Just trying to fo(PING)cus.

Not all, but some.

…will recognise my situation and the day to day whirlwind chaotic space we call life/work. There are many factors to why we lose focus and fail to be effectful. Some are individual, but some we all share. Technology is imposing our lives quicker than we can adapt and is outrunning our primal instincts. I think it’s crucial that we don’t implode on our true self and give in and rely on everything being autopilot. I believe it’s healthy to listen to yourself and tune in on your true feelings, rather than chasing instant gratification and cheap tricks.

Being constantly available through the digital space is taking far too much focus. I hope that we can shape technology to fit us and our needs, not the other way around.

Random day a while back

06:30-

I wake up, dazed and confused, to a buzzing pillow. I frantically try to find my phone, but it’s jammed between the mattress and the head board somewhere. After neglecting the alarm screaming out that a new day has begun, my wifes nudges are getting aggressive enough to have me sit up in the bed. Now, find the phone and kill the noise.

… unlock. My phone is throbbing with notifications and mails. It’s overwhelming! I quickly skim through to see if there is anything of importance, because God help me if I should miss out on something. I have a slight OCD when it comes to red dots and unopened mails. It makes me restless and I try my best to get rid of them. It takes up a lot of my time whilst trying to do a ton of other stuff simultaneously. Like getting our daughter dressed, make her food and get myself ready for the day. Wife is yelling, daughter crying, I’m miserably failing to focus on getting shit done in order to get the family out of the house and on our way.

08:45-

Stuck in traffic- checking phone, let’s see if there is any digital sugar worthwhile. Ahh, instant gratification, lot’s of likes and comments on Facebook and Instagram. Now back to reality. Oh wait, post on Slack that I might run late because of traffic.

09:10-

After the most stressed out morning I finally get to the office. Ahh, great! More notifications and mails, and a ton of To Do’s. I answer a few mails and get involved in a few slack conversations. Phew… Alright, now lets…. have a coffee and chill for 10 min, because my stress level is through the roof. I get lost in the realm of the inter-web and 10 became 20 min. Need to get shit done. I make up a list of stuff I want to get done during the day. The list grows longer and I’m losing focus. The first To Do’s is dependent on me getting involved with one of the developers, he’s busy. I’ll skip to the next task.

10:15-

I get a Slack notification. It’s a client that needs 5 mobile screens designs, NOW! Ok, I’m on it. Getting stuff done now and almost in the zone, then … a colleague yells from one of the meeting rooms- are you coming to the meeting or what? Started 5 mins ago! In the mids of all the mails and notifications I’ve managed to oversee a calendar invite to an important meeting.

11:30-

Lunch- in the meeting. The meeting last for way to long and I’m lagging behind, big time.

13:30-

Back to my desk to finish off the client work. I’m in the zone for about 2.5 hours, then someone talks about a great article I MUST read and I do. Because I’m keen on a break (15 min), then some tech- talk with a colleague (15 min).

16:30-

Manage to finish the client work, so now I’m back to my list. Jeez, I’m never going to get stuff done. 🙄

17:00-

I need to put in a few hours after I come home, but first- pick up my daughter, have some playtime, make dinner and put her to bed…

20:00-

Now, time to finish off my list. At least the most important ones.

23:00-

Ahh… At last some free time for myself. :)

Cup of tea, sit back and watch television, before I go to bed and fall asleep with my phone in my hand. 😴

“Making sure our minds are always occupied stems from a fear of death, “which seems to be one of the last taboos in our society”.

-Hilda Burke, Psychotherapist and life coach

Breathe.

I wouldn’t say this was an everyday phenomenon, but over time it took it’s toll and broke me down. I always got stuff done somehow, but in a chaotic manner that in most cases made me have to work much harder and longer to achieve what I wanted. So I decided to analyse the situation. Find a way I could focus and be more effective without killing myself.

We know that interacting with a screen floods the brain with dopamine and can even give dependency, it’s basically a slot-machine for your hand. As a person- I’m one of those extreme extroverts with loads of energy that hates to say no to people. That’s a pitfall. Because my attention span is quite vulnerable, I’m too easily distracted by digital interferrence.

I’m part- owner of a design agency and a family man. I have responsibilities to deliver on both fronts and I owe it especially to my wife and daughter not to be constantly exhausted and grumpy.

  • The need to improve my time management is obvious. I’ve got limited time after work, and working late makes me exhausted the day after. At least over an extended period of time.
  • I would greatly benefit from being more prepared and organised at home before focusing at work. Create routines, not adding 20 To Do’s on my phone.
  • Because I was feeling constantly stressed out, I knew it was a must to get proper rest to think clear and make the right decisions.
  • I can’t fundamentally change who I am, but I can find ways to adapt to my surroundings which could benefit myself and be of greater help to others.
  • I needed to be more strict with myself, colleagues and clients. Learn to say no can be a good thing!
  • Restlessness is my enemy! It burns inside me and I’m always ready to jump on to something else. I need to control this energy and use it to my advantage. Avoid distractions. Suffocate unnecessary digital interference.

After I read a ton of articles and downloaded far too many productivity apps, I realised that I was on the same path. Overdoing it, and all at once. I wanted a quick fix. Obviously there are no easy fixes for solving this all at once. And I certainly didn’t need more pings from my digital devices. So I tried to become more analogue in my approach, with a few obvious exceptions.

Here are a few links that gave me inspiration, but that I failed to completely understand and implement- at first.

Teaching Talk: Helping Students Who Procrastinate (Tim Pychyl)

Tristan Harris: How better tech could protect us from distraction

It became apparent to me that I needed to start small, and incorporate routines. After 7 months with trial and error I found a few things that really helped me focus.

Prepare the day before work.

  • Make sure I had enough to do the day after, but not too much so I wouldn’t accomplish my goals. I tried to keep it to 3 goals during a day, which was prioritised. Back to basic with pink post-it’s. Works like a charm. :)
  • Look at my calendar at the end of my workday and set reminders and give comments before i go home.
  • Prepare everything I need for the next morning before I go to bed. This would typically include getting my daughters clothes ready, her backpack, and my own clothes, optimising departure.

Calm down and rest.

  • At work I began to have more walk and talk meetings with colleagues outside the office. I have nothing else than positive experiences with this. I find it very productive and that people have more energy coming back to the office. Break out from the ordinary!
  • Because of my restlessness I had a tendency to seek others when I felt it bubbling over inside. This might have helped me with releasing some tension, but it might have caused unnecessary noise in the office and to others. So I begun to take 2–5 min meditations, to re-focus and channel my energy back into work. Minimize distractions.
  • No phone before bed and keep it out of the bedroom.
  • Meditate to go to sleep. I used to meditate allot when I was younger, but haven’t done it for a few years. I have no idea why I stopped because now I sleep much better and I feel more focused in the morning and energetic throughout the day.
  • Downtime- Switch off and smell the roses. Be more present and cherish the moment. Set aside time for myself, family and friends.
  • Less digital distractions! Meaning the quick wins, the meaningless brainfarts and the unnecessary.

It’s not about doing more, but doing more of the right things rather than doing everything.

It has roughly been 7 months since I started implementing these habits, and the results have given me a real boost.

  • I’m more focused and efficient in general (even though I have dips, it’s much more than it used to be)
  • I sleep better
  • I have more energy
  • I feel more present and in control
  • I’m far more conscious about digital interference. It feels great.

If I have learned something from my process it’s to be patient and persistent. Small steps.

Being able to switch off the digital sphere is hard, because it’s all around us all the time. Even though I’m a child of the digital age, being more in line with myself and my own surroundings helped me focus much more.

As a designer I’m intrigued by how we can make digital products more personal and with good intentions. Only there when you need it and with real purpose. Not serving a hidden agent, but you. I would love to see more products and services that don’t crave our immediate attention, but rather guide us in the right direction to the right time. Making a shift from todays hyper-connected reality with everything screaming for your attention to a more intellectual integration with technology which works more like intuition, adressing deep human values. I think design can fix this problem.

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