RSS Club: nosurf3

Created: 2022-09-23

Another update to the previous RSS Club posts "nosurf" and "nosurf2":

In the second post, I had gained success with the Pomodoro Technique. I still believe it’s a great way to go for all the reasons I outlined then.

But I haven’t been great about sticking with Poms because sometimes work and life are more reactionary than planned. I don’t like it, but it’s true. I think Poms work best when you can actually plan ahead. Otherwise, they just add to existing frustration. I still use my 25 minute sand timer plenty. But I’m under no delusion that it’s a panacea.

I still believe in what I wrote last time:

The daily pom goal is super important because it puts the emphasis on putting in the time, not performing brilliantly.

And also the tip about leaving things half-finished when you need to take a break from the task is still a great idea. Try that.

But if the structure of the Pom doesn’t work for you (and it hasn’t always for me), don’t give up hope. I have come to believe that the Pom is merely one tool to combat the ur-source, the original demon, the stinking rotten evil core of the problem:


Again, to quote myself from the previous "nosurf2" post:

It turns out I don’t have a Web Surfing Problem per se. What I really have is an avoidance problem.

…​and now I’m realizing that even avoidance is, in turn, only one element of the larger problem: The State of Being Distracted.

Look, I’m no robot and I have no intention of being one. Taking breaks from an unpleasant task is not only okay, it’s probably a very good idea.

But what I’ve recently realized is that I’m so used to being distracted all the time that I even interrupt fun stuff with other fun stuff. I’ll get five minutes into writing a neat little Ruby script for myself and then I’ll get the idea that I should go check my email. And then I’ll think, "Oh yeah, I was going to look up what else that one author has written." And then…​

The thoughts bubble to the surface and I follow them heedlessly.

The title of this post is still very relevant: Web surfing is military-grade distraction material. A never-ending graph of really cool things to read and learn about.

Technology isn’t the problem. But technology does exacerbate the problem. (The notifications of email, chat messages, and (shudder) phone calls can even be active distractions, if you let them, which I mostly don’t.) I think the ability to instantly switch tasks at the touch of a button lets us distract ourselves so powerfully that time can just disappear in a whirl of "busyness" that is simultaneously exhausting, useless, and feels productive in the moment. So tech is not helping us here.

But, of course, completely banishing tech isn’t the solution for some/most of us.

Do one thing at a time

Poms work because you’re forcing yourself to work on a single task for 25 minutes.

  • a single task

  • for 25 minutes

The first part is important. The second part isn’t.

When I’m in The Zone, everything around me fades away and my concentration is nearly absolute. But man, sometimes that Zone feels like a mirage that stays just out of reach. Some tasks are like that by nature: they just refuse to flow or come easily.

And heck, sometimes I’m just more prone to daydreaming and having my mind wander that day.

What I’m noticing is that I can daydream or think about other things all I want. So long as I "sit on my hands" until the moment is passed, I can get back to the original task. A wandering mind is only a temporary problem.

(In fact, I suspect it’s very likely good to let the mind wander now and then. Unless you’re, you know, operating heavy machinery or something.)

But if I actually start actively doing something else (and reading email or a web page is actively doing something), that’s when it all falls apart.

So I’ve got this sheet of paper next to my keyboard right now on which I wrote "DO ONE THING AT A TIME". And under that, I’ve jotted all the little distracting ideas that have bubbled into my head. This combo tells me two things:

  1. Don’t act on it.

  2. It’s okay not to act on it, because I’m not going to forget because it’s written right there!

What’s really interesting is that an idea will come unbidden to the forefront of my mind and I’ll look down and discover I’d already written that thing. And I think to myself, "I’ve got you covered, brain. I’ve got you covered."

In conclusion

I’m sure in a couple month’s time I’ll discover that somehow distractions are just one part of the real problem. But this is what’s working right now. :-)