You can accomplish amazing things when you have no fear, no distractions and nothing to lose. I am by no means an expert on any of those three things, but I am working hard to learn. Starting with distractions. Too many distractions on a regular basis – total loss of control – is overwhelming to me. Email plays a big role in that for me. Though it’s only been a week or two, I’ve found myself considerably less stressed out and thereby far more productive without email buzzing in my pocket. In all of my studies, I found that the smartest men and women in our era and history long before it knew how to focus on things that matter. I think part of that also has to do with ignoring or saying no to things that overwhelm or otherwise hurt you. I am a huge proponent of trying new things in new ways. But if something doesn’t work out for you, why keep doing it? Why let it keep happening? Especially if you don’t like it or if it overwhelms you? Do something about it. Shut it off. Tell him or her to leave. Be honest. Or just say, “no.” Whatever it takes to lift that burden on your shoulders and get on with your life.
I did the math and realized my phone buzzes or beeps once every 3.5 minutes during the average work day. Over 90% of that comes from email. It’s a miracle that I am able to pay attention to anything at all with that party going on in my pocket. And forget restful sleep – there’s no way. Email is huge a distraction in my life. Out of spite, I’ve started leaving my phone places. Unfortunately, that results in a nasty habit of missing worthwhile phone calls. To combat the distraction, I started a very simple experiment: turning off all email notifications on my phone and laptop. I intend to track productivity and see how things go. With any luck, I will find myself more engaged in work, meetings, conversation and social outings. Text messages and instant messenger are still fair game if you have something urgent to say. Otherwise, you’re shooting in the dark with an email – I’ll get back to you when I choose to (and not when my phone nags me to).
The world has not run out of new ideas. We have stopped asking good questions. We are so inundated by the content we consume that we spend more time processing the things we’re told instead of the things we are not. Einstein and da Vinci did not watch television or facebook five hours per day; they left little-to-no time for distractions, compartmentalized research and focused all energy into exploring the world around them. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a film that asked deep questions or read a book that made me think. In a postmodern age where we are all hyper-consumers, we spend our energy living and breathing other people’s work instead of creating our own. There’s plenty of new ideas out there: the world is constantly evolving with new challenges and trends. If you ask thorough questions and wrestle with contemporary issues, you will find a goldmine of fresh ideas.
Don’t just sit back and watch. Engage. Ask questions. Then put the book or iPad down for a day to go tango with the world around you.
Christopher Nolan, one of the greatest filmmakers of our time, does not have a cell phone. In an effort to live a focused and productive life, he is vigilant about keeping his personal bubble distraction-free. I’ve advocated for periods of digital silence before, but Mr. Nolan’s approach to creative sanctuary is something else entirely. No outside forces may enter the gates of his life while he is working. That’s a special thing.
We consume so much information every single day: emails, articles, status updates, pictures and video. Since the beginning of the year, I have consumed approximately 2,000 emails, 6,400 tweets, 12,500 articles and god knows how many status updates. Let’s conservatively estimate that I spend an average of 20 seconds per item (an overestimate for tweets; a radical underestimate for email and news). By that average, I spend around 58 hours per month or 12% of my time awake consuming emails, tweets and articles alone. Realistically, I think that number is closer to 35% or 40%. Needless to say, that’s a lot.
The numbers make me sick. I could be spending time creating for and giving back to the world. I can only imagine how much more I could get done if I extinguished those distractions from my life. After adopting the Galaxy Nexus, I am now more connected than ever. I’m starting to feel the water rising to my ears – and I don’t like it. Tonight, I vow to wean myself off consumption as much as possible. I will keep this blog up to date with any tips I discover along the way.