“If I know that I am going to be interrupted I can’t concentrate, and if I suspect that I might be interrupted, I can’t do anything at all.”
Sartre may have said that hell is other people, but for me and for the novelist Neal Stephenson hell is the onset of cognitive paralysis that sets in after losing concentration. The internet -above all- provides too much stimuli and leads people to experience cognitive dissonance, i.e., overwhelming feelings! Facebook and other social networking sites take up too much of our time, likewise, the time spent on these sites is often valuable and important. We re-connect, we network, we socialize, and learn. I still can’t figure out if social networking is ultimately good, useful to a democratic society, or detrimental to humanity. Are we loosing touch with what truly matters while busy worrying about how many Facebook friends we have, or how big our bum looks in our most recently “tagged” photo? Not really! Sure, society is superficial and meritocratic, but would you rather live in a world without online social networking? Ways of socializing shifts concurrently with politics and technological innovation, but the need for social spheres like Facebook, or in fact the internet as a whole, has existed since at least the sixteenth century. The first social networker was the French aristocrat Madame de Sevigne who spent a great deal of time writing letters, and created a salon culture revolving around her- the olden day equivalent of blogging, tweeting and blackberrying. Jurgen Habermas may theorize on the death of the beurgous public sphere, but anyone who’s heard of Asmallworld, knows that his thesis does not hold. The internet is the axis that contemporary socializing revolves around. I mean, where else but the internet would a girl who thinks she is a robot become fast friends with a boy on another continent, who happens to like girls with robot-psychoses? People who are anti-internet are most likely sceptical to globalization as well.
Nonetheless, the constant bombardment of stimuli we are subjected to is the source of procrastination, the countless wasted hours. Perhaps internet stimuli – the social networks, the blogs, the emails, the youtube videos- is not so different in its power to distract as other kinds of stimuli was to our ancestors? I imagine the writer Oscar Wilde one hundred and twenty years ago, quill in hand, head poised over his empty parchment paper (or whatever it is writers wrote on in 19th Century Britain), deep in thought. Just as an epiphany strikes, and he motions his hand down to write the opening line to An Ideal Husband, his wife walks in with the post. Several invitations to various events and dinner parties are placed on the side of his pulpit. He thanks his wife. Now what should he do? Open his post, or write down those sentences? Of course, his livelihood is more important than the stack of correspondence placed before him, but a writer’s happiness also depends on the acceptance of his peers and therein lies the dilemma.
Everything in moderation, oui? The well-known productivity guru and knowledge worker Merlin Mann has created the bible of online time-management websites. 43 folders began as a little experiment in 2004 and has grown into a monster, a maze of tips and tricks for the creatively challenged, or just plain curious. Check it out. It may help you discover ways in which to work more efficiently.
The links between time management and stress levels are well known – it’s not generally a matter of doing better or having more discipline, it’s often a matter of doing less and of blocking and planning your time instead. Writing a quick “shitty first draft” is often my way of getting started on a piece of coursework for university. An excercise that helped me get through essay writing hell last week was Merlin Mann’s “dash” – a short period of focused activity- that helps you nip procrastination in the bud. After spending a few days in the library researching I had an idea of what to write, but absolutely zero inclination to get started. What I did was do ten minute “dashes” of focused writing, with obligatory two minute breaks in between. This post explains it all: http://www.43folders.com/node/47330/317729
Another good website -the right kind of stimuli!- is Zen Habits. A friend recommended it to me when I was feeling very stressed. They post a new blog / tip each day and I’ve found it helpful in prioritising and working out how to get the interesting and important things done, whilst not letting the rubbish get me down:
Due to a slightly obsessive personality I am always reading a few self-help books, I have been reading the dancer and choreographer Twyla Tharp’s “The Creative Habit: Learn it and use it for life” for an embarrassingly long time now. I think you should read it.
By Desirée Wariaro