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Pragmatic Thinking and Learning

Manage Focus

Today's there's an overload of info and a deficit of attention. So filtering out the wrong information to get the right info is vital. Many things compete for our attention while most don't deserve it.

Three specific terms to remember here:

Increase Focus and Attention #

It's easy to divide one's attention, and then nothing effective gets done. There can be external sources competing for attention, or our L and R Modes competing to dominate our mind.

Most often it's not an issue of time, but an issue of bandwidth (your attentional resources). This makes us miss things and not learn.

Improve your focus by practicing meditation to get relief from the chattering L-Mode in your mind. The benefits stick with you all day, so practicing and finding more relaxed awareness is worth the investment. The core of meditation is relaxing and breathing, being aware of yourself and the environment without rendering judgment or making responses.

Defocus to Focus #

Sometimes problems need to marinate in our unconscious mind for a while before getting solved. So doing nothing and focusing on nothing is an effective method. Fill up your mind with facts you need to work with and let them rest a while, and they'll keep going in the background.

A good "marinating" task is something simple, tactile, and enjoyable - like making paper dolls. Make time for this kind of "thinking time."

Manage Knowledge #

Place your thoughts in an external location to manage and organize them. Preferably one where pieces can be linked to each other, and data can be easily refactored. This external support for knowledge helps since:

The recommended form of this is a personal wiki, which can function as a text-based mind map. A good approach is transcribing raw notes and thoughts, bringing them into the wiki, and this translation from raw to wiki helps reinforce the info.

Optimize Current Context #

Context is the info currently loaded into your short-term memory. Changing all the info in our current context, or context switching is real expensive and should be avoided at all costs. This is why interruptions are so bad when they're unrelated to your current context (multitasking works when it's within the same context). Context switching costs you twenty minutes of wasted time and energy.

Limiting interruptions is great since it avoids needless context switching, so look for a spartan user interface that blocks distractions.

Single-task interfaces also help since you can quickly do tasks outside of your context (send an email) without actually switching it. Globally accessible keystroke commands offer this benefit. You can do important tasks without context switching and getting pulled down a distraction rabbit hole.

Three general tips for processing tasks effectively within your context:

  1. Scan the input queue only once. Sort all new items into needed piles, and do tasks that take less than two minutes right away. Don't make your email a to-do list - delete, respond, or move them to the relevant to-do list on the first run.
  2. Process each work pile in order. Avoid context switching between the piles.
  3. Don't keep lists in your head. Remembering and maintaining lists in your head is expensive. Offload the work to an external list.

Manage Interruptions Deliberately #

Set rules of engagement so people know when you're going to answer to messages from them, such as no in-person discussions or email responses within certain hours. Turn off notifications or distracting apps if possible. Check for updates as infrequently as is reasonable. Choose the email tempo and response time that fits best with you.

Take breaks that don't break your context. Aim for ones that are idle R-mode activity, like taking a solo walk or doodling. Raise the cost of entry to change context, such as making it more work to leave your work environment once you're in a productive context.

Mask interruptions to put them in an automatic "address later" pile. Voicemail is a classic example.

Prepare to be interrupted by making it easier to resume afterward. Leave some breadcrumbs before your context is thrown off too much, usually within around ten seconds of it. These can be quick reminders or points your focusing on that you quickly type out before leaving. These reminders, or breadcrumbs, help you pick up the context faster.

Keep Big Enough Context #

Keep all related tasks within their relevant context. A good way of doing this is grouping them all visually on the same screen. Using multiple monitors or virtual desktops is a great way to manage lots of different contexts on screens, and aim to organize them by different tasks.

The author lists their setup of their different virtual desktop contexts as an example.

  1. Communications tasks like emails, chats, to-dos, etc. They're often the most disruptive, so it's good to limit them in this context as much as possible.
  2. Writing tasks, usually needing plain-text editors and tools like a thesaurus and proofreader.
  3. Coding, writing but with code specific tools. Also has a few different screen size setups to cover environments and languages.
  4. Web surfing, usually browser windows with any research being done.
  5. Music. Aim for globally accessible music controls.