During my interview for Cory Huff’s book launch party, I was discussing why Facebook and YouTube aren’t really interruptions — they’re digital distractions. The key difference between an interruption and a distraction is that interruptions are externally forced upon us, whereas we choose to be distracted. Your laundry and YouTube don’t knock on your door; kids and pets do.
Someone asked a great question, though: What if you create on YouTube? What if your work is actually on Facebook?
Those questions illuminate the tension we all feel in that the mediums of purposeful work are also the mediums of distraction — we can’t just cut out the medium. Email, Facebook, YouTube, Slack, and so on thus require a different degree of discernment than, say, Hulu or TV, for those of us not in the media industry or ecosystem. At the same time, we know the difference between being in a medium purposefully and being there out of habit or because we need a quick hit of digital dopamine.
Actually, that’s not quite right. When we’re there by habit or due to needing a digital dopamine fix, we largely don’t decide to be there, in the same way that we don’t decide to be hungry when we smell food cooking. The nature of the mediums is that you can chop your day into clicks and three-minute snacks and you only later recognize that that’s what happened.
So, what to do? Some of our work is there, but the non-work stuff can displace the work stuff.
Here are three quick(ish) ways to handle this tension:
- Be specific about the tasks you need to do before you head there. As with objectifying email, you can be clear about what specific items you need to watch, post, or share.
- Use timers to make sure the work-graze slide is minimized. A new favorite of mine is marinaratimer.com because it handles Pomodoro and custom timers nicely.
- As always, firewall your creative time as much as possible and consider separating distraction-prone tasks into blocks of time when you can be distracted without displacing your deep creative time.
We can’t avoid the Loop entirely, but we can be better about making sure it doesn’t eat away at our deep creative time.