Paying attention by not paying attention

And still more on paying attention – or in this case, tools to support not paying attention.  There seems to be a flurry of ways of shielding people from some of the more distracting effects of emails.  So here is news of a programme called Stack of Unpaid Bills and EnvelopesFreedom which shuts down all network connections from a Mac for a user-defined period of up to six hours – and once set you can’t turn it off except by rebooting, ‘the point is to make it difficult for your internet-addicted self to override your sensible “must focus” self’.

Hot on its heels comes Hit Me Later

Just forward any email to 24@hitmelater.com and we’ll resend it to you 24 hours later. You can replace “24” with any number or day. For example, forward it to 4@hitmelater.com and you’ll get it back four hours later. Send it to wednesday@hitmelater.com and we’ll send it back to you the first Wednesday morning after today.

Even Microsoft is getting in on the act with a prototype email prioritizer which not only allows users to set rules about which emails are to be treated as important, but also includes a do not disturb button which stops the delivery of new mail.

None of those does anything to stop the email coming your way in the first place, of course, and in one sense they achieve nothing:  nobody is forcing anybody to be distracted be incoming email.  But the ability of humans to be distracted is a fact of life and the ability of email to be distracting is pretty unarguable.  Much better of course to address the underlying problem than mask the symptoms, but it’s a sign of how desperate people can get that masking the symptoms is seen as worth doing.

That just leaves the question of what we might be able to do if all the distractions could be pushed away.  Seth Godin has a suggestion for the quiet time at the end of August:

Do nothing except finish the project. Hey, you could have been on vacation, so it’s okay to neglect everything else, to put your email on vacation autorespond and your phone on voice mail and to beg off on the sleepy weekly all-hands meeting and to avoid the interactions with those that might say no…

And then finish it.

Comments

  1. Excellent article. Getting a grip on email and information is absolutely key to getting a productive day. For most of us it’s possible to procrastinate away the entire day responding to calls and emails and never actually getting anything done although there are a few tips:
    1. Don’t read the web. Get the web delivered to you – use an RSS reader and only check it once or twice a day.
    2. Consume news via podcasts. Work and listening can be done at the same time.
    3. If email is really bad, implement a support ticket system. Email shouldn’t be used as an automatic pager anyway.
    4. Turn off your phone, or (if you’re freelance) charge for handling calls.

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