Saturday, July 12, 2008

Trouble Focusing?

I struggle with pushing deep into a project these days, building a wall around, say, 90 minutes so that I can dive down, down into a sea of thought.

At the office, I have tried to protect my mornings by turning my phones off, exiting email, and closing my door from 9:00 to Noon. I've asked the people in the rest of the office many times (via email and at firm meetings) to save what they have for me until after lunch (with very limited success, although growling helps when someone comes through the door.) Even when my "quiet time" is honored while I am inside my office behind the closed door, I have to come out sometimes, only to be ambushed by people who have been saving up. (Often as a result of that interruption, I forget what I came out of the office for. As a result, I will go back into my office, shut the door, and then remember what it was.)

And then there are the emails. At the office, we use a spam filter service called "MailWise", and that has been a great help, although not, of course, for managing client matters. We have clients who believe that one can carry on a consultation via email. My suspicion is that they believe that email, appearing to be so quick, must be a cheap way of getting advice from someone who charges by the hour. In addition, email has a sort of immediacy that would appear to solve the problem of their lawyer taking so long to get their work done. (If I just hammer the lawyer with emails each day, he will finally give up and tell me what the answer is to my question.) There is a lot more to say about email, of course, but I will move on.

Dealing with interruptions and distractions, having difficulty focusing, all of these things have made me feel, well, old. This is all about being in one's sixties, I've thought. I am losing it.

But maybe not. A recent article in the WSJ, Unloading Information Overload, discussed the matter of distractions, and is worth reading if you can get a copy. (Not sure whether you need a subscription for the link.) The writer, L. Gordon Crovitz, points to some other recent discussions of the problem: Nicholas Carr's, Is Google Making Us Stupid?, in the Atlantic magazine, which is available on the 'net (how does the magazine make any money?), and a book by Maggie Jackson entitled Distracted: the Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age.

Recently I watched a documentary on the writer David McCullough. What an affable, engaging gentleman he appears to be! And yet he knows how to build a wall around himself to get his work done. Out in his very large back yard, he has an office in a tiny house, a house just large enough for his desk, some bookcases and file cabinets, and a bath room. There is no phone there, and there is certainly no internet connection (he uses an old typewriter for his work). The spot of land where the office sits is separated from the rest of his home by a fence, and there is a gate one must go through to get there from his residence proper. The gateposts are about 3 feet high. He said that when he is in his office, others are forbidden to pass through that gate if they are taller than the posts (he has grandchildren).


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the kind words on MailWise. As the CTO, I am glad its providing some sanity in an "information overloaded" world.

Paul Stokes said...

Welcome, Dave. Congratulations on a fine product.