once you're done for the day, there's NO way to get on these sites again until the next day.
Does it work? Yes. Even the little red button in the corner of the screen is enough to make me think twice about opening Facebook. (Google Chrome only - Leechblock is the equivalent for Firefox)
2) Tracktime. I've always known that I'm a pretty frenzied online multi-tasker, but even I was surprised by the results of this program that tells you the stuff you've done on your computer throughout the day. Results for last Tuesday? 2 hrs 31 minutes on Mail, 2 hrs 30 on Google Chrome, 50 minutes on Word, 44 minutes on Evernote, 31 minutes on audio editor, and so on. The really shocking results were these: Of those 2 hrs 31 mins on Mail, I had 150 separate visits. That means I opened Mail 150 times as the main window on my computer, before minimising for something else! Spending an average of one minute on mail each time before moving on to something else. Talk about lack of focus...
Does it work? It's interesting for the 30-day free trial, but only to make you aware of your browsing habits, rather than changing them.
3) Concentrate. The strict headmaster of productivity apps. I was asked to specify an activity that you want to concentrate on. First activity for me: Writing. So right now 'Concentrating on Writing' is running in the background on my computer. Should my mind wander and decide to open Mail or Google Chrome or even iTunes, I can't. I'm forced to concentrate on this blog. The program will not allow me to open the other programs until the pre-specified amount of time is finished. And do you know what? I feel more productive, more immersed in what I'm doing, and yes, probably happier too.
Does it work? Emphatically. It cleans up your desktop, giving you a better chance to stop your mind wandering 'round the corner. And you can 'allow' or 'block' as many different programs as you like.
I know not everyone has focus issues, but if you're somebody who suffers from 'continuous partial attention', then give Concentrate it a go. You might just have the happiest, most productive day you've had in a long time.
ps - yes, animalsontrains.com is now well and truly blocked.
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