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The lost art of concentration: being distracted in a digital world (theguardian.com)
429 points by DanielBMarkham 31 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 96 comments



Three things helped me:

1) Mindfulness training so I could see myself in the moment NOT concentrating and stop myself. Still not at 100% with this but have been getting a lot better since I first took https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/mindfulness-wellbeing-pe... a couple of years ago.

2) Thinking of my mobile in the way marketers think of it. As a cache for mobile minutes. Each marketing dept is like a little gnome each trying to get at my treasure. So I cut them off. I deleted all apps with ads and made an effort to block all ads or suggestions for new content across the digital things I use via everything from Greasemonkey to plug-ins to switching providers of services. So now distraction from my digital browsing is significantly diminished.

3) Re-reading this Michener essay about once a year: http://www.asahi-net.or.jp/~xs3d-bull/michener.html. It reminds me that it takes long periods of time and discipline to create great things. Else they are easily achievable and don't IMHO qualify as great. This includes everything from putting tons of time in for Ironman training (quite the physical achievement) to writing a book (look at Michener's books and how crazy-well-researched and expansive they are) to having a good relationship with your mate to writing quality code for your most recent idea. The more the gnomes pick at your little time treasure, the less time you have to achieve great things.


Deep Work (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Deep-Work-Focused-Success-Distracte...) concisely sums up many feelings I've had about distractions and how this always connected world affects the way I think. I believe the teachings of this book are especially applicable to knowledge workers.


I can’t recommend this book enough. It is one of the most important ideas in my life. The book is good, but the ideas and observations are critical. It really helps me manage my ADHD. A lot more goes into it, but the basic notion is: more deep work hours = more productivity = moving the needle in my universe more.


What I like about the book is that it presents many ways of incorporating deep work into your life: from long, focused sabbaticals (e.g. writers living and working in a cabin to complete important work) to frequently dedicating a small part of your day to pursue your goal. It also presents rituals, quirky as that may be, as a good way to get yourself into the desired mindset.

Another interesting idea: not all important jobs require or even benefit from deep work.


I'm also a big fan of this book, for the same reasons (ADHD management). Understanding the value of setting aside big chunks of time to work deeply and prioritising that time has had an enormous positive impact on how I get things done.


I have tried (legally prescribed) amphetamines. I found without a structure and a plan I would be intensely focused on /something/, but maybe not what was most important every day. And with good time management, diet, and most important, exercise, I didn’t need anything else. So, seconded there on the impact :)


I've had a pretty similar experience. Get exercise, sleep, food and hydration under control, then (in my case) medication helps me make the most of that structure.

I actually just wrote a giant post [1] about what I've learned about managing ADHD so far. It focuses on the core stuff, but I want to follow it up with a breakdown of how books like Deep Work (e.g. Flow; Farsighted; Thinking, Fast and Slow; How Not to be Wrong) have made a difference for me.

[1] https://medium.com/@sashacollecutt/life-with-adhd-a61cae5a5b...


Piggy-backing off of this to add the things I find useful:

- Mindfulness medidation, same as you. It is hard and when you first try it feels like you are failing. But Yoda is wrong: trying is very valuable and builds the mindfulness muscle.

- Website blocking software like SelfControl.app and Freedom.io —- some might ridicule these as being a crutch, but that is a silly reason not to use them. If you are trying to change your diet, don’t keep cookies on your desk.

- working with a therapist to improve my self-confidence — one reason I was distracted so much is that I didn’t have a strong belief in my right to decide how I spend my time. Combined with mindfulness meditation, I now have a much stronger internal voice that says “I had decided I wanted to relax and read this long history article so that is what I’m going to do.” Or “this bit of life-administrivia is really frustrating and scary, but I do need to do it and have set out this time for it.”

- A belief in “setting myself up for success” in tasks — when I feel like I don’t know how to do something, it is much better to trust that intuition, dig into it, and flesh it out into an explicit list of resources to acquire rather. If instead I say “I should believe in myself* and buckle down and do the work.” Then my sense of not doing the right thing will stick with me. For instance, I am someone who is much more effective at building things when I know how my tools work.

* (This is perhaps very idiosyncratic to me, but I absorbed from a young age that I could do anything I set my mind to. When you don’t know how to set your mind to things, This turns out to be a less-than-useful belief, especially in response to a not-well-articulated need for resources. Example: I once tried to write code against an api whose docs were in Chinese —as a non-Chinese speaker. )

- Sleep, Food, Exercise — I am a sack of meat. The thinking bits of me are also made of meat. Thinking meat, if you’ll believe it. In order to think well, I need to give my meat what it needs on a habitual basis.

————-

One interesting thing about being more mindful and less distracted is that it reveals some underlying discomforts that I was distracting myself from. For instance, I didn’t have any friends as a child and I just don’t know how to lead engaging conversations or how to keep conversations going when they fizzle out. But now that I’ve repeatedly noticed that, I can make it a goal to find ways to learn it (suggestions very welcome) and confidently pursue that goal.


Well, for starters, you seem to have learned a great deal of useful stuff about life, stuff that takes years to accumulate. So to me you already seem like someone I could have engaging conversations with.

That said, I have no trouble talking to strangers but a colleague of mine once said he found "The Tao of Badass" [0] a useful book. It didn't fix the fact that he was always completely disinterested in what others did with their life. Which was funny because I always greatly enjoyed talking with him and he had a great way of speaking about his own Asperger syndrome, I always felt like the doctors had told him he was almost human, in a way he was almost super human, reminded me of Data from star trek, he sort of objectively tried to understand what he was missing and I really didn't understand that he felt he was missing something. I miss that colleague/friend.

[0] https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13457225-the-tao-of-bada...


From [0] above:

> The Tao of Badass by Joshua Pellicer

> Josh Pellicer is a leading expert on female psychology, body language and the art of seduction. His seduction system, The Tao Of Badass, is the best-selling seduction system in the World.

Well this is creepy as fuck.


> creepy as fuck

This is probably true. And there is indeed a lot of attracting-people-to-you advice which fails to respect people, much less their bodily autonomy. Certainly, calling a book which calls itself "Badass" doesn't strike me as particularly conducive to building healthy relationships. The cover also doesn't do it any favors.

-------------------------------------------

However, I think it is an error to equate creepiness with trying to better understand how sexual attraction works and how to be more successful at the social skills involved in sexual situations. Creepiness is fundamentally about a lack of respect for someone else's autonomy and interests. Trying to get better at social skills isn't creepy.

If someone is born into circumstances where society expects them to play the active role in sexual situations, and they want to have a healthy sex life, then they shouldn't feel shame for wanting to better understand how to play that role. It is certainly better for someone like that to work toward their goal of a fulfilling sexual/romantic relationship than for them to feel trapped and lonely. I think it would be a better world if there were lots of attraction learning resources which weren't full of misogynistic rubbish and successfully taught useful mental models and mindsets.


Haha, my colleague told me it was all about getting a conversation started and keeping it going. He didn't really mention it was targeting women. Anyway, I saw him using it on men as well, asking open questions like: "What was the nicest things you did this weekend?" People rave on about what they like...


I also find it hard to concentrate.

Exercise is a big one (needs to be just the right amount though), and so is sleep. I struggle with chatter noise in my work environment being the thing that derails me, so a pair of noise cancelling headphones is an absolute must to quiet the mind; currently waiting for the new Sony one..


Try mynoise.net

Great for blocking outside noise and concentrating.


I've found it useful to have a pair of earplugs underneath my noise-cancelling headphones.


The Michener essay is a great read. Thank you for the link.

It has made me think about a problem, though: how to select that huge task in which to pour your energy. For him, it was his novels; but being in a 9 to 5 office job like I am, I'm wondering what are my options.


Here is what I think. Do you have something you really want to achieve? Writing a book? Learning something new to advance your career? Whatever it is you must carve our deep work time for it. Waking up early, etc.

How to select your “whatever it is”. Don’t start small. Think about it every day. I think this will prime your brain to help you find it. Keep a journal focused on this. It probably won’t take too long. If you are still hit by analysis paralysis some times you just have to flip a coin and force a decision. This catalyst will often make the right choice clear (e.g if the coin flip lands on a thing you aren’t as excited about).

Final thought, practice deep work at your job. Prime your colleagues for when you will be in deep work. 2-3 hour stretches are a minimum IMO. Really entire days are ideal, but 2-3 hour stretches are good enough if they are truly distraction free.


Lately it's been fashionable to downplay the idea of "passion" (try Googling "don't follow your passion"), but I think it's critical to having any chance of success at tackling a big problem.

Several years ago I took up jazz drumming and purchased a DVD by the jazz drummer John Riley. Amidst all the technical lessons that comprise 99% of the disc he inserted a brief, 1 minute long sidebar on the idea of being "gifted" at drumming.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ist7xECbDh0

Of course it applies to anything, not simply playing the drums.

It caused me to think differently about what kinds of things I'm willing to spend my time on, simply because doing that thing was most rewarding.


Passion is almost a Zen concept to me. Follow your passion is great, but, fly too close to the Sun and you get burned. Passion can be learned in the sense that you can explore new things and find you have a passion for them. And you won’t know if you have a passion for some topics until you are deep into them. I think most smart people can learn to have passion for almost any area where they have mastery and purpose to achieve. It can be a bit of voodoo “finding your passion” and you can learn to be passionate about almost anything if it scratches the right itch, IMO. It is all about expanding horizons. Getting a job in a hobby or passion can be the worst thing for that passion.


I have always found that detailing a car carefully to really calm my mind and feel rewarding after words. Recently I decided to try my hand at repairing a panel on my car as the shop wanted ~1000 over materials. It came out great and I have now built out a home painting setup that is great. There was a mix of research, fabrication, and careful practice in order to develop the skills, and the results are far more rewarding than simply detailing a car. I am now planning to help my father paint his car.

My advice? Start with something you get enjoyment out of and take it as far as you can, even if it isn't exactly practical


That's always the question, isn't it? Even if you could choose your job to fit the chosen task, what is worth your time and evergy at the expense of anything else?


To be honest that’s half the thrill, not knowing what to do, having no idea of the level of success of the outcome. Pick something, perhaps an ‘earned secret’ that you’ve noticed in your field; some problem and set about fixing it.

Even making miniature art in the eye of a needle can be an admirable dedication! https://youtu.be/d0ALUjoyMJI


"You do not need to have a great idea before you can begin working; you need to begin working before you can have a great idea. //Josh Collinsworth"

Just the quote from this week's Hacker Newsletter


Thank you for this essay, it is truly magnificent. It reminds me of pg's "What You'll Wish You'd Known" [1].

[1] http://www.paulgraham.com/hs.html


I can also recommend this (free) course:

https://palousemindfulness.com/


It seems like nowadays, we wring our hands about the effects of constant access to the internet on a near-daily basis. And isn't it kind of odd that the people working on these products in an 'individual contributor' capacity are often the same ones encouraging others to stay away from their platforms?

Maybe that should tell us something. Anecdotally, most of the things that this article recommends are things that I wholeheartedly enjoyed several years ago, but tellingly no longer have time for despite a similar schedule.

Reading for pleasure took the biggest hit - I can just listen to an audiobook or podcast during the commute, right? But it does also feel like I've gotten worse at persisting in tedious tasks after being interrupted, exercise feels more like wasted time, and even my breathing exercises are getting shallow and rapid these days.

What is going on? It's not that thumbing through the news feels like an accomplishment, and I know that I'll look back on these years and shake my head at how terribly I'm wasting my time - it's already happening - but this is a comfortable lifestyle and I just keep on doing it. That does sound like an addiction, right?

I don't know. But I do know that I've had enough, and I'm coping with it by planning to spend a couple of years on the road in the hopes that things blow over and the people of 202x will have this all figured out. And hey, maybe I'll feel better after forcing myself to be bored for several months.

Because these issues seem so massive and unapproachable that I can't think of anything to do besides throwing up my hands and leaving. I can't even talk to other people about it because everybody's noses are in their phones everywhere. Is that weird?


I interviewed at Facebook and when I realized that the whole interview was about finding ways to make people spend as much time possible on Facebook and Instagram (which I use in moderation, I love to share a good pic of myself), I ran for dear life. Then, when they asked me how I would convince Mark that a certain experiment is needed, I ran faster. Bad vibes overall, Blade Runner was more cheerful.


interviewed at Facebook and when I realized that the whole interview was about finding ways to make people spend as much time possible on Facebook

In the future people will look at Facebook and Google as the people of today look at Phillip Morris and BAT.


Thank you so much, for having integrity, keeping it, and telling about it here now. It's so reassuring for me and strenghtening to learn that there are more people in the industry who try to look deeper and keep some moral spine.

I personally had an interview with Google once, and had doubts about it. I was rejected, and I am glad of this, as I am not sure if I'd have enough strength to refuse the offer. With Facebook and Oracle, at least I am sure I would not choose to work there (unless in more dire life situation, as far as I can say now...)


[deleted]


[flagged]


Please don't do this here.


A large part of this is how one choses to use their smartphone.

By default, it's a device that's receives a million notifications, but I've turned off most of them, so it's back to being a tiny computer that's helpful to look stuff up with. I only get notifications on four things:

1) phone calls - it's still a phone

2) "texts" (SMS/WhatsApp/iMessage/Line) - I disable Slack because it's too noisy aside from one "emergency" channel for work

3) one email account that notifies me of new gmail logins, foreign transactions, bank withdrawals, etc. to keep the junk mail away, i use filters on my other accounts to forward emails to this one special "notifications" account

4) financial ticker (which is set to only notify when something drops more than 5%)

Sure, I might miss some chats and I'm always behind on Twitter, but so what?


Why have the financial ticker? If you own stocks, do you plan on reacting to this notification? Do you see yourself as a professional day trader?

Imo the amount of noise is extreme in stock news and there is no value in listening to it. It is wasted attention and wasted emotion. Much better is to pick a few stocks/ETF's and invest on a longer horizon.


I get the impression most stock news is generated, not written. Maybe they use the same software I heard was taking over in sports commentary.


> which is set to only notify when something drops more than 5%

for what purpose? If you go long, you don't have to worry about any disturbance on the market. 5% per day or 5% per hour? Is there any difference if your stock will drop today 5% wrt yesterday or if it drops 5% this month relative to last month?

I don't look at such swings, it's meaningless.


I do that too. I don't need to be up to date on everything, for what? I don't need all this useless stuff screaming at me all day


Yes, I think it's weird. Both because you notice it and because it is happening. I feel your frustrations with this hyper-connected life because this certainly feels like an addiction. I've worked through deleting social media. I've deleted apps off my phone. I've moved my phone outside of my bedroom. All of it seems to help a small amount, but not enough to keep me from moving to something else. Throwing up my hands and leaving seems to be a good solution as well, but not the whole world or my job, just the digital world, as much as I reasonably can. I miss having the ability to focus and remember, and I feel as if the only way I can accomplish my goals is to regain those skills.


but this is a comfortable lifestyle and I just keep on doing it. That does sound like an addiction, right?

I have similar traits that I am actively working to wear off. My only addictions are Twitter, Hacker News and Yahoo Finance. I spend at least 4 hours in a day flipping across these. I must admit Twitter is quite helpful because my feed is well curated. YF is a total waste of time - I don't know why I keep checking the stock prices when I know for a fact I won't sell anything. It satisfies some part of my brain to keep watching the tickers. What a fucking waste. Hacker News is useful too. What has helped me in the beginnings of my de-addiction is measuring how much time I am wasting and writing it down. It's kind of a slap in the face to get up in the morning and see that you wasted 4 hours the previous day.

I can't even talk to other people about it because everybody's noses are in their phones everywhere. Is that weird?

Perhaps hanging out at an old fashioned bar might not be bad. Not the ones with fancy music but the ones that remain somewhat rustic, where you can just have a beer and a random conversation.


The new Apple screen time app really is a tremendous addition to see just how bad it is. A lot of time on my phone I'm doing things that I still consider productive like reading technical articles, and doing my anki cards, but the amount of time I can spend looking at my phone is absolutely outlandish in a given day of free time.

My big time sucks are hn, fark for news, and occasionally reddit. I'd like to at least drop reddit from my routine, and maybe only come to hackernews when I've gotten through every other article open on my phone.

Seem like good goals. The screen time app is nice because you can actually set limits on how much you can use an app then it bugs you with a warning.

I've been trying to read more lately, it's wonderful. Just finished For Whom the Bell Tolls, and started in on some Kafka. But it's definitely different then when I was younger and would just tear books up.

I think maybe I'll blacklist reddit at least with the proxy on my phone and then only browse that on the laptop which would be much rarer and far less likely since there's so many more interesting things to do on the computer (I just discovered the joys of tmux, how was I missing you all these years? With tmuxp, what a powerful set of tools.)

Anyways, that's my experiences, these little gadgets are incredibly addicting, and with three link aggregates with nigh on never ending pages of links it's ridiculously easy to spend a tremendous amount of time with your face in the screen.


But it's definitely different then when I was younger and would just tear books up.

When I was 19, I finished John Grisham's The Partner in one sitting - without even getting up for food. Something like 24-30 hours non stop reading. There's no way in hell I'll be able to do that now.


I never read a whole book in one sitting, but I could read for hours. For me it wasn't the internet/phone distractions that broke me of that ability, it was having kids. There was just not time to do that anymore. Now, for better or worse, I still read a lot of books but in very small rapid chunks, even standing in line at the store. I treasure the times when I can go to bed and read for an hour or so, though I usually just fall asleep after 20 minutes.


> I can't even talk to other people about it because everybody's noses are in their phones everywhere. Is that weird?

I try to make it a point to ignore my phone while I'm eating lunch with people. I do wish others would do the same. Sometimes, it does require politely asking them to put their phone away and just spend lunch with me (typically just with friends, not everyone).

However, I think it annoys me more that it's becoming harder and harder to find restaurants that don't have 5+ TVs in your face no matter which way you turn.


> Perhaps hanging out at an old fashioned bar might not be bad. Not the ones with fancy music but the ones that remain somewhat rustic, where you can just have a beer and a random conversation.

This is one thing I loved about rural Ireland. The service out there was so shitty and was a pain in the ass to get a text message in the old pub, let alone data. So it forced you to be more in the present with the people you're chatting with, even if they were just locals while you were visiting. It was really nice, actually. I wonder how a bar that is built to specifically jam signal while inside would fare?


Edit the DNS records for your #1 time wasters to 127.0.0.1 , on your main PC only.

You can still use your mobile then but it's nowhere as easily done as a compulsive action.

Sauce: I had to do this myself for a few sites including HN at work..


Read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig.

You seem like you're trying to get back in touch with the idea of 'Quality' as it applies to life, and he does a good job at walking a reader through it. I won't bother going into what I got out of it, as most philosophy is best experienced without preconceived expectations

Nowadays, you have to slow down. Most tech businesses thrive on shallow thinking to drive engagement, and try to tweak every little heuristic to "get a click" to justify their own existence.

By all means, take a break, but understand as well that as a practitioner you are part of the problem every time you refuse to say no to some dark pattern B.S.

I've started measuring every software pitch against my first set of Encyclopedia of the Natural World CD's from back in the 90's.

No phoning home. No ads. No engagement metrics No dark patterns.

Just an encyclopedia of 0's and 1's.

It is amazing when you look at most software nowadays, and realize that a large proportion of it (especially on mobile) is trying to convert user->value instead of providing value->user.


I think a big contributor to these types of feelings is the fact that a lot of us don't know how to spend our time meaningfully. When enjoyment isn't a means to an end, we dismiss our usual pastimes in favor of something with impact. The thing is, a lot of us don't know what will have impact and eventually everything seems like a waste of time.

I believe a side effect of this connected world is making everyone seem unspectacular, and therefore everything we do (compared to what we observe around on the net) unspectacular. Maybe the real detriment of the internet's influence is that it makes everyone feel like we're wasting time when their may not be a way to spend it in a way that makes us happier.


Remember how stats used to say the average american spends 5 hours per day watching television?

Now they do that with The Internet.

Before telly that it was radio and newspapers. Before even that it was books.

The more things change the more they stay the same. Is it possible humans simply aren’t meant to be totally productive always on all the time and that we crave time wasting on a fundamental level?


It's true but partial. Internet is not a TV it's a cable network of Infinite size. I realize it was often like zapping or worth. It also eats on the social aspect, just like this comment is.


It's pretty crazy how the internet, once perceived as superior to TV in terms of quality of content and possessing an interactive aspect (more interaction than couch potatoes get) has become seemingly worse for people. Probably because as you say, the content is infinitely more.


Yeah we so often think things just scale without negative side effects. Internet started as web of academic/serious documents but the mainstream 'value' ended up in sucking attention for ads and shallow communications. I, too, did believe so much web 2.0 and ~real time json comments would make everything so much better .. but I don't believe so anymore. I think humans are 80% local and physical animals; we like having a bit of remote exchanges and seeing pictures, but it stop being deeply satisfying quickly. Especially when its devoid of human value (big companies don't make my heart sing with their new disruptive ideas anymore, to a point I have happy thoughts whenever I run into a single person passion driven ~crappy html4 website)


Here's your escape plan. Don't be afraid to crack open the 401(k) if your Roth runs dry.

https://hackcabin.com/post/become-digital-nomad-bali/


After using facebook for 8 years, I had reached a point where I stopped posting content but couldn't stop consuming the content posted by others and also logging into facebook without even thinking. I tried multiple times to deactivate the account but it always resulted in reactivating it. The two main reasons for it was the herd mentality and the FOMO.

I needed a new approach, I started by unfollowing people and pages that made me react. I realized the most important part of facebook for me was keeping in touch with people and not the posts that they share so decided to unfollow everyone which includes pages and groups too. The annoying part is that it is not easy to unfollow everyone and you have to do it one by one. I found a post with some js code that helped in achieving this and it worked, don't know if it will work now - https://www.quora.com/How-do-I-unfollow-everyone-on-Facebook...

After about 8 months of using facebook this way,I checked how many conversations I had using the messenger which turned out to be in the lower end of the single digit. Finally, I decided to go ahead with the deletion of facebook after backing up all my data. Once you hit delete, it gives 14 days of thinking time in case you decide to change your mind. After deleting the account, it took me almost 2 months to stop my reflex action of going to facebook login page.

Its been more than 6 months I've deleted facebook, I'm not missing it, I hardly think about it and quite happy that I'm out of it.


> After using facebook for 8 years, I had reached a point where I stopped posting content but couldn't stop consuming the content posted by others and also logging into facebook without even thinking. I tried multiple times to deactivate the account but it always resulted in reactivating it. The two main reasons for it was the herd mentality and the FOMO.

I'd argue that deeply reflecting on this offers a huge potential for personal growth. Why the fear of missing out? To me it seems more and more clear that the only thing to miss out on is the present moment as it is for me right here and right now.

> The annoying part is that it is not easy to unfollow everyone and you have to do it one by one. I found a post with some js code that helped in achieving this and it worked, don't know if it will work now

I guess with Facebook and its siblings this is an uphill battle as they will always try to come up with new ways to prevent you from pursuing precisely those kind of goals.

> Its been more than 6 months I've deleted facebook, I'm not missing it, I hardly think about it and quite happy that I'm out of it.

Congratulations on that!


One of my biggest distractions for years has been email. I just have to have my inbox at zero and used to check my email religiously, from every few minutes to every few hours. I'd check email in the bathroom, in bed, at the table .. it was getting ridiculous. The things is, I never got any interesting email worth checking - it was always the same pattern: swipe - delete. So I decided to do something about it.

I figured checking email once or at most twice per day would be enough so I took took a few steps to accomplish this:

1. Moved the email icon from my phone into an obscure folder hidden on the very last screen on my phone. Now, instead of clicking it right away I have to actively find it which is kind of a pain.

2. Installed SelfControl for Mac and added gmail.com, facebook (yes I still have a shell account I use to check one group), reddit, ycombinator, twitter and a host of other news sites I may occasionally visit to the black list. The first thing I do in the morning is set that timer for almost the entirety of the day and hit start. Now everything is literally blocked and I cannot access it without turning off SelfControl which I have yet to do. Some days I make an exception and leave hacker news off the list.

What I really want now is a product, app or SOMETHING that just turns off everything, including notifications at a click of tap of a button - across all devices simultaenteouly. Turn of all notifications, popups, alerts, all the garbage that comes up through the day including phone calls, messages, Facetime.. just everything. I don't care if it's an emergency, I don't care if someone died, I don't care if checking the phone will save my life. Just turn it all off, but give me access to the apps I still use.


For me it seems that in times of instant messaging email is the saviour in personal communication - not in professional context though (I still prefer an email over being called many times over). When it comes to private messaging people tend to write mails more with a mindset of writing a letter. Full sentences and the entire communication structure seems to be aimed at being complete and more thoughtful. IMing often feels more like ping pong than actually conversing.


CGP Grey discussed this on a recent Hello Internet episode [1], that he was concerned by his inability to maintain focus on a single task (such as reading a book) for more than several minutes. He specifically notes that Reddit and HN were major contributors to this.

1. http://www.hellointernet.fm/podcast/108 (about the 1 hr 15 min mark)


People have short attention spans. It was not so very long ago (and indeed it is still quite common today) when the standard way that one "lived" their life was to spend 8 hours a day at work and then most of the remainder watching television.

Yes, compared to the ideal, having your nose in your phone to the detriment of all other activities is undesirable, but compared to the actuality of what came before it might be an improvement.


I would counter argument that in the past TV was a shared experience while staring at one's phone is a single experience.


I would counter-counter argue that using a smartphone is much more of a social experience than TV, and can be less interruptive as well.

Much of the time when people are using their phones they are socializing asynchronously or synchronously with their friends and family. They are following what's happening in their lives through twitter, facebook, instagram, etc. They are keeping in touch through instant messaging (on facebook, through google hangouts, texting, what-have-you). They are keeping up with current news and events. They are keeping themselves informed, etc.

And in terms of the presence of media in the physical space sometimes watching TV with others can be a social experience, but it can also be an anti-social experience by draining attention away from conversations and by having something of interest going on that can't easily be interrupted or paused to do something else. Whereas smartphone use can more often be interrupted or paused.

My own anecdotal experience is that television is much worse of an attention hog than smartphones, on average.


My internet cut out last week for four hours while my phone was busted.

I spent an hour listening to this podcast I'd downloaded a week earlier: https://fs.blog/naval-ravikant/

And then spent a few hours thinking about what was said.

It was the most peaceful evening I've had all year.


> It was the most peaceful evening I've had all year.

That's a really powerful statement to make. Lately, I am have become addicted to riding my bicycle to the office. The main reason is that I have 30 min each way to not care about emails, news, etc.


Says a thing about the reality of human impedance [mis]match with the modern life fantasy. Moving one's butt in nature is probably more tuned to our system.


Distraction is not new. We love doing things with instant gratification and anything of great value comes from deep work.

What it is new today is that people are fighting against a football team of Doctors in Psychology, experts manipulators that have sold their soul to the "Man", Google, Facebook... in order to enslave people following their primal impulses for the benefit of those Juggernauts, and the manipulators themselves, pretty happy to receive a fat check for their services.

The first thing you need to do in order to become free of their extensive web of control is to be conscious of their unfair game.

If you try to fight , alone, you will lose. Those guys know much more about you and humanity that you could ever grasp. Theoretically they hire experts in human behavior. In practice they know what thousands of millions of people do for real. They hold the emails, they have cameras and microphones on people's rooms, they follow your GPS signal on real time.

If you want to be a creator, free of distraction, the winning strategy is not to play. Use digital services that you pay and own, and associate with other creators because alone you are too weak.


Thank you very much. I find this very insightful and eyeopening. What are resources that I can pay attention to in order to be "conscious of their unfair game"? Will wholeheartedly appreciate it. Thank you once again.


I often felt that I was getting distracted way too much, but I couldn't stop it. About a year ago when my depression got back on track I just shut myself off of every service I had. I quit facebook, deleted all unnecessary apps from my phone, muted it completly and turned off the thing that the display lights up if you get a new message. I even let my phone at home when I was not expecting any major call. If people called me I just called them back when I was at home and had time for it. All of this went out way better than I ever would've thought. I feel super relieved and relaxed nowadays. Because I started a new job I carry my phone with me now most of the day, but it is still muted most of the time. It is even fun to see if there is something new on the internet without getting notified about it instantly. Now I decide when I want to take a break and what I want to look for, not my Smartphone or something else.


This is one of the reasons I still have a few subscriptions to magazines. No micro-distractions, just long form journalism.


Which magazines aren’t 90% ads and the remaining 10% long form ads? Genuinely interested as I haven’t seen any good mags in a while.


Lapham’s Quarterly: https://www.laphamsquarterly.org


Lots - Lapham's Quarterly, Harpers, The Atlantic, Jacobin, Foreign Policy, Financial Times, Monde Diplomatique, ....


I still subscribe to Science News. It's mostly smaller digests with one long-form article per issue (it's bi-weekly and thin) but it is a genuinely enjoyable read, and gives you lots of jump-off points on subjects you didn't even know you were interested in.

https://www.sciencenews.org/sn-magazine/october-13-2018


I really like reading 2600. Some articles get kinda... biased, but I think they do a decent job of striking a balance.

It's nice reading about tech-related things that aren't just blockchain or Facebook. The particularly fun ones are just little side projects someone writes about for a few paragraphs/pages. No real major point or grand purpose. Just a neat thing they did.


The Economist.


I recently discovered the Congressional Digest at my local library, seems really good so far. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congressional_Digest


The Sun Magazine is still an ad-free pleasure.

https://www.thesunmagazine.org/


Depending what kind of thing you're interested in: Harper's, The Economist, Vanity Fair.


The New Yorker


I love that every time the monkey[0] distracts me today, the top link is about distraction. Reminds me to get back to work.

[0] https://waitbutwhy.com/2013/10/why-procrastinators-procrasti...


That's it, I'm deleting my hacker news bookmark. I've been on a good kick lately looking at old illustrations in books on archive.org. I've started reading around them and there is some pretty neat stuff written by people who never logged on.


My fingers can touch type the url autonomously, before I even realise what's happening. That's why I need the hosts entry block at work..


It's hard to take these articles seriously. Do these psychologists think that the average person's issue is they get distracted 60 times a day on their weekends? Who cares about that???

My problem is that I get interrupted 160 times a day in my workplace!!! How do these suggestions help me in my workplace? Shall I tell my boss that I can't reply his email right now because I am counting back in sevens from 1000 or what???


Tell your boss you check email three times a day, in the morning, after lunch, and before leaving work. And if she/he has something urgent to please slack you directly. If necessary create a filter that lets people add an #urgent tag to the subject that sends you a notification.

Then turn off email and slack notifications for all but the rooms centered on things you are directly responsible for. Police those groups so they are only critical isssues that the whole team should be addressing. Create a second channel for casual discussion if need be.

I don’t know... maybe none of these work but just try something. If you can’t change anything at least keep a log of all your interruptions and the general category of issue, so that you can talk about it with your boss in an informed way at your next 1 on 1.


> Shall I tell my boss that I can't reply his email right now because I am counting back in sevens from 1000 or what???

Pretty much. You can turn Slack onto Do Not Disturb and establish a culture of deep focus where your coworkers understand you're in the middle of something and you're signaling that you're not going to get back to them right away because you're in the zone.

As with anything culture-building, it does take some conversations to discuss what you're trying to do and why you're doing it. And you don't do those in slack.


Yes you should tell that. If you cant, then it really sounds like horribly ineffective and toxic workplace.


My best strategy is to avoid the distractions from the get go.

I don't browse the web until I finish my workday. If I need to look up something (which must be work related) I just browse the minimum needed to get the answer. I don't browse to the related links.

With my smartphone is the same. I turn off all notifications and leave it in my bag (if I'm at office) or in another room (if I'm working from home).

My focus, calmness and confidence skyrocket when I do this.


I rediscovered(after 10 years or so) a half-solution the other day: any activity that requires focus but is done offline(so not programming nowadays, unless you have your docs/tutorials/etc offline).

In my case it's making music. The product is obviously crap and takes a lot of time to create, but it has done wonders to my ability to focus.


Just yesterday evening I had a quick look for old-fashioned chess computers. Who needs a chess computer when you have a real computer or a tablet? The difference is that with a chess computer you are offline.


I typically think of this as a unique advantage that programmers have. In almost every other industry I see, I see people who never get the chance to focus all their attention on intellectually challenging tasks for hours without break, and a lot of them seem super distracted and like their brain have been negatively affected by this absence. But programmers seem like the rare species that actually do get this privilege, and this is usually the reason I prefer intellectual conversations with coders than almost anyone else (even when the topic is something other than engineering).


I agree with you. But lately I've been noticing myself being distracted a lot and finding it hard to concentrate... for example I have a hard problem in front of me and in the momment something goes wrong I just switch task and go on hn/reddit/mail etc...


Habituating myself with music and special rooms that I'm very strict about associating only to work (never play) has been the key for me. Play music when you work, and be very strict about not playing the same track/genre when you go on hn/reddit. Sometimes I stand up when people speak to me, just so I don't encourage my mind to allow "conversation thoughts" to bubble up from my subconsious when I'm in a chair. If you're strict about this, and you do it for long enough, it becomes much easier. (Don't be too hard on yourself when you fail, let it take the time it needs to take, be patient. And be careful once you've reached the good habit state. Remember how fragile it is and how much effort was required to get to that point.)


Might be coming across as an asshole but it's not that hard for me to ignore digital things. Sure i have a bad habit of looking to my phone and opening HN but... When i'm at home i will leave phone sitting somewhere (forgot where i left it) for hours and ignore people. I can run and exercise and listen to the sounds of nature. The problem I have is that at work you are plugged into the browser 8-10 hours a day and instantly searching everything. When you get home it takes a bit of focus to just live and not be staring at a screen. It is possible though.


I have a cell phone plan with limited data. At first it was just a frugality thing, but it's also done wonders for attention/mindfulness. I tend to listen to podcasts instead of mindlessly FB/Redditing. Not only does it clear my mind, but listening to the news instead of constantly refreshing a news site throughout the day saves time and decreases stress and "FOMO" (fear of missing out). I know I'm missing out - I've chosen to! :)


As a tech fanatic here is my way of dealing with it:

- no smartphone

- as little social media as possible (yes, I know)

- when with family or others the phone is on silent and I won't answer or text

- adblockers and privacy tools used to the max to get rid of advertising

- no TV

- no radio

Between all those tricks I can get a half decent day's work and still spend time on others, though I have to admit that the better the business is doing there is still pressure there that will need to be relieved somehow.


Anybody ever felt relieved when their ISP was down ?


The book War of Art by Steven Pressfield is a great book talking about this. Half of the battle is procrastination. One has to do develop a routine and stick to it never what. Concentration will come from that.


They mentioned a variety of apps, but w/o discussion of iOS 12 “Screen Time” (best if enabled for All Devices).

That data can be jarring enough to motivate habit change.


This is an ongoing battle for me. I do make progress but it seems that the fundamental design of our culture and society is just increasingly depending and requiring to be online all the time. But I found that a set of simple rituals will go a long way.

> We check our phones every 12 minutes, often just after waking up.

First of all I reduced my involvement with services that cause me to check my phone. I don't use Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Twitter. I even blocked youtube.com and youtu.be on my computers.

At some point in the evening I will switch off my phone and keep it in the living room when going to bed. That solved my terrible habit of reading reddit, HN etc while lying in bed intending to sleep. After stopping this I realized how detrimentally this impacted my sleep quality. It also keeps me from immediately reaching for my phone upon waking up. Now I'll do several things before giving attention to my phone.

> more and more experts are telling us that these interruptions and distractions have eroded our ability to concentrate.

I guess a lot of people will argue that it didn't erode anything but instead just changed our ability to concentrate - in the sense of evolutionary addaption - but I will argue that this is in deed a negative development. I do this confidently from a position of personal experience. It simply doesn't feel good. And a lot of people who claim they like being on and conneceted 24/7 seem nervous and anxious to me.

> More than half of the 1,100 participants said they always responded to an email immediately or as soon as possible, while 21% admitted they would interrupt a meeting to do so.

That's one of the first things to learn on a job - not to respond to mails immediately. It seems this will just trigger the next mail and establish an expectation to receive fast response from me at all times. In the end it will just snowball and suddenly I'm only writing mails all day long.

> ... The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.”

I observed that with me, too. The antidote is naturally to read more lengthy texts like books. Sitting down and just reading a book in the evening feels sometimes like therapy - but in a good way. (Currently I'm reading Twain's "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court")

> Start by switching off smartphone alerts, or taking social media apps off your phone, then switching off the device for increasingly long periods.

I even got me second (dumb) phone (Bea C65). It's number one feature is that it can do nothing except calling and SMS. Also the number is known currently only to my girlfriend. I take it with me when I am certain that I won't need my smartphone. No way to check about Seehofer or Kashogghi on sueddeutsche.de.

> Most of us breathe poorly: ...

I practice various kinds of meditation - currently twice a day for half an hour each. Body Scan, Zen meditation, Wim Hof breathing, Pranayama inspired breathing etc. This is easily the most important and healthy habit for me at the moment.

> Although any type of light can inhibit sleep, research has shown that light towards the blue end of the spectrum is especially effective at keeping you awake because it stimulates the retina in the eye and inhibits the secretion of melatonin from the pineal gland in the brain.

In hindsight I have to conclude that reducing brightness on my S7 to lowest setting + activating the blue light filter + using a special app to reduce the brightness even further was not sufficient to prevent sleep issues.


i would love to read this... but, ya know...




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