I began a little experiment over the recent winter holiday.
I disabled my email alerts and shushed my social media notifications.
Muzzled. Gag-Ordered. Zipped.
Mind you, I didn't delete any of my accounts. I have in no way pulled a Henry David Thoreau and left the digital city for the analog woods altogether. This is neither a "Finished with Facebook!" freak-out, nor a "malaise of modernity" manifesto. Rather:
I was tired of getting interrupted.
After 2 weeks, here are some of the things I've begun to learn amidst the sound of silence.
- Once you get below a certain threshold of "omnipresent sound and fury", you start to take more notice of those few alerts that *do* sneak through. Like a single person gabbing in a library, you hear them more intensely than any single screaming voice in a crowd. Case in point: I found myself wondering: "Is it in any way acceptable that Yahoo! Sports is daring to bother me about former Alabama Offensive Coordinator Lane Kiffin right now? This is a library!" So I turned off Yahoo! Sports notifications too.
- You start to develop a calming, confidence-building sense of flow and control. You begin... <As I sit here writing this, my Apple Watch interrupts me to let me know that Americans eat 554 million Jack in the Box tacos a year, and no one knows why. So I just now turned off WSJ notifications, too.> ...Ahem. What was I saying? Oh yes: You begin to realize that context-switching is a productivity killer, and that every time you're dragged off course by an unexpected distraction, you've just lost real time and money. Your mind takes time to accelerate into whatever it is you're focusing on next. Too many "nexts" and you're forever stuck in 1st gear.
- My digital assistant had become my digital boss. By constantly demanding my attention, my phone had pulled rank and begun to call the shots. I'd like to write an article right now, but bossypants has swooped in and demanded that I focus on tacos. By simply resetting my relationship with my devices to "pull" as opposed to "push", I find that they're profoundly less... pushy. Suddenly, my phone is back to taking orders as the trusty personal digital assistant I'd originally "hired" back in 2007.
Ultimately, this is all about Attention Economics: As the information overloading us grows, our capacity to consume it shrinks. This isn't license to unplug and live in an uninformed bubble, but instead a call to be more intentional and selective about the information worthy of your scarce attention. Focus on your plan; not your next "ding".
Don't pardon the (digital) interruption.