What with work, writing, photo editing and reading (Kindle for PC),* I spend a great deal of time in front of a computer. That’s all well and good: it’s a source of pleasure and contact with other folks with whom I wouldn’t ordinarily interact, as well as a tool for making a living.
But it can also be an incredible distraction. It is the nature of the stuff I write to need a good deal of research, so I have to leave a browser open most of the time. The nature of browsers is to “enrich” our experience with mail and text notifiers, pop-ups to tell us what’s happening in the cyberworld, and so forth.
A smartphone is the same way. My Droid is more of a pest than the computer. It won’t let anything get past me, and the beeping and droiiiid-ing can interrupt at the darndest times. Again, because I have kids and others who may need prompt responses, I hesitate to shut the phone off for more than an hour occasionally for a meeting, and since the lot of us tend to communicate more by text messaging than phone calls I don’t like to shut down the notifications.
Pop! An email.
Droiiiid! A text.
Hisssss! An email (phone).
Wiggling envelope on task bar! Either an email or text, depending on which envelope’s wiggling.
Man! I thought “You’ve got mail” was annoying, back in the dark ages when I had AOL. It was nothing.
Fortunately, it’s not too hard to overcome most of this stuff. Keeping my phone number confidential except for close friends and relatives is one ploy, made easier by Google Voice, which screens my business calls and allows me to use a different number for them. (I don’t use half of their services, but the ones I do use are a godsend.) I can’t shut the email notifications down, because I sometimes get work-related mail, but I log out of my personal mail and just keep the business account up.
The big problem is having to clean out the email at the end of the day. I usually handle that by deep-sixing anything that doesn’t look interesting, including any emails that don’t specify in the subject what they’re about. I gave up on “This is funny” and “You’ve got to read this” a long time ago. (If only I were as good about subject specificity myself. Guilty! But I try.) As far as the stuff I have to answer, usually I just hope there isn’t too much. I’m coming to hate email, but that’s part of life in the 21st Century.
I prefer to write in a simple text editor and code my own text so, when I’m actually writing something, I minimize Chrome and keep editor² on the desktop, toggling back and forth as needed. When researching, I park the browser on the other half of the widescreen monitor. (Eventually I’ll probably go to a dual-monitor system, but right now there are space constraints.)
The hard part is the self-discipline — not checking Facebook, not looking to see if there’s mail. I overcome that (sometimes) by setting a goal and simply sticking to it (sometimes). There are days when that doesn’t work too well, but most of the time it’s pretty effective. Fortunately I don’t write to a deadline most of the time, so if I backslide a little bit it doesn’t matter.
Usually this stuff works. Sometimes, like the past weekend, I just can’t seem to get in the groove, and end up blowing a lot of time while accomplishing very little. Still, it beats working for a living.
How do you keep your soul from being snatched by the machines?
*Hoping for a 6” 3G for Christmas. (Hint, hint)