You have to make a choice.
You have two screens, but only one machine. And if you don't watch the movie now it is over. Which are you gonna be starring at? Oh, if you don't do the work you are fired.
OK, that's too easy. You will do both. It will take you much longer to finish the work, and you won't understand the movie entirely, but you will get to say you watched the movie and with mediocrity finished coding.
How about we make it harder? You have to do the same work, while someone is texting you the whole time using SMS. It's someone you are attracted to so you don't want to leave them hanging but at the same time, you have to do the work. This person insists on using SMS so every minute or so your phone vibrates and you have to take your eyes off the big screen and unlock your phone to read and respond.
This is challenging isn't it? Well, the only solace here is that the work is not hard. It is tedious but not hard, meaning it does not require a lot of brain power, just repetitive work.
But what if your job consisted of improving performance on a highly visible page on your webapp while two people are insisting on texting you using SMS while the once in a life time movie is playing, and you have to watch a Web App performance talk to help you with your work, all at the same time. There is a very lyrical song playing in the background, you can't help but sing along in your head. There is a coworker that decided to come say hi and talk about the weather.
If you can do all these things at once, good for you. I know I can't. In fact, I can't even listen to music with lyrics while I work.
The problem is, this happens to us everyday and the consequence on our work is not getting fired. In fact, even the person that can fire you for this behavior is also caught into this same problem.
This is the price of working on a computer connected to the Internet. If you don't work on a computer, you are not spared from this struggle. Right in your pocket, is a device that promises the same entertainment 24/7.
The distraction is everywhere. Even writing this short blog post took many days because I am writing it on a computer that contains movies, games, connects to YouTube and all news outlets. When I manage to eliminate distractions on the machine, my phone vibrates and a friend I haven't heard from for a while is trying to reconnect. And Duolingo says it is time for my Spanish lesson. And my brother sent me a funny video. And my mom just forwarded me a long message on Whatsapp and she will ask me later if I had read it. There is a customer asking a question on Renly (my startup). Oh and I am still writing this blog post.
There are many things I can turn off to keep me distraction free. Most of the time I keep my phone on Airplane mode so I don't get notifications. But the phone is still here. I can turn off the wifi on my laptop and the Internet becomes inaccessible. But all this is akin to telling a drug user to keep his drugs in the other room.
Re-enabling the wifi on my machine is only one shortcut key away
Fn+F3. Watching a video is also a few
Alt+Tab away. Going on Facebook is literally one key stroke (typing
f on the browser). The same for my phone, one press and I'm out of airplane mode and all the distraction is back.
How can we get out of all this?
The answer is easy, just stop it. Easy, but very hard to implement. Just go and tell someone who is depressed, sad, or addicted, to stop. The problem is that this whole internet business is an addiction, but we are still debating if it truly is.
I often tell people to put their phones aside when we are in a restaurant. Of course, none of us are addicted as we say. But then you can feel the silence, the nervousness. At some point you start hearing these faint whispers in an old tongue, most probably high Elven. You don't understand them but they lean you toward your phone. A small light slowly pulses on the device. This beautiful rectangular smartphone, polished with the most reflective rose gold that glitters in dim light like it had caught little stars. So beautiful. So enticing. So... preciousssss.
Just like the ring, the power it gives you is part of its deceit. You feel powerful, but all you are is a data worker for the company that powers it.
Getting out of it.
Have you ever watched less than 3 videos in a row?
But we still have to get out of it. In order to finish this post, I have to put my phone aside. I have to make the sacrifice of ignoring everything else a device can do for me, and only focus on what I can do with it.
It requires me to be stronger in face of great challenges. It means when I look for something and land on YouTube, I should watch what I found and then close the window. I should purposefully ignore the comments and thousands of recommendations that litter the screen.
When I get a message on my phone, I should not look at it, purposefully. I should know it is there but ignore it all the same until I am done with the work or task at hand.
I should make it unacceptable to watch a movie when I am working. I should not read any news either. If there is something that concerns me, it will find it's way to me without having to open a new tab and check CNN to find out that there is an earthquake next door.
Getting out of it means we have to be stronger, more disciplined. It means my friends will be frustrated when they send me a YouTube link and I don't open it. Or they will talk to me and I won't respond. It will change the dynamic but in the end all that matters is how much I value the work I am doing.
Remember, when you get a message from your friends on SnapChat, it is not necessarily them sending you a message. It is
the ring the app that is forcing them continue communicating so they don't lose that carefully crafted message streak.
I'm sorry my method is not scientific. It is not a pill you take three times a day and you gain your time back. It is discipline, it is awareness. There was a time were it was ok to say cigarette is not addictive. Today, we say the internet is not addictive. Tomorrow we may end up with a warning label on any electronic device that has an internet connection.
The first step is awareness. We know we are distracted by something addictive. It is better to try and fight it and fail than not try at all.