I have this dream of an ideal morning whereby I wake, stretch, walk slowly but purposefully downstairs, reach for the cold-brew coffee, pour myself a cup and sit down at the laptop and write.
But the truth stops much earlier in that process where I wake, stretch, reach for my phone to read the time and then the notifications. Half an hour later of reading the entire internet, I realise I couldn’t even tell you what the time was.
Our lives are now ruled by notifications; pings, alerts, alarms, and a schedule that not only tells you where you next need to be, but allows someone else to book that in your diary and some sentient being inside your device to tell you to stop dicking about in the shower and get a shifty on because the traffic is bad and you need to leave 23 minutes earlier.
I have a love-hate relationship with my phone. So much so that I bought a spare – my ‘bat phone’ – a dumb Nokia that was £10 from Tesco on a pay as you go contract. It doesn’t have internet (that works), it doesn’t do Facebook or Instagram and I felt like Jason Bourne buying a burner phone. Win-win.
I’ve known how distracted I get for my entire life. School reports read “He would be great if only he would concentrate” and “he maintains the concentration span of a carrot”. That one was my favourite.
I’ve often wondered if I was a Magpie in a former life. You know, I wonder that because of Magpies liking shiny things. Don’t they? Oh, hang on while I google “Magpies shiny things” to double-check that and make sure that I’ve not created that from some old folk-tale. Ooh look at that Google Doodle, I wonder what the occasion is today. Oh, remembrance day, of course, that reminds me of Blackadder Goes Forth and that final scene where the… OH WAIT, DAMN IT I GOT DISTRACTED AGAIN.
Pah. The irony is far from wasted upon me.
So what can we do to limit distractions in our lives? How can I make sure that when I get up in the morning with all the best intentions that I actually stick to my plans, my Todoist list with all its bloody notifications reminding me how little I have accomplished.
Well, let’s start with that phone. Get it out of the bedroom. I met recently with Marc Curtis of Living Unplugged and he was describing how he enforces a no phones in the living spaces rule – one step stricter than even I was considering, but actually, it made a lot of sense.
Marc leaves his phone on a shelf in the kitchen – by the charger. If he wants to use it at any time, then he can, but he has to stand by the shelf to use it (tied to the wall like the phone in my parent’s house was when I was a kid.).
This ‘nudge behaviour’ physically encourages him not to be using the phone while sitting on the sofa, or across the dinner table from his nearest and dearest. He physically cannot use the phone in the middle of the night to tell the time and then get distracted by some random Instagram commenter… because his phone is not present. He is.
Next up, go into the settings on your phone and turn off all the notifications. Do it, go to settings > notification centre (on an iPhone) and go through the gazillion apps that you can’t possibly do without and turn off the notifications for each of them. If you can’t bring yourself to turn off notifications completely, then at least turn off that damn red light badge app icon. The icon nags.
I’ve often wondered what the psychological effect of that little red badge app notification icon is. It surely must be driving anxiety. Everytime you glance at your phone or go to do something purposeful with your phone – there it is, that little red blob shouting LOOK AT ME! DON’T WORRY ABOUT WHAT YOU WERE MEANT TO BE DOING.
In a tale so ironic that you couldn’t have made it up even if you tried really hard (without getting distracted). This morning, I woke up intending to write this very article. I had thought about it last night as I was planning once more to get up and get writing early. I reached for my phone and before I knew it I had been sucked in to reading some Instagram comments, looking back at distant Facebook memories, and making sure that I hadn’t missed anything more than drivel on Twitter and epic narcissism on LinkedIn.
‘NO’, I cried, silently, so as not to wake my girlfriend. I am going to drag my sorry arse out of bed and I am going to get this article written. I sat up and wrote the first two paragraphs on the app on my phone and clicked save.
Half an hour later of reading the entire internet
I was convinced that I didn’t want to sit there typing over a thousand words on the little crappy iPhone screen of mine that seems to have a dead-spot about halfway down on the right-hand side. That reminds me, I must look back to see when I bought this phone and if that’s covered under warranty or if I need to make a claim on my home insurance or phone insurance or… OH GOD I’ve done it again. Get out of bed man and go and type on the damn laptop.
I headed downstairs and flicked the kettle on, grabbing the flask of cold brew out of the fridge as originally planned. I strode (purposefully) into the living room, grabbed the laptop, booted it up and killed off the apple mail program before it even had a chance to connect and ping stuff at me that might have to be dealt with.
‘Welcome to High Sierra’ the operating system notified me, ‘want to take a tour of the updated OS so you can learn all the stuff that we’ve included but that you’ll probably never even use or scrape the surface of?’ “NO” I silently but emphatically replied, “I want to write”.
I went to my article writing laptop app and looked for the article I’d drafted upstairs. It wasn’t there. I checked the phone, it hadn’t saved – apparently, the app was having trouble connecting.
I opened another app that I have on both my phone and my laptop that allows me to copy and paste between devices (it’s called near-lock and it does loads of other stuff too that’s brilliant and well worth checking out). I copied the start of the article across and into the laptop writing program window. I clicked save.
It didn’t save. WHAT, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DOES A MAN HAVE TO DO TO WORK AROUND HERE? It was starting to drive me crazy now, all I wanted to do was to write an article without being distracted, without procrastination, and without being prevented from achieving just one thing off my to-do list.
Updates needed, maybe? Or forums to be read searching for some answer as to why the programs that connect one-day won’t connect the next?
No, I decided. I will get this article started again, written through, and I’m not going to stop until I have achieved that. I will not stop unless the house is on fire, and that’s only assuming I haven’t turned the smoke-detectors off in my quest to silence the nagging notifications in my life.
Although I am actually quite hungry so maybe I should have some breakfast first? I mean, surely it’s easier to concentrate on a full tummy when your stomach isn’t crying out in hunger, right?
Ah shit, even though I went shopping, I haven’t actually got the bits and pieces that I would really like to pull together a breakfast worthy of a Saturday morning reward or someone who has got up, got on, and written an article. Maybe I should go to the shop first. Wait, maybe I should write the bloody article and then I would have earned the reward!
I am my own worst enemy. 1500 words are all you need. I mean, go for 600 words first, and if the flow comes, then head for 1000. Don’t aim too high otherwise it seems too unachievable and then it’s easier to give in to the distractions because you aren’t going to win anyway.
The mind of an adult with ADHD is a terrifying place to try and keep pace with. But the more I read up on it, and the more I pull together the tools I need to help me function as I go, the better at this stuff I’m becoming.
And it starts (again) now. I’ve followed my own advice and switched off all the notifications on my phone, I’ve put it on silent for the weekend, and I’ve got the featureless candy-bar Nokia-drug-dealer PAYG-Bat-Phone out of retirement.
I need to stop reacting to everything and everyone around me, I need to take a deliberately selfish stand and decide what I want to achieve; in life, in ten years, in a year, today – whatever the length of time, it really doesn’t matter if you can’t even finish your first thought of the day.
As Marc of Living Unplugged says, do things in an intentional way. For me it’s about being more purposeful: Act, don’t react.