Last year I have read amazing book Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention by Johann Hari. It was a part of checking what can cause issues during my life, why I sometimes feel bad and totally overwhelmed. This book does not resolve issues but gives a lot of information what can we do, to improve daily basics. Of course, as in many cases, after reading for a while I had some plans in my head, but then came other responsibilities and I lost them. In effect, last quarter was hard, I think the hardest in my carrer because I was even considering leaving the IT industry, temporarily or permanently.
There were a lot of factors: stress in work, some changes I did not accepted, other people actions and a lot of stuff on my head, not only in work, but also in personal life. I was “on the edge” when I was reminded of the most important principle of stoicism: focus on what you can control. So, I have decided to look for issues in my behavior and fix them, work on them to recover not only focus, but general wellbeing. During last few weeks, I have decided to cut, remove a lot of things from my life, especially digital stuff. Some of them may look strange, but results are amazing, especially for me, so I have decided to write a post about that, maybe it will help.
Table of Contents
My Changes to Recover Focus
I think the general principles are simple: avoid too many stimuli, be more here and now, do not race against others. Instead, do as much as possible with full intentionality. It is not about moving from “sergeant” mode into “zen mode”, because I still move a lot of things forward, I still want to do a lot, continue important processes and archive my goals. The thing is, if we focus on too many things, we cannot handle it and it will finish us off, without any mercy.
People often try additional stuff instead of changing current. For example, they try to meditate to find some calm periods. I am familiar with meditation, and I have practiced it for a long time with some pauses, I know benefits and agree, but in this specific situation I think it is something like taking drugs automatically, without thinking about root of the issue. It will not help. It can be even worse, because if we will not change our environment and behaviors, we will be frustrated because finding time for meditation will be even harder. Instead, it was an opportunity to remove a lot from digital part of my life.
stopping using podcasts – I have listened a lot about running, about IT, some about AI, about philosophy and also team leading. They were fine, but it was too much, a lot of ideas, but more like fast food. I have removed most of subscriptions and decided to reinstall podcasts app on demand, only if I will feel my head is free and I will have some longer run.
Really hard but the best method for me. I visited some IT-news websites probably because old habits. And I read… Even if something was not related to me. For example, I do not have desktop computer, but i always liked this topic and often read about new components, tests etc. Why? I do not know, it was just habit from previous years, when I was editor and IT-industry enthusiast. I have decided that blocks on browser will not be enough, extensions like StayFocusd are too easy to bypass so I have blocked some domains completely on hosts file and on ads blocker on my phone.
I do not social media a lot, if even, more to publish something that reading or commenting, but it was still. Problematic, similar to podcasts. People often say they use for example Instagram for inspiration. I have never got it and had Instagram account only for a short moment. The same applies to other networks. I can follow a lot of people of LinkedIn, but what it will give me? In most of cases, we are even not related. They can publish something amazing, but it will be in tons of similar stuff. Similar to fast food again, even if nice, will die very soon. So, I unfollowed a lot of people, companies and groups on LinkedIn and also Facebook, even persons from my family or co-workers. I know it may look strange, because I also publish often on LinkedIn, but it is my choice, not yours. If you are fine and can take some value from social media, it is ok.
I was subscribed few newsletters related to overall IT industry, some AI technologies and also healthy nutrition. They were fine, not intrusive because authors send something very, very small every day, or just one bigger summary with multiple links once per week. Sometimes they were inspirations for some changes in both, personal life or work, or just important information about something I should care about. The problem is, such newsletters will be never fully profiled. Just once per week, maybe it is not a lot of work to do, but just check email with 30 links with descriptions, decide what you are interested in and then send them into some read later service or even just bookmarks. For sure it is not a 2-minutes task and requires some energy. If the value contributed is high, then ok, but I have realized that I read 10%, maybe maximum 15% of these materials, so filtering was required, and I waste a lot of time & energy. Also, often there was a will to read something really not required now, even in next few months… So, what was the purpose of that? IT knowledge can quickly become obsolete, so it does not make sense. Finally, I unsubscribed from all newsletters.
Something for old-school internet guys. Probably a lot of younger people even do not know what RSS is – they are channels to observe websites. If website has RSS, you can add this channel to some RSS reader (desktop or online like Feedly) and know about all new published materials without newsletters, without social media, without visiting them manually. I have used RSS reader for many years, even when Google Reader was available. Later, I have switched to self-hosted, but finally landed on Feedly and it was ok but again, too much? I think yes. Some websites were dead, some changed their profile, some blogs started to be more and more advertised. In effect, it required more and more energy to organize, filter and of course reading, if there was something really interesting. Similar to newsletters: I noticed time it requires was not worth benefits, so I removed my account, even without saving any of previously observed websites. If I will need something, I will for sure find it.
Quitting Pocket / Read Later
It is related to few points above. I have used Pocket as service to store all interesting articles I found. It was nice, because offered option to read them in distraction-free mode instead of original: no ads, no sides of websites, additional ability to control font and background color etc. It also has browsers extension to quickly add something to our list, option to group them, use tags and view and read even if original material is not available. Nice, but of course it requires a lot of discipline. We can put a lot of stuff to read later and never check the list… so it will be useless. If we want to check, it requires time, proper planning – and it may be difficult. Other issue is order, in default new articles are in the top, so changes that we will check something older will be lower and lower. There is fortunately option to change that, but I have decided it does not make sense also. If something is required, I can add this to my bookmarks bar, at the beginning, so it will be present until I will handle that. If there will be 2-3 items, I will see something goes into wrong direction and I need to read or just remove. Simple and easy.
Remove all YouTube subscriptions and disable watching history: this part is more related to running. There is a lot of nice movies about running and even more about running shoes. Interesting reviews, hard tests etc. Last year I had to choose new shoes for ultra and it was difficult because I have flat foot and some additional troubles. I watched a lot of movies and even after I found proper solution, I have continued that. Why? Maybe because it was nice. But the problem is it does not bring a lot of value, instead, it brings demand – when we watch reviews, especially about good product, we start to want it. Even if it is completely not necessary. Just think about tablets. Nobody required them, but Steve Jobs presented them as something we really need. And people started to use them, right now it is big part of market. What about watching history? If disabled it completely in Google account setting to avoid any recommendations. Right now, when I open main YouTube page, there is exactly nothing. And it is fine, because I need to open something totally intentionally, I control that, not their recommendations algorithm. I use YouTube mostly for background lo-fi music during work, so it is perfect option for me.
Limiting Audiobooks & Books
It was not completely new change, but some process I have started some time ago. There is nothing wrong with audiobooks, especially if we talk about some lighter lecture, nothing super important, just something to enjoy. The problem is it is too easy, and we can use earphones in so many situations: during workout, during shopping, during cleaning home or even during preparing and eating breakfast. I have decided it is too much. About overall books my goal is to read something, during this process making solid notes with the most important action points and after allocate som time to try new knowledge in the practice. If I will read even just 2-3 books per year and they will change a lot, it will be much better than reading 20 books and changing nothing, just getting and removing new knowledge.
It is something I have already used some time ago, but it was not always convenient and easy – few clicks were required to disable or enable this mode again and it was problematic when I wanted for example take a photo. Right now, there is available quick toggle (especially on Samsung devices) which allows us to quickly switch between normal and grayscale mode. What is purpose of that? Grayscale makes phone… Less attractive? Yes, it is just boring, so we do not want to open apps just to open. It is then more like notes, book, so exactly what I want from my phone: tool, just tool, not source of joy because it can be too addictive. Additional note: I do not use any default “vivid” profile colors. For me, the only correct way is to switch them into natural or adaptive. Without that, we can observe a lot of oversaturated icons and also photos look differently on other devices.
Phone Without Email & Work
This step was definitely required because some work changes, but it is related also to personal stuff. I have decided to completely remove work profile from my phone and work communicator (Slack). It is my private device and after working hours, I do not want any notifications about not urgent items. If something will be really wrong, I will receive automatic SMS message from system or just someone will call me – but it is very, very rare situation and our goals is to avoid them. If someone will try to force me to use work profile: not without separate, work-based device, and of course only in working hours – I think it is fair solution, but probably not required if I work 100% remotely. About personal: I have decided to remove email client completely. It is bad habit to start or end day by just looking on inbox and thinking about some stuff. I do not see place also for any messaging apps like Messenger or Whatsapp. Again, if something will be really important, people can call me. If they want just to send funny gif… Sorry, not for me, it is like social feed.
Every morning and evening I make some stoic journaling – just few minutes, but they can do a lot. Morning Journaling allows me to prepare for a day, think about what important will have to do and reminder about a lot of does not depend on me and can change anytime. Evenings are for days celebrating and also learning for the future. I wrote separate post about journaling few months ago, after some time I have switched to phone and digital version. Mostly because it is easier, I can bring it easily for any trips and do not need any additional equipment. It was fine, but it is not the same as paper. Thanks to paper version, I can spend more time “alone”, feel my words and even focus on my typewriting – it is not beautiful, so it is nice opportunity to training. The biggest advantage is focus, only few additional minutes, but it gives some relax, especially in the evening.
As I mentioned above, I have limited a lot of audiobooks and podcasts, but it is not only about them. It is general limitation of using earphones. First, because of health: it is not a smart solution to use small earbuds even few hours per day, content doesn’t matter, it is about hygiene. Second is also about being here and now. Even background music is distractor. Without this music, I can listen to birds when I go to shop, I can select products faster and without mistakes, because I am focused on that, I can do everything with thinking about that one particular activity. Sounds like something primitive, but… We are primitive. We are not multi-tasking, and it is better to one thing solid than few without results.
Results and Observations
Yes, I know, it is a lot and some of these ideas my look crazy, but I think it was worth it, for me. After few weeks I can say my creativity… even exploded? Yes, it is a good term for this. Suddenly I have started to have many good ideas again. I also do additional course every day, step by step and I am close to finish it. You can observe that on my blog, I do not remember when last time I wrote so many posts in so short time. I learn new things and in effect feel much better. Demotivation, lack of sense? They disappeared and I am full of energy.
A bit different effect is also sleeping quality and duration: in last few months I have slept a bit longer, from normal 7 to 7.5 or even 8 hours. Right now, I often wake up even after just 6.5, 6 and feel fine. Do not need nap during day because I still have energy – so I do not fight with it, I know everyone needs different amount of sleep and there is nothing like a golden standard for all of us. It may be related to other changes in my life, but I have decided it is worth to mention.
One maybe “drawback” is sometimes brain really “wants” some stimulus. For example, I have completed all tasks I have planned for specific day, or it is even a morning, I am during daily stretching and feel the emptiness. There is a “need for something”, just to enable some YT movie or podcast in the background again. Maybe it is something like even withdrawal syndrome, maybe it is because I was too used to something in the background and for brain, it is not normal still. But I do not want to bring back. Sometimes yes, if I will decide something is really important and valuable, I can check, but it should be also focusing time. Not two things at the same time, but something with separated, allocated time.
Right now, I consider one additional change – buying tablet or E Ink reader and reading books on such separate device. Reading on phone is fine and comfortable for me. I do not have any issues with blue light and sleep, I can easily add highlights, notes, sync everything without wasting time and it is also good for let’s say PDFs, but it is still phone with rest of apps. Separate device may look like something unnecessary, especially for minimalist like me, but it is similar to digital vs paper-based journaling. Things I need are possible on both, but if you have separate space for that, it gives you different feelings and you can focus only on that.
To be honest, I am still not convinced. Few years ago, I had Kindle, it was great device, but for books I read now, it is a bit to small and uncomfortable, even latest Paperwhite edition. I do not consider Scribe because handwriting is not what I am looking for. Fortunately, there is some nice competition with bigger displays or just some good tablets with option to use notes app. Why not paper? Many books I read are not available in my country and also their cost in analog version is crazy in comparison to ebooks. It does not make sense, also I prefer to have them in digital format to easily make notes without destroying paper and carrying it over and over again.
One additional change is related to email. I have already mentioned I have removed mail client from my phone, but I want to limit this also during work with computer. Web browser clients were always the best for me, especially because I have quickly switched to Gmail (do you remember times, when invitation was required?) – it was nice, fast, always available and it still works in the same way. Brower is opened almost all the time, so one additional pinned tab… And it may be wrong, because I can often jump into email, without reason. If I do not react to email within few hours, world will not collapse, so the better idea is to have desktop client with even automatic, scheduled sync and finally check inbox maximum once per day.
And one additional item about work, because it is also related. I have decided to focus only on some areas I really have impact and I really can change. Previously I preferred to touch almost everything, to help in multiple areas and improve a lot of processes. Of course, it did not make sense. First of all, it is not possible to do by one person, second, because of that, I had a lot of additional work on my head and sometimes it was not possible to finish what I really needed to finish. The last but for sure not the least one: because of such approach I thought a lot about work, company, everything related. It is fine… If you are CEO. But if not, you should not fully concentrate of that. It may look like “I do not care anymore”, but it is very healthy approach which gives us space to recover.
Remember your life consists of three gardens: yourself, your work, and your home, family. If you will not find a proper balance between them and for example focus only on work, some day you will feel that, very strongly. These days a lot of people are focuses on work success, on huge scale, on money. But the thing is, some things you cannot buy with any money. About pursuing success, there is great quote for that:
Business opportunities are like buses, there’s always another one comingRichard Branson
Again, it does not mean we should give up. If work is linked to our passion, we should put a lot of our energy into it, because it will be profitable. But we should always remember about personal space. If I will miss company growth, maybe I will miss opportunity to be rich. But if I will miss by daughter first word or first step because of work, I will hate myself to end of my life and any money will not change that. If someone excepts, we will put our internal energy into work, should build proper, transparent culture in company – if culture starts to be toxic or we feel it no longer matches our values, we should not put our energy into it, it is not worth it.