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Managing Digital Racket

I read this article, long by today’s standards of fleeting attention. TL;DR. Information bombardment addicted the author with negative effects on his life. And while he’s not done making changes in his life, he has broken the cycle.

I’ve had similar challenges to him, and continue to hone my approach to managing digital racket. I know I’ve written about this before, but the art is evolving for me. Chronicling progress, however minor, is cathartic.

I mute nearly all notifications. This cuts down tremendously on mental intrusions, improving my focus and reducing FOMO. While you’d think turning off notifications would increase FOMO, you realize over time that you aren’t actually missing anything substantial. Once you believe this, the anxiety borne of FOMO fades away.

The only notifications I currently receive are as follows.

  1. Phone calls. I don’t get many, and most of them are directly related to my business.
  2. Direct messages from my immediate family.
  3. Direct messages from my three co-workers and a few close collaborators.

I have deleted most social media apps from my phone. I have a few for the sake of convenience when abroad, but rarely access them. With notifications turned off, the temptation is practically nil. Twitter is my greatest temptation, and therefore do not keep it on my phone at all except at conferences. Buffer allows me to queue tweets without having to interact with Twitter directly.

The most notable social media app that remains on my phone is Reddit. However, I don’t use Reddit for work, so it’s not a distraction during my working hours.

On my Mac, I use the multiple desktops feature. The main desktop is my working screen. Here, I have my Chrome browser, research documents, and terminal consoles. In one Chrome tab, I have my company’s Slack group, as it’s a critical part of my workflow along with Trello and Buffer. Wunderlist keeps me focused. Scrivener organizes my writing projects.

The secondary desktop contains social media and other distracting things. For instance, I have Safari running Tweetdeck and LinkedIn. I also have the Slack app with the myriad non-company groups I’m in running as a separate window.

To access the other desktop, I must deliberately perform a 4-finger swipe up, and then choose the other desktop with a point-and-click. I have disabled the “Swipe between full-screen apps” feature that allows for quick 4-finger swiping between desktops with my trackpad. This means that switching to the secondary desktop is a conscious choice that puts me in a different mindset. Am I willing to give into temptation and look at that other desktop? Or is it easier to actually stay in the zone and keep working? The swipe, point, and click gives me just enough time to avoid losing my productivity mojo.

Couldn’t I just, in a moment of weakness, open Tweetdeck on my primary, working desktop? Of course. But there’s something that chafes in my brain when I try it. After a couple of weeks of segregated desktops, looking at Twitter on the main desktop feels like an unwelcome intrusion.

I have regular screen moratoriums. Lately, this comes in the form of a weekly outdoor excursion. Assuming I’m not on a plane and weather permitting, I’m outdoors every Saturday, usually hiking a lot of miles in the mountains. I have a GPS watch I use as a tool. I have a phone with me for safety reasons. But for the last several weeks, I haven’t used my phone, even to take a picture. The phone stays in my pack.

While I can’t prove this, my feeling is that putting the screen away for the several hours I’m in the woods each week is important to my mental health. The complete screen disconnect somehow hits a reset button that allows me to function with a clearer brain the next week. Again, this is anecdotal. I can’t prove this yet. But I do know that for the last few weeks, thinking and producing has been easier for me.