4 min read | December 21 2020
I’ve been reading a lot lately. It started with the Rails Guides on my iPad (all of them), jumped to the realization that most relatively new dev content tends to be in eBook format, and lead to the purchase of my first Kindle during Amazon’s Cyber Monday sale. Since then, books on books on books! I’ve really been enjoying the process of reading; the inner dialogue and deeply introspective space of communicating with an author inside of my own mind. I suppose the realization of appreciation for the mechanics of reading began when I read a fantastic essay I stumbled upon some weeks ago, The Erosion of Deep Literacy. It’s a deeply provoking piece that challenged me - the value of ‘deep literacy’ itself is undeniable, but it’d been quite a while since I’d really dove into a book.
Following up with Remote by Jason Fried / DHH, and now working through Cal Newport’s controversial Deep Work, I think it’s time to change some things. Over the last few weeks I’ve become more aware of my compulsion to grab my phone, even if I’m just looking to do something and don’t have any real task in mind. I’ve noticed (sadly) how I have a tendency to whip open Facebook by muscle memory just to fill mind-space. I’ve even recognized that without careful and intentional control, my eyes and mind can fall into the attention-swapping pattern of Twitter and the like while reading a book, jumping from half-way between a paragraph straight to the next because it may be more interesting.
I’ve always been the type of person to keep all of my notifications on and make sure that I keep everything responded to and calm, but Newport’s thesis is pretty damning. This hyper-communicative style can just be the easier route than going deep into the topics and work we ought to be focusing on. It also can have a better-feeling feedback loop: when my inbox is always at zero, I must be doing well, right?
I’m going to try it the other way and find out. Here’s what I’m going to do, even thought it will probably be really uncomfortable for the first few weeks. Some tangibles:
- Deactivate my Facebook account. If people really need to get ahold of me, they can email me or contact me through my website. 🙂
- Deactivate my Twitter account. If tech becomes so relevant or important that I need to learn it, someone will tell me about it during my intentional meet-up times and/or I’ll see it while researching other topics.
- Destroy notifications. I think the only notifications I’ll leave on are Slack DMs (rare) and direct tags (@Jon), and iMessage notifications specifically when my wife messages me.
- Destroy app-tile badge-notifications. That little number in the corner? Just as bad as a pop-up notification. I want to choose when I look at content, not let content draw my mind into distraction.
- Limit time spent on HN; focus on a workflow where important articles are sent to my Kindle for legitimate reading and processing later rather than skimming and forgetting now.
And some intangibles:
- Figure out what my reason is every time I unlock my phone. Fight the compulsion to pick it up and use it just for the sake of filling time.
- Make my default… nothing. Become familiar and comfortable with doing nothing for short spans of time while waiting. Spend time just thinking
- Slow down. Read long-form content more, fight visual compulsions to jump around to find something more exciting. Take the time to process deep concepts.
It’s my hope that in doing all of the above, (1) my works will speak louder than anything else and the things I become capable of building, creating, and accomplishing will outrun any of the value-less time previously spent distracting my mind with attention-fracturing stuff. (2) That I live a more peaceful life with intentional attention given where I choose. (3) That I regain some of the wasted scrolling time back into being productive so that I can accomplish more within daily hours and spend more time after-hours with my wife.
Yes, very Newport kool-aid here, but I want to give it a legitimate try. Here’s to 2021.