Time offline: does it work?

A little bit ago, I talked about my frustration at online distractions getting in the way of focusing more deeply on work. I resolved to try using a program called Freedom to stay offline and get more done: it worked wonders during my EngD write-up.

Alas, it’s not quite so helpful now. I’m still glad I have it, but it only helps when you have a focused offline task, like writing a paper (or a thesis!). There are still online aspects even to that (popping onto the ACM Digital Library to double check a reference, or emailing a co-author about such-and-such) but it’s primarily about sitting down, writing, rewriting, and editing.

Of course, now I’m doing my postdoc I’m in a very different position to last winter, when my One Focus In Life was to Write The Damned Thesis. Nowadays I have articles to write, but also experiments to run, DESIRE’11 to look after, presentations to prepare and so forth. It’s not quite so straightforward!

So I think my main revision to the plan is this: use Freedom liberally when writing papers, but otherwise simply don’t leave communications mechanisms (email, Twitter, IRC) running in the background. Maybe check ’em two or three times a day (start, middle, end?). I predict I’ll end up in my inbox way more often than that — work often requires that I check past correspondence or ping off fresh emails — but we’ll see.

I’m glad I’m spending a small amount of time thinking about this stuff. I’ll figure out a strategy sooner or later!


One response to this post.

  1. I have a theory! I have theories about many of your posts, did you notice??

    Anyway I was cycling and then on looooong train journeys while I was travelling and it gave my mind tremendous space to … I dunno, like to learn to concentrate, to get to the end of its furrows, something like that?

    These last three weeks I’ve been offline too, but working hard and busy all the time, and then socialising. I’ve really noticed while I was working hard how little mind space I had for other things – like Cathy offering me a house and I hardly found a moment to think it over, despite the work I was doing being primarily physical – but a lot of thinking about teamwork. I was amazed when I realised it was the day before my ‘family’ were arriving and despite being so excited about seeing them for so long, I had hardly given it a thought because I was busy in what I was doing…

    Then on the bus journey up here, I found it really hard to settle and concentrate on anything (my book, the road) because my mind was spinning so much. I really missed those loooooong (overnight…) journeys to allow my mind to finally settle and start looking out of the window. I have to say it took me a lot of journeys and lone walking/cycling to get past just finding it boring and my own company driving me mad to arrive at the place where I miss them though!

    Now I’m hanging out on the internet …

    Okay, I don’t have a theory, I have some waffle. I have a vague theory about concentrating on one thing at a time, and the way multi-tabbed browsing and multiple applications and things that go ping in the corner affect my concentration, and I keep thinking that perhaps what I want to do to get work done is to return to the last millenium and only run one application at a time, so I have to save my work and shut down what I’m doing before I open my email … I guess that doesn’t work for you exactly if you need to look things up as part of your work, but there is a difference between having (the equivalent of) a dictionary beside you and flicking over to the whole internet….

    Maybe once I’ve done this week’s cycling I’ll have had a chance to let this thought get to the end of its furrow. But we’ll be chatting during the ride, and socialising in the evening, so probably I’ll just end up chasing tangled threads down short furrows and feeling increasingly tired (I like people, but I get tired if I don’t get my own space … I need my own space to let my mind settle…)

    Okay this has not much to do with your work after all. Whoops.


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