Single Tasking Time & Attention

So Far

I’ve deleted all my infinite scrolling apps (FB, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter). I’ve stopped reading online news and only read a printed Sunday paper. I’ve paid for products to remove ads (Cruncy Roll, YouTube, Pandora).

Call To Action To Take Back Attention & Time

Today, I listened to the founder of Center For Humane Technology, Tristan Harris, talk  being intentional about how we should guard our attention and time from social media apps.  He has went to school with the founders of Instagram and he talked about how Instagram’s founder were masters of stealing attention by designing the user interface in ways to hack our brains to come back over and over again to the Instagram app.

After thinking about it a little bit, I thought about buying a flip phone to be used on weekends in addition to my Android Nexus 6P.  However, instead of buying another gadget, which will break my vow to not buy anything for one year unless it’s perishable or a book, I’ve decided to do the following life hack on my Android phone.

Creating Clean Workplaces For Every Context

On Android, you can create multiple users who get a completely clean Android home screen with the clean version Android.  From that clean slate, I can install apps that allow me to single task.  This similar to how you can create new users on your laptop.

Podcast & Deep Thought Context

In this Context I have only

  • Pandora – Tuned to Piano Dreams radio for me to concentrate
  • BeyondPod – Listen to podcasts, with zero interruptions and incentive to browser or read email
  • Google Maps – I could be driving and listening to the Podcast
  • Chariot – I may need to look up my ride to work
  • Brave Browser – To replace Chrome, by removing ads from Chrom

Nothing from Gmail, work email, Slack or SMS is interrupting my flow.

My activities

  • Reading
  • Listening to podcasts
  • Driving
  • Reading a book and do not want interruptions

Physically In The Office Working Context

In this Context I have only

  • Microsoft Outlook – work email
  • Slack – work chat
  • SMS – for my boss to text me for urgent issues
  • Okta verify – to get into the work VPN

My activities

  • During work hours on weekdays 8 to 5pm

Nothing from Gmail, YouTube, any personal apps interrupting my flow.

Learning Context

In this Context I have only

  • Coursera
  • EdX
  • TED
  • Udemy
  • Kindle

My activities

  • Learning from video training

All notifications turned off. No email, nothing.

Personal Context

This is the messiest one with everything else. Personal Gmail, Wechat, banking apps, commuting apps and personal Slack channels. This is only the first week that I’m trying this so I could possibly create more contexts as they make themselves known to me.

Why?

These contexts make my intentions known and clear to my brain. Each context is meant to signal that what my primary purpose is. The completely controlled context is forcing me to single task, finish that portion and then move to the next context intentionally.

The contexts are discrete from each other. An example is that there is no multi-tasking when I’m listening to a podcast, I cannot email at the same time. As I physically switch from one context to the others, my brain also switches contexts and get ready for the next focus area. Making the context switching harder and longer will hopefully signal and train my brain to focus on a single task at hand.

What is your hack to take back attention and time?

Tony Tam

Senior Principal Architect @ Splunk Founder of ImpactfulEngineer.org & SFBadminton.org