Last Monday when my phone buzzed and I had text from an unknown number wishing me “Happy Infomagical Day!” it took me a minute to remember that I was not being hacked. The week before I had heard an interview with Manoush Zomorodi of NPR’s Note to Self, discussing a week-long program to help people use technology more “mindfully” and reduce stress by information overload. I’m not usually a joiner, but it’s the time of winter where not much is going on, work is busy and having a little project sounds appealing… so I texted Note to Self my number.
Day One: No Multi-Tasking
Day One Infomagical sent me a text with a short podcast explaining how multitasking is not only cutting into productively but exhausting my mind with pointless and constant redirection. If we are not being interrupted by some external distraction, we start interrupting ourselves. My first assignment was to do one thing at a time all day – no multitasking.
My usual Monday consists of checking email, answering the phone, running to the fax machine, drafting documents and finishing whatever did not get finished on last week’s to-do list. I typically change focus about every four minutes, not to mention checking my phone randomly for texts or refreshing my email for no reason at all.
I decided to cut my time into blocks. 15 minutes in the morning to check emails and return calls, then I would spend an hour on an unfinished writing assignment. I closed my internet browser, and decided against playing background music. One. Thing. At. A. Time.
Several hours later I got a text checking on me. “Are you managing to do one thing at a time today?” it asked. I replied yes, and was rewarded with a photo of a cute puppy. Later that night I got another text asking me to rate how I felt and how well I stuck to my goal.
NPR is definitely experimenting on me.
Day Two: Tidying My Phone
On the second morning I got a text directing me to an Infomagical interview with Marie Kondo, author of The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. The podcast suggested ways in which Ms. Kondo’s philosophy on tidying and joy can be applied to digital spaces in my life, like my phone. I was skeptical. But, not wanting to be a quitter, I deleted several apps from my phone that I have not used in weeks and consolidated the rest into folders. It is nice having everything on one page. I also added this photo as a background to make my phone more friendly.
Day Three: No Memes
Day three’s assignment was no memes, no trendy topics, no useless internet fluff. The morning podcast, texted to my phone thankyouverymuch, used the dress as an example of the classic meme that everyone is talking about but that really adds nothing productive to your day. You know, that dress. It’s totally white and gold by the way… but I digress. See what memes do? They distract me!
By the time I listened to the podcast at 8:15am I had already checked twitter and my email twice. Oops! I vowed to do better for the rest of the day and avoid the cute animal videos, election op-eds, the 20 things to eat in order to live forever lists, the snarky community forums and every other irresistible but unnecessary topic the internet enticed me with on Wednesday. I only opened one browser window – research for work – and minimized it when I was not actually researching. Oh, and I set my phone to silent and left it in my purse. And guess what, I was crazy productive on Day 3!
Toward the end of the day the text questions started coming again – how do you feel? How did today go? Then, I was rewarded with a Yoda meme.
Day Four: Talking, Talking, Talking
Day the fourth of infomagical was all about having a conversation with someone in my life. A conversation that was a minimum of seven minutes long, to be precise. On the phone or in person. No texting, g-chat or messaging. Sounds simple enough, but if you really think about it, how often do you have a conversation about one topic (out loud) lasting more than seven minutes? Most of my daily interactions involve quick phone calls – Did you receive the paperwork? Where is the email you promised? Can you pick up bread from the store? What time should we meet? And I usually carry on one long conversation throughout the day with my most excellent friend who lives in Chicago – via text.
Lucky me, the long conversation assignment arrived on a day I was scheduled to spend four hours in the car with my dad. We had many conversations. Was this cheating?
Day Five: Life
The final day of Infomagical was all about how to use technology to enrich our lives instead of being trapped by all the information out there that we may be missing. Instead of feeling like we have to consume all the information out there – perhaps only reading half an article, skimming a news story or ingesting sound bite after sound bite – we should be thinking about what we want to achieve from the information and reading accordingly.
The assignment was to write your own #infomantra as a note to self. This felt silly, but I had come this far, so I wrote the note.
Stopping myself from multitasking had, by far, been the most helpful advice all week so I based my #infomantra on focus. Silly as I felt having a sticky note on my keyboard it was helpful to have a concrete reminder to ignore that fleeting thought telling me that I should refresh my email mid-sentence, or make a call before I had completed the paragraph I was drafting.
Conclusion: Try It
I went into last week quite skeptical. How could following a list of tasks for only five days make me more productive and satisfied with work, and less stressed in general? No way. However, I have to admit that it worked. I got a lot done.
Cannot wait to see what Note to Self is going to do with all my data though.
Everything in the podcasts is pretty common sense advice, but sometimes it takes someone else telling you to put down your phone and get to work to, well, put down your phone and get to work. I work in an environment where internet access is constant, there are continuous excuses for interruptions and everyone wants everything from you immediately. It is common to talk to someone on the phone while checking your email or reading a document. I never considered how much this hurts my ability to get things done, since multitasking has become the new standard for busyness, and busyness is good. When you ask someone how they are, the usual response is “I’m so busy, I’m doing this, I’m doing that…” When did being busy become synonymous with being productive?
Tomorrow is another Monday – everyone’s favorite day right? I will not have the podcasts or the cute texts, but I’ll try to remember when I start interrupting myself – to check email, check twitter, check on that other assignment, call that person – to stop it! Stop and ask myself, is this actually helping me accomplish what I need to accomplish today?