Some others out there may have read that New York Times article about single-tasking, snarkily named “Read This Story Without Distraction (Can You?)” and gotten a bit frustrated by the irony of an article about single-tasking containing no less than five embedded links. Maybe you, like me, gritted your teeth and forced yourself to get through the whole thing before going back and clicking on a few links, because I’ll be damned if the NYT is going to get the best of me! Or maybe you just clicked on the links and inadvertently proved to the data analysts over at the NYT that even dares can’t stop a nice, underlined, blue link. Ha, jokes on you — that’s fake, and all the links I would have included are actually at the very bottom of this post. Yes, like footnotes.
Anyway, the point is, I made it through that article and I went back and clicked on a link for a project run by WNYC Studios “Note to Self” podcast, called Infomagical. It’s a 5-day challenge in digital literacy, and it’s ongoing, so if you’re interested — check the link in the footnotes. The challenge materials themselves are pretty sparse: one 10-15 minute podcast a day for 5 days, each containing a small-sounding idea, but I am now four days out of the program and I think it’s safe to say that the nuggets embedded in the program are more impactful than they seem.
Backing up a bit, this project rests on the assumption that you are a person who deals with information overload, that you own a smartphone, and that you’re most likely an information worker, or someone whose job requires them to sit in front of a computer for most of their days. It’s not for everybody, but it’s for a lot of us. I decided to try the project because I’ve noticed my focus diminishing over the last several years, I get bored more easily, and I have twitchy fingers that compulsively open Instagram if my phone is within arm’s reach (read: always).
So, perhaps unsurprisingly, this idea of single-tasking resonated with me quite a bit. I got my first cell phone when I was 12, and it was a flip phone (hey T9 fans), so I had a solid 12-16 years of life that were largely undisrupted by mobile technology. And then I was disrupted, and disrupted again, and again, so that when the WNYC intro podcast played a buzzing sound effect, I checked my phone. Which was already in my hand. Clearly not vibrating or requiring my attention.
Enter single-tasking. I was tired of getting distracted by something without reaping any rewards. This isn’t like getting distracted in class by your funny best friend’s hilarious note that she just passed you — for me, there hasn’t been a positive effect of the distractions regularly created by my phone, my computer, and my brain’s trained need to jump activities every 10-30 seconds. So, on day one of the Infomagical project, I single-tasked. I turned my phone to do-not-disturb mode. I didn’t switch to another tab during my workday if a site was taking more than 3 seconds to load. I checked my email only when I was done with the task at hand.
And it was hard. I slipped up a bunch of times, and I still do. But I can already feel in these last eight days that I am more present, that I have more complete thoughts, and I definitely catch a lot more strange behavior on the bus. If you listen to the Infomagical podcast, you’ll learn about the science behind why this works and is good for your brain (and its glucose levels). But if you try it yourself, you can actually live that science, which is even cooler!
So, I don’t have a crazy plan for how to become more centered and present, no meditation, no vagina; kung fu (it’s a thing), no website-blocking add-ins required. It’s as simple as this: do the thing you are doing. Don’t do anything else.
And see how it goes!
New York Times article: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/01/fashion/monotasking-drop-everything-and-read-this-story.html
Infomagical project site: https://project.wnyc.org/infomagical/
// Bonus footnotes
Vaginal kung fu for you curious weirdos out there: http://kimanami.com/vaginal-kung-fu/