I recently discussed a Lesswrong article about attention control. The article was also discussed on Hacker News, where a chap named sumkh1 mentioned his own method of controlling attention. I got in touch to ask him more about it, and I thought his reply was interesting. He give me permission to post it here:
What I did was a little similar with your own plan. The information diet is a really good idea but it needs a lot of discipline to stick with it.
The basic steps of my plan was this. The night before I went to sleep I would take out a piece of paper and I would write down what are the three things I needed to do tomorrow (along with the little things).
It usually looked something like this
1. Complete Assignment
2. Buy books from Amazon
3. Do this other assignment
Little things (that I need to ):
Morning Habits (brush etc)
Call up my client
Get a VGA cable.
Clean my desk.
Then I take the paper in the morning and put it on top of my computer’s keyboard (Don’t know if you can do that, but just put it somewhere where you’ll see it when you wakeup). The key (as you’re trying out) is to start out the morning by seeing the list, going through your routine and starting the day in the positive. I’m not sure why it works but it seems to set the baseline for the rest of the day. Then the next part is to keep that paper with you (keeping in my head didn’t work). Since you start noticing when you are control-t and start to type news.y take just 3 seconds and take your hands off the keyboard. (I use chrome so I had to take these time wasting sites off my quick launch screen too). I had the paper next to the keyboard so I was able to glance over and convinced myself to do one of the little tasks that will only take me a few minutes (like clean my desk) and then get back to working on the big three things I want to do. That really seemed to work for me in getting out the distractions. The time I spend on HN is vastly reduced because of it. (side note: I had this problem with Email so what I did was take to heart that whatever the people that email me want, they’ll get heard eventually and don’t need a response in <5 minutes. Made my life a lot easier as email was easily the biggest Time Sink I had)
Of course you can try to block websites, but when I tried that I vastly underestimated my ability to find new sites to waste time on. The only really good way that I see is to build a new habit around refocusing your energy. I think your information diet could really work out for you. I did one more thing, I had a few people that I had to check in with everyday. I wrote down how many time I found myself having the urge to visit HN/Twitter/etc by just writing a tally on the paper after I put my hands down. Then I emailed that at the end of the day to a person who kept me accountable. It felt like I would be disappointing him if I wan’t improving. Essentially positive peer pressure. If you’re up for that I would love to help you stay accountable.
Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.
If anyone else is interested in writing an article on here, drop me an email on firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll consider any intelligent people who want to explore similar topics to the ones I normally discuss on here.