Whiz! Bang! Tilt! Twirl!

My co-blogger Crystal turned me on to a book by Maura Nevel Thomas called Personal Productivity Secrets. I have now read the first chapter and am already impressed, and taking my time thinking about it (given that I am an overeater, I think of this as taking time to digest what I’ve read).

Frankly, part of that first chapter terrified me. She went through several of the symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), and every single one of them applied to me. Symptoms such as intolerance of boredom, many projects underway at once, difficulty getting organized, procrastination, trouble following through, etc. are symptoms I live all the time. However, she goes on to say that one doctor believes that many people in our highly-connected, high-stimulus world have a culturally-induced Attention Deficit Trait (ADT). The theory is that the brain gets addicted to anything that provides a high level of stimulus, including the stimulus of constant computer/social interactions made possible by new technologies.

I was reading these words on my Nook Color e-reader and tablet (it has full web browsing capabilities) while in my recliner. On the left arm of the recliner sat my laptop. On the right arm was room for the Nook, my smartphone, and my telephone I use with a VOIP service. The telephone only has a microcontroller, but the VOIP box has computing power. I look across the room and see my Tivo, which is also a full computer running Linux. All this computing power for one person, and it doesn’t count my office computer. These devices have some overlapping capabilities, but each has its strengths for different tasks. Mostly what they do, though, is keep my brain busy.

A further hypothesis Thomas posits is that while this level of stimulus has some good effects, it also means the brain is not giving any time to deep, reflective thought. It is this quiet time of mulling over ideas that the brain makes connections and uses creativity to solve problems. These were not entirely new ideas to me, I had seen similar in William Powers’ Hamlet’s Blackberry. Powers solution is pretty simple – take some time in your life to disconnect entirely from electronics and reconnect with your own mind and with the people you interact with face-to-face. Thomas promises much more; she offers a combination of process and tools that allow you to take control of your attention, that fragile thing so under assault in a world where people are so busy and so hyperconnected.

Another really important concept Thomas has is that so much of what we do is reactive. If we start the day with email, for example, we react to our emails and that can wind up taking the whole day. leaving one at the end wondering what has been accomplished. I started this post a couple of days ago, over the weekend, and have noticed exactly this tendency in the two days I’ve been back at work.

I thought it would be good practice for me to stop reading and see if I can think of my own ways to get accomplish more substantive work. Then I’ll compare mine to hers as I read more. First of all, I don’t think I can entirely abandon checking email in the morning. there are some things my job requires me to respond to. I know already that part of her plan involves to-do lists. I’ve played around with them but not made them a center piece of my activities. That is the first positive change I can make. Another might be to take 15 minutes in the morning to write – doesn’t matter what – a blog post, ideas for an article, perhaps a mind map of a project. People who have gotten into the habit of writing, from what I read, tend to produce more and find their thoughts are better organized.

A particularly difficult project would be deciding what to read. I have so many RSS feeds I follow that I’ve gotten busy and dropped all of them. I get a lot of email that I delete unread. Crystal does a lot of reading on PKM topics, I read more on the tools side, but it is still too much. Comments on how you keep your professional reading to a reasonable level would be welcome.

I’ll post more on what I read in Personal Productivity Secrets, whether her plan agrees with mine, and how well I manage to implement my own plan.

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