Practice

the focused browser practice

A Simple But Profound Change

Last week I said some harsh (for me) things about Cal Newport and his ideas in So Good They Can’t Ignore You. I stand by my evaluation of that particular manifesto, but I don’t want to discourage you from reading more of his work at the Study Hacks blog; it’s a regular read for me, and in particular this entry on focused web surfing during the day seemed like a good practice to try out. “No clickbait. No Facebook. No blogs (except, of course, Study Hacks…)” he says.

When you eliminate the chance of web surfing, you tend to be more efficient in processing your work. (The way I see it is that I’d rather finish my day an hour early than sprinkle an hour of time wasting throughout.)Of equal importance, the simplicity of the rule — no web surfing, no exceptions — makes it easy to avoid this temptation when trying to work deeply, thus preventing unnecessary ego depletion.

Now, I confess I found it a little strange that there was an external link to the “unnecessary ego depletion” phrase – that, plus other ads on his blog, would seem to be a bit hypocritical in the realm of “focused browsing.” In fact, in the midst of writing this post I found myself on Amazon looking to see if any of those books he recommends were in the Amazon Prime free reading list (I’ll save you the clicking: they aren’t). I also have to question the idea that it is more “efficient”; to me, the efficiency of a process is not so much a matter of speed as of quality. In other words, if I write a blog post quickly, because I didn’t follow up any outside links, it may not be as good as one where I spent some time wandering through related topics and gaining a deeper or broader understanding of the topic.

Reminds me of a time when I was asked to teach a class on “speed rigging” for some aerialists. My response was “Sure – but I get to pick what speed.”

courtesy Ngo Quang Minh, Flickr CC
Not that browsers make it easy…

Every Little Bit Helps

At the same time, I did take that challenge and found it did have a kind of “purifying” effect for me. If I was tempted to check twitter, or Facebook, or any other article, I was more quick to catch myself and say “No…” and get back to the job at hand. The net result was that at the end of my workday it was easier to point out to myself what I had accomplished, and that in turn made it easier to allow myself to relax.

I’d recommend you try it out this week. Just give a couple of days and aim for that “pure” web browser history that shows that everything you did on the web had a purpose – even if that purpose was a moment of entertainment. It’s an incremental change towards a more focused day in general, and since we know that multitasking doesn’t work, that’s got to be a good thing.

Let me know how it goes, and I’ll read your responses on the Love Life Practice Podcast next week!

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