Mitch Wagner writes about Linda Stone’s ETech talk on "attention" — Hey There, Pay Attention For A Minute. It’s a nice summary of the issue, too. I can just picture the scene as Mitch writes (which means he’s a good writer). Happily, I’m no longer part of that camp, though. In the past I always felt I was always missing something. Not anymore.
I saw Stone talk on this issue last June in San Francisco at Supernova, and I was fascinated. It was an excellent panel. But then I saw the next talk (audio here but it doesn’t do the talk justice … the guy had a presence best experienced live), and I realized how trivial and self-indulgent the whole "attention" issue is. For me, living Stone’s "continuous partial attention" lifestyle is the perfect recipe for my utter failure. Others may thrive in that environment, but it has failed me.
I realize that multi-tasking is many times required but only if the multiple tasks are directly related and support one, highly focused goal. Then it works. Other than that, most of us multi-task by engaging disparate things that, for me, only lead to stress and burn out and poor quality spread nicely across everything I do. I’m all for technology filtering for me, but it’s just as easy to turn something off, isn’t it? That’s what I’ve been doing lately, anyway.
I’m not "always on" anymore. I’m rarely on GAIM. And when I’m on GAIM, I’m not simultaneously on IRC. I have — at most — three screens open on my computer at any time. I dumped my pager years ago and will never carry one again. I’m happy to let calls go to voice mail and pick them up later. I respond to the most important emails first — stuff I’m actively working — and I’m happy to let me in box fill up. I no longer attend those regular "multi-disciplinary, cross-function" weekly meetings where absolutely nothing of value gets done — aside from meaningless chit-chat and overt (but humorous) posturing common on committees. I’ve even recently killed my own regular weekly meeting because it no longer worked. And I think I’ll just skip the wireless cell phones things that wrap around your ear so you can take calls while you blog, chat on IM and IRC and Skype, and answer email all while you are talking to someone face-to-face in your office. I know it’s supposed to be cool, but it’s not. It’s rude. I’ve reduced my blogging time a lot, too.
What’s the result of all this cutting? I’m not very cool, I know, but that doesn’t concern me because I’m happier, I’m more relaxed, I’m not worried about what I’m missing, there are fewer random thoughts bouncing around my head, I’m more confident, I’m learning how to own my own time, and I’m much more productive working the things I choose to focus on. I’ve come to realize that to improve at anything to the point of excellence, focus is the key. That’s pretty much Stone’s conclusion as well. It’s also a lesson my 10 month old knows quite well, and she teaches me this every day.