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  • Writer's pictureTy Jones


If you're like me, you probably struggle with distractions when you're trying to accomplish things. Turns out, that's pretty much a universal struggle. The problem is that we live in a time where we feel like we're supposed to be mired down by distraction. How often do you check your email? How many text messages do you reply to hourly? And how often do you just turn it all off so that you can focus? One of the reasons coming to the gym is so refreshing is that you put your phone in your locker or leave it in your bag and focus on your physical well-being for an hour without distraction.

It turns out that we all suffer from what is called "attention residue". Every time you switch your focus (ie. work -> email -> back to work), it takes time to get back to a state of real productivity. In the book "Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World", the author highlights a Stanford computer science professor, Donald Knuth, that ditched email in 1990. I copied and pasted this from his Stanford web page:

I have been a happy man ever since January 1, 1990, when I no longer had an email address. I'd used email since about 1975, and it seems to me that 15 years of email is plenty for one lifetime.
Email is a wonderful thing for people whose role in life is to be on top of things. But not for me; my role is to be on the bottom of things. What I do takes long hours of studying and uninterruptible concentration. I try to learn certain areas of computer science exhaustively; then I try to digest that knowledge into a form that is accessible to people who don't have time for such study.
On the other hand, I need to communicate with thousands of people all over the world as I write my books. I also want to be responsive to the people who read those books and have questions or comments. My goal is to do this communication efficiently, in batch mode --- like, one day every three months. So if you want to write to me about any topic, please use good ol' snail mail and send a letter to the following address:

Yep, he expects correspondence via snail mail. He is taking what the author dubs a "monastic" approach to deep work. For most of us, we don't need to be so extreme. We need to understand the effects of frequent distraction when we're trying to accomplish something meaningful.

Increasingly, technology is creating distractions in our daily lives. But remember, all of those cool gadgets and websites are supposed to SAVE US TIME, not steal it away. When you're at CFI, it's pretty hard to check your facebook page in the middle of Fran. But the other endeavors in your life are no less important. If you can increase your focus, you will find more satisfaction in getting things done.

Here are a couple of books I've read that you may find helpful if your interest is piqued:

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