Friday, May 27, 2011


I know cliché it may sound, but this book changed my life:

Focus -a simplicity manifesto in the age of distraction- by Leo Babauta

Before I started to read Focus, I already became close to a breaking point due to my bad online habits I developed over the last few years.

I let information overload littering my consciousness like there is no end. I have it all at home, Facebook, Google Reader, Google Buzz, Twitter, Gmail, Delicious, LinkedIn, hundreds of friends, tweets, ‘Like’s, you name it.

To make things worse I try to catch up with every other progressive agenda that I feel passionate about, be it atheism, teaching evolution, gender equality, global peace, human rights, democracy and so on.

I maintain two blogs, Negative Matter and Evrim Olgusu (Turkish).

At work things are not any better. Let me say though, the company I work for is one of the best organisations in the IT industry in terms of work practices. I have a very reasonable workload and stress free job. Yet being my own enemy I manage to create stress for myself out of nothing, thanks largely to my lack of awareness about ill effects of distractions.

The Focus book will convince you how much, without being aware, we enslave ourselves to information overload, how distractions become addictions, and how much unnecessary stress they create on us. Then it will teach you techniques to eliminate the problem and find your own rhythm.

Last week I started to apply some of the techniques I learned, and I already witnessed substantial benefits. Currently I am still experimenting with different methods.

In a nutshell the message is:

"Divide work/hobbies -things that require focus-, and distractions in separate time-slots, both at work and in your private life, and simplify your life by getting rid of the stuff you don't need".

The crucial point is to deal with disruptions in predefined timeslots. This may at first seem to be a contradiction, as by definition distractions happen unplanned. So they seem.

The idea here is not to get rid of distractions. In fact, as Babauta states, at times we need distractions, to prioritise our work, and relax stress caused by probable bottlenecks in our focused work.

The key idea is to condense distractions and focused work in separate timeslots.

Here are some simple steps I took:
  1. I disconnected from Facebook.
  2. I reduced Google Reader RSS feeds by 90%.
  3. I changed my browser’s home page from Gmail to plain Google search page (not iGoogle).
  4. I close excessive tabs opened in my browser.

At work:
  1. I clean up my desk clutter, and don’t let clutter to cumulate. No papers, no sticky pads, no objects between my PC monitor and me. I have just my teacup.
  2. I have one small pile of paper to the left of my direction (not directly visible). The pile is neat –no paper is hanging- and I regularly reduce it.
  3. I have one plain A4 page hung on the empty panel to the right of my direction. On it there is a small list of items I intend to finish during the day. This page changes every morning. There is nothing else hung on panels I am facing.
  4. I check my email in predefined timeslots. At the moment I am trying this schedule: 9am, 11am, 2pm, 4pm. At these times I check my email, and respond to messages. I try to remain within 15-20 minutes boundary each time.
  5. In the development environment I use –Microsoft Visual Studio-, I pay attention to workspace clutter and frequently close files I no longer need.
  6. Similarly I clean up my Windows desktop. I have no shortcuts, folders on my desktop wall, which are not absolutely necessary.

Well it works. It works beautifully. I cannot tell you how much my productivity and quality of work I produce increased at work and at home.

In incoming days I will be experimenting with different techniques and I will let you know how I proceed. Until then bye.

For more information on Focus, the book, see:

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