Today has been my second day in a row of working ”offline”. I am going through a bottleneck of work and I really, really need to focus. I read somewhere that Hadley Wickham did something along these lines (allocating certain times of the day to doing certain this -he has an app that delivers his email twice a day, he does not check social network when he wakess up, etc. I thought that this could be a good opportunity to start this type of routine. I have thus tried to establish some simple rules to implement an efficient work routine:
- Start working at 8 am.
- Stop working at 11pm, no matter what.
- Checking my email and my phone at most twice in the day, and not answering anything until the end of the day unless it is urgent.
- Work with the ”Self-control’ app (which disables many websites, such a twitter, facebook or the several blogs I read) on until I stop working.
- Make breaks every 2 hours at most and walk around my house or stretch a bit.
- Whenever I have to ‘look for something’ in the internet (‘let’s see what data I can find for this project’), allocate some reasonable amount of time in advance and then stop no matter what.
- Whenever I am working and something comes to my mind, write it down in a piece of paper and keep doing what I was working in.
- Keep my computer off whenever it is not necessary (when reading, for example).
The result has so far been great. Not only have I been much more productive, I also feel much less stressed, in spite of the huge amount of work I still have left. It’s just common sense: more work means more stress, more productivity means being able to achieve given the the same time-budget, so less stress.
It’s hard to believe this can work, but if you think about it as a challenge, just as people say ‘I have quitted smoking’ or ‘I have been sober for X days’, then it works pretty well.
But what I wanted to talk today is about the standard idea that one is expected to be on call 24/7. Of course, it’s written nowhere, but over my whole day, there is a large number of reasons why I can get distracted: a lot of mentions on facebook, twitter, emails that arrive, slack messages, etc. Given that I work with my laptop most of the time, there is a . If I answer them all, then I probably well get even more answers, and so on. This is extremely disrupting, not just in terms of time, but also mentally. I also think that if you answer instantaneously, you feed the expectation that you will answer fast.
It’s not the first time I have the thought that this IT revolution has had mixed benefits. Yes, it is easy to coauthor papers with people located remotely and be in a distance relationship, but at the same time, it obstructs with your life. I sometimes miss the time in which people met at a precise place and fixed time one or two days in advance, instead of assuming that one must reconfirm that same morning and call to tell where one is waiting. Or, I miss when people asked for appointments one week in advance instead of bugging you through facebook- I had this conversation with my girlfriend yesterday: I really do not consider facebook a proper way of contacting someone professionally. I do many of these things myself, but very few of these things are urgent.
Just as I issued the commitment sometime ago to ”write more often” (of which this post is a by-product), I commit here to emancipate myself from the tyranny of immediacy .