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Phone for focus

Phone for focus
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First Published: Tue, Jan 11 2011. 07 17 PM IST

On track: Use the Net on phone to avoid distraction.
On track: Use the Net on phone to avoid distraction.
Updated: Tue, Jan 11 2011. 07 17 PM IST
Surely you’ve heard of that old joke: Trains stop at a train station. So what happens at a work station?
On track: Use the Net on phone to avoid distraction.
And right now this joke is more poignant than you think. In all probability, your desktop or laptop computer, as we speak, has access to some flavour of broadband. Therefore it is highly likely that you have a browser open with several tabs: Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, Cricinfo, that “hilarious blog that must be read daily”, an RSS feed reader, surely the Mint website and perhaps The New York Times for an international perspective. And if you are particularly reckless, you have a couple of windows open with market information and your demat account.
In other words it is going to be practically impossible for you to get any work done at all.
The Internet just won’t let you. For instance, you have a 30-slide presentation to make for that sales meeting tomorrow. If you do nothing else but work on the slides you could get it done in 3, or maybe 4, hours. But thanks to all those distractions I mentioned previously, you are going to be distracted several times.
Those emails won’t reply automatically, will they? And how can you not poke someone back immediately? And look, someone has died on Twitter.
As computers and Internet services get more sophisticated, your ability to get work done on a machine is under severe threat from these distractions.
So much so that the idea of getting things done (GTD) has been elevated to an art form. There are books, blogs and websites dedicated to GTD. Within these, there are sites dedicated to helping you GTD using things such as Moleskine notebooks, mobile phone to-do lists and even decks of plain note cards.
Browse through transcripts of interviews with authors online and many will testify to the damaging temptations of the Internet. Writer Zadie Smith, I think, recently said that the first thing she does before getting down to work is pull out the Internet cable from her computer.
The problem with many of these methods is that they expect you to drop those distractions cold. Which is practically impossible to do. You just can’t stop tweeting overnight (and if you did, you’d get terrible withdrawal symptoms).
So how about a compromise that allows the occasional distraction, but prevents things from getting out of hand?
For the last few weeks, I’ve been testing a new way of getting things done on a computer without entirely starving myself of my emails and status updates. And my tool of choice is the mobile phone.
Most decent mobile phones these days allow you to check email and browse through social networks. And most have excellent browsers as well. However, they are still not entirely as versatile as desktop or laptop computers. You just can’t have dozens of windows open simultaneously.
My idea involves using this weakness.
Next time you sit down to work on your desktop computer, disconnect it from the Internet. Shut down your browser, and only have whatever application you need for your work—a word processor, a spreadsheet or a presentation maker.
Now instead of using your computer for email and messaging, use your phone. But first make sure your phone is set to ring or vibrate only in case of a call. Otherwise it should maintain complete silence, no illumination and zero movement (you can tailor the phone, if possible, to only alert you to calls from certain numbers).
Start working. Whenever you get the urge to check email or read an update, do it on the phone. In fact, use your computer only for work. Use the phone for everything else.
In my experience you tend to write much shorter emails on the phone, and in general try to reduce inputs to a minimum. So at least you’ve curbed your tendency to add value to that ridiculous email chain comprising onion jokes.
Also, I’ve noticed, using the phone prevents you from getting distracted if you have to use the Internet for legitimate work purposes. Googling on the phone comes with much less collateral temptation than googling on your desktop. You tend to stumble into diversions less.
And if you are so inclined, you can even use the phone to take voice or text notes of your work for later reference.
This might not be a perfect solution to banishing time waste. But it could make time a little harder to waste.
Give our method a try and tell us what you think. Meanwhile, share your own tips and tricks for enhanced concentration and productivity.
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First Published: Tue, Jan 11 2011. 07 17 PM IST