This week was an interesting week for me. I spent a lot less time than I usually do online. Why? Because I was participating in an experiment on reducing information overload called Infomagical. It was a series of five challenges, one per day, designed to attempt to help us focus our minds into something magical. My focus was on creativity. And creativity for me means writing and web design. And I did a lot more of that in this one week than I have in the last oh twelve months? Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but I did get so much more done and felt more energized and excited and, dare I say it?, creative!
There were five challenges as I said. They were:
The idea here was that we should focus completely on whatever task you have in front of you and not try to multi-task. As you end up switching between the two tasks and that just doesn’t work.
I found that this was very difficult in some ways and ridiculously easy in other ways. It was difficult because I’m so used to trying to do two, three, even five things at once. It was hard to pare it down to just one. For instance, I like to listen to podcasts while I’m writing or preparing to write. But what I noticed after single-tasking was that I don’t get nearly as much out of the podcasts I listen to when I’m trying to write at the same time. It was much easier to write in silence, not trying to focus on anything else. And I got my word count goals done so much faster than usual! Then I had time to really listen to the podcasts.
And in really listening to some of them I realized that there are a number of podcasts that I really don’t like or don’t need to listen to. Which brings me to the second challenge:
The Infomagical team mentioned Marie Kondo, and I must admit, while I bought her book, I couldn’t finish it. She just struck me as a little too nuts. I do roll my shirts and pants in my drawers now however. So on this day, I was prepared for resistance since they had the idea that we should de-clutter our information world as well. But I decided that I could try it out and if I didn’t like it, well, I could go back to my old method. So the first thing I did was move almost all my apps into a single folder on my iPad desktop. While I was moving them, I deleted a bunch, like nearly half, of the apps I had on the device. This may not seem like a big deal until you realize that I have a 64GB iPad and it was nearly two-thirds full, mostly apps. I was worried that it would be hard to find the apps I use a lot in one giant folder, but then I realized after a little while that I already was in the habit of swiping right and searching for the apps by typing. I left the two apps I used the most often in the gray bar at the bottom of the screen.
Later on someone pointed out that you can use Siri to open apps. “Open DayOne” opens my journaling app and “Open Facebook” opens the time-sucking vortex. So I moved the two apps I use all the time into the folder (no, neither of them were Facebook). Then I realized that I was still distracted by the tiny colors in the folder screen, so I rearranged the folder to have the 16 blandest icons in the front. My only criteria was their color–white, gray, and maybe black, no reds or blues to distract me. But even that was somewhat distracting. So I pushed the entire folder to the second screen. Now my iPad is a beautiful picture of a dragon ornament and nothing else. I wish I could get rid of the gray bar at the bottom, but no big deal.
The other key to this challenge was turning off all badges. You know, those are the little numbers that appear at the top right of an app icon letting you know that “something has happened” in that app that it wants you to deal with. My experience is that 99.999999% of the time those numbers are either something you already know (yes, I know I have 800 late items on my to-do list, thanks Omnifocus) or something you really don’t care that much about (really? you want me to stand up and cheer because no podcasts needed updating, Downcast???). Turning off all the badges–and yes, Apple doesn’t make this easy, you have to do them each one by one, app by app–was a huge stress reliever off my mind. I have been known to get frantic at seeing a badge on Netflix, but when you open the app nothing seems different! What’s the badge for? And don’t get me started on Facetime badges that never go away even when you’ve opened it and dealt with every phone call or message you’ve received from right now back to the 1900s. Poof! Now I have no badges. Nothing nags me in that way. Yes, I still get notifications. My phone still buzzes when I get a text message and my iPad still lets me know that there was an update on that Kickstarter campaign. But now it’s not obnoxious about it. If I want to know, I just swipe down. Otherwise, I stay focused on my day.
What’s especially cool about this method is that it makes using my iPad a lot more deliberate. I have to think about what I want to do before I just mindlessly swipe through a bunch of apps. And often that deliberation makes me realize “hey! I don’t really want to go into the time-sucking vortex right now. I’d rather write/read/draw/walk.” And I close the iPad (or not) and do something that ends up being much more fulfilling in the long run.
Focus on What’s Important
The third challenge seemed like a tough one to me at first. The goal was to only consume information that took me forward in my goal of being more creative. So no binge watching Netflix, no random scrolling Facebook. Instead, I was to ask myself if what I was about to read/do was in service to my creativity or not. And if it wasn’t I was to avoid it.
No cat pictures? Impossible!
But really, this was the easiest, and most satisfying day of all five for me. I got more done on this one day than I really thought possible. And everything went more quickly than I expected. Because I wasn’t spending time on things that weren’t furthering my creative goal and I wasn’t being interrupted by stupid things, I was really productive.
Make a Connection
Day four the challenge was to have a conversation, not a chat or email, but a phone call or in-person talk with someone for at least seven minutes about something I’d learned this week. This was challenging because I work from home, and I don’t think they meant chat with my dogs. I couldn’t decide who I wanted to talk to, and part of that was the realization that the people I wanted to talk to were either at work and couldn’t talk, in another time zone and so busy, or not answering their phone.
I did finally get through to someone, and we talked for almost 30 minutes while I waited in line to pick up my son from school. We mostly talked about de-cluttering because I’m so pleased with how my iPad is back to being a tool and not just a time suck.
Pick a Long-term Information Goal or Mantra
This challenge has been harder for me, as I don’t really know what I want my long-term goal to be. Having a general goal of “Be more creative” seems too broad. And yet the idea that I should just boil it down to “45 on 15 off*” seems a bit too pat. I did find a video this week that I enjoyed and seems to encompass my desires for creative work and focus. See below to watch it.
I’m going to keep thinking about this one for a day or two and see if I can come up with something that really speaks to me. But I might only do it in the 15 minutes goof off time I have each hour. Or maybe I’ll just go watch Poirot on Netflix while I think about it…. Hmmmmm
*By “45 on 15 off” I mean that I want to spend at least 45 minutes of every hour I’m in front of a screen doing “work” or something creative, and the other 15 minutes can be spent on “fun” like Netflix or Facebook or whatever.
My Mantra for Now…