4. Get outside. Leave your devices behind and go for a walk, or a run,
or a bike ride. Enjoy nature. Watch a sunset, go to the beach or a lake
or river or forest. Take your child or spouse or friend. Recharge your
batteries, reﬂect and contemplate.
5. Leave your mobile device behind, or shut it off. When
you’re on the go, you don’t always need to be connected. Sure, the
iPhone and Android and Blackberry are cool, but they just feed our
addictions, they make the problem worse than ever. If you’re driving,
shut off your device. If you’re meeting with someone, turn off the
device so you can focus on that person completely. If you’re out with
your family or friends and not working … leave the device at home.
You don’t need this personal time to be interrupted by work or your
impulse to check on things.
6. Use blocking software. If you’re doing work on the computer,
you can use various types of software to shut yourself off from the
Internet, or at least from the most distracting portions of it. For
example, you can use software to block your web email, Twitter,
favorite news sites, favorite blogs, and so on — whatever your worst
distractions are, you can block them selectively. Or block all Internet
browsing. We’ll talk more about software in a later chapter on tools.
7. Alternate connection and disconnection. There are any
number of variations on this theme, but let’s say you disconnected
for 20 minutes, then connected for a maximum of 10 minutes, and
kept alternating in those intervals. Or you work disconnected for 45
minutes and connect for 15 minutes. You get the idea — it’s almost
as if the connected period is a reward for doing good, focused work.
8. Disconnect away from work. A good policy is to leave your work
behind, when you’re done with work, and a better policy is to stay
disconnected during that time, or work and browsing will creep into
the rest of your life. Draw a line in the sand, and say, “After 5 p.m.
(or whatever), I won’t be connected, I’ll focus on my family and my
How to Beat the Connection Addiction
Being connected is an addiction — and it’s one that can be extremely
hard to beat. Trust me, I struggle with it myself, all the time.
Like any addiction, connection has very quick positive reinforcements
and only long-term negative consequences. When you take drugs or eat junk
food, for example, you get instant pleasure but the negative health effects
aren’t felt until much, much later, when you’re already ﬁrmly addicted.
So you get the positive reinforcement immediately, each time you do the
addictive activity such as eating sweets or taking drugs, giving you a pleasure
rush and making you want to do the activity again, as soon as possible. You
get the positive reinforcement again, and again, and again, in a constant
cycle of positive reinforcement, and soon you’re addicted.
Connection works the same way. When we check email and get a new
message, it’s a little bit of validation that we’re worthy of someone else’s
attention — we get a little ego boost, a little pleasure from this. When we
check Twitter or our feed reader and see something that grabs our attention,
that’s a positive reinforcement, a little bit of reward for checking. And so we
check again, and again, until we’re addicted.
It’s not until much later that we feel the consequences, if we even admit
them to ourselves. It’s months or years later, much after we’re addicted, that
we realize we’re spending all our time online, that our personal lives have
been taken over, that we have lost our ability to ﬁnd quiet and focus, that
our creative time and energies have been eroded by these addictions.
to a small degree, it won’t be a small feat to disconnect and stay disconnected.
How do we beat this addiction, then?
The same way you beat any addiction: by breaking the cycle of positive
feedback, and by replacing the old habit with a new one.
And while beating addictions is really a subject to be tackled in another
book, let’s brieﬂy outline some quick strategies you can use to beat this
» Figure out your triggers. What things trigger your habits? It’s usually
something you do each day, something that leads directly to your
addicted behavior. List these out.
» Find a new, positive habit to replace the old habit for each trigger. For
example, with quitting smoking, I needed a new habit for stress relief
(running), a new thing to do after meetings (write out my notes), a
new thing to do with coffee in the morning (reading), and so on.
» Try changing each trigger, one at a time. So if you go to check your
blogs ﬁrst thing in the morning, make it a new habit to not open your
browser, and instead open a simple text editor and start writing.
» Create positive feedback for the new habit. If the new habit is
something you don’t enjoy, you’ll quit before long. But if it’s something
enjoyable, that gives you positive feedback, that’s good. Praise from
others is also a good positive feedback — there are many, and you’ll
want to engineer your habit change so that you get almost instant
» Create instant negative feedback for the old habit. Instead of having
negative feedback be long-term for going online, you want some
negative feedback instantly: make it a rule that you have to call
someone and tell them you failed if you go online after a certain
trigger, for example. There are lots of kinds of negative feedback —
maybe you’ll have to log and blog your failures, or something like
» Repeat the positive feedback cycle as often as possible for the new
habit. Soon, after a few weeks, it’ll become a new habit and the old
one will be (mostly) licked. Repeat for the next trigger.
Starting small, with just one trigger at a time, is a good way to be
“My only ritual is to just sit down and write, write
– Augusten Burroughs
ocus and creating are about more than just disconnecting. You can
be connected and focus too, if you get into the habit of blocking out
everything else and bringing your focus back to what’s important.
One of the best ways of doing that is with what I like to call “Focus
A ritual is a set of actions you repeat habitually — you might have a
pre-bed ritual or a religious ritual or a just-started-up-my-computer ritual.
One of the powerful things about rituals is that we often give them a special
importance: they can be almost spiritual (and sometimes actually spiritual,
depending on the ritual). And when they become special, we are more
mindful of them — we don’t just rush through them mindlessly.
Mindfully observing a ritual is important, especially when it comes to
focus, because often we get distracted without realizing it. The distractions
work because we’re not paying attention. So when we pay attention to a
attention to a ritual also helps keep it from become too rote or meaningless.
It’s important to give importance to each ritual, so that you’ll truly allow
yourself to focus and not forget about the ritual when it’s not convenient.
For example, you might start each ritual with a couple of cleansing breaths,
to bring yourself to the present, to clear your head of thoughts of other
things, and to fully focus on the ritual itself.
Let’s take a look at just a few Focus Rituals. Please note that this isn’t
meant to be a comprehensive list, nor am I suggesting you do all of these. It’s
a list of ideas — you should try ones that seem best suited for your situation,
and test them out to see what works best.
1. Morning quiet. You start your day in quiet, before the busy-ness
of the world intrudes on your peace of mind. If you live with others,
you might want to wake before they do. The key to enjoying this focus
ritual is not going online. You can turn on the computer if you just
want to write. You can have coffee or tea and read. You can meditate
or do yoga or do a workout or go for a run. Or take a walk. Or sit
quietly and do nothing. The key is to take advantage of this peaceful
time to rest your mind and focus, however you like.
2. Start of day. Begin your work day by not checking email or any other
distractions, but start a simple to-do list on paper or with a text ﬁle.
On this blank to-do list, just list your three Most Important Tasks. Or
if you like, just list the One Thing you really want to accomplish today.
This helps you to focus on what’s important. Even better: continue
this focus ritual by starting immediately on the top task on this short
list of Most Important Tasks. Single-task on this important task as
long as you can — ideally until it’s done. Now you’ve started your day
with focus, and you’ve already accomplished something great.
3. Refocus ritual. While the start of day ritual is great, there are lots
of things that get in the way to distract you, to mess up your focus.
So every hour or two, do a refocus ritual. This only takes a minute
or two. You might start it by closing down your browser and maybe
other open applications, and maybe even take a walk for a couple
of minutes to clear your head and get your blood circulating. Then
return to your list of Most Important Tasks and ﬁgure out what you
need to accomplish next. Before you check email again or go back
online, work on that important task for as long as you can. Repeat
this refocus ritual throughout the day, to bring yourself back. It’s also
nice to take some nice deep breaths to focus yourself back on the
4. Alternate focus and rest. This is almost like intervals in exercise
— alternating between periods of hard exercise and rest works well
because it allows you to do some pretty intense exercise, as long as
you allow yourself some rest. Focus works much the same way —
if you give yourself built-in periods of rest, you can get some great
periods of focus. There are many variations on this, but some ideas
might include: 10 minutes of focus + 2 minutes of rest; 25 minutes
of focus + 5 minutes of rest; 45 minutes of focus + 15 minutes of rest.
You get the idea — you’ll need to experiment to ﬁnd the length and
mixture that works best for you. Some prefer short bursts and others
like longer periods of undisturbed creativity.
5. Alternate two focuses. Instead of alternating between focus and
rest, you could alternate between two different focuses. For example,
you could work on two different projects at once, or study for two
different classes at once. I’d suggest not switching too rapidly, because
there’s a short period of adjustment each time you switch. But you
could work for 10 minutes on one thing and then 10 on another, or
stay focused on one as long as you are interested in it, then switch
when your interest lags. The great thing about this method is that
switching to a new project can help give your brain a rest from the
other project, and it can keep you creating for much longer before
6. Communicate ﬁrst, then blocks of focus. Set a timer and give
yourself 45 minutes to do email, Twitter, Facebook IM, and any reading
you would normally do. Then use an Internet blocker to block these
distractions for a couple of hours (up to 3-4 hours if you like) while
you focus on creating. Then another 45 minutes of communicating
and reading, followed by another block of distraction-free focus.
7. End of day. At the end of each day, you might review what you did,
think of what can be improved, remind yourself to disconnect for the
rest of the evening, and think about what you’ll focus on tomorrow.
It’s a good time to reﬂect on your day and your life in general.
8. Weekly focus rituals. While it’s not necessary to do a complete
weekly review of everything you’re doing, have done and plan to do,
it can be useful to schedule 10 minutes every week to quickly bring
your work and life back into the right focus. I suggest you review
your projects to make sure you’re not letting them get out of hand;
simplify your to-do list as much as possible; review the focus rituals
you’ve been doing to see what’s working and what isn’t; and basically
reﬂect on what you’re doing with work and life and whether anything
needs to change.
9. Other ideas. The rituals above are just some of the ideas I like best
— you should ﬁnd the ritual that works best for you. There are an
almost inﬁnite number of possibilities. Just a few other ideas: taking
5 minutes every hour to refocus yourself; taking a walk every hour to
get fresh air and get refreshed; yoga or meditating at the beginning
of each day; running or other exercise after work; giving yourself a
“focus and disconnected hour” in the morning and afternoon where
you’re disconnected and completely focused on creating; breathing
and self-massage techniques for relaxation and better focus.
Documents you may be interested
Documents you may be interested