A Year In Focus

watch only, no items, final destination

A Year In Focus

At the beginning of this year I had my ADHD medication dose titration completed (this is on my mind because I had my review appointment today). It's been really helpful, both in my ability to focus but also, I think, in helping my emotional regulation. However, it's not actually the Limitless pill, and it turned out that I can still be distracted, bored, diverted from my intended task etc.

Adam Mastroianni has written well about why maybe you should stop eating frogs. I, like him, find tremendous joy in writing—I've got a plan to integrate that a bit more into my job, too—but there are still a number of frogs that are required, in work and in life in general, and I've been trying to work out how to eat them with the least possible distress and fuss.

Things I Have Tried:

Just Doing Stuff

This is what I was talking about on Monday Sometimes, noticing you're putting stuff on and saying to yourself "look, let's just crack on" does actually work—though I think, crucially, I have to be medicated.

No Podcasts Before EOD

I mentioned this in the summer, but I've realised that podcasts—my constant in-ear companion since I got my first iPod at the age of 14 in 2007 and didn't have a credit card or any money to buy music to listen to—really put me in a distractible state that it's hard to shake out of. I've never really listened to podcasts while working, save when I've been doing the most brain-off work possible, but if the first thing I do is listen to podcasts, I'm habituating myself to expect constant stimulation—Andy Matuschak talks about something similar here. I don't want to stop listening to podcasts entirely—I just want them not to froth up my brain so much when I want a bit more tranquility. My compromise is that I don't listen to them until after 5pm, at which point I'm unlikely to get any good work done. How do I enforce this, you ask? Rigid personal discipline? Well, no.

Using Freedom

You've probably seen Freedom before—it's a content blocker that I tried a few years back, found wanting, but after reading Jay talking about it realised that it's now developed into being exactly what I wanted. I'm off social media, so that's not really a worry, but it lets me block Overcast until 5pm every day bar Sunday, and my brain appears to have gotten used to that pretty quickly, and doesn't kick off about it.

I think when I went into Freedom I thought I'd need some big complicated System for it. That's my tendency, making things like that. In fact, it's been remarkably simple: I pretty much just have two blocklists: one is the podcast one, which is on a timer, and the other is what I've called "ents and fiddles", which comprises my email apps, bank apps, newspaper and reader apps—if I notice myself getting distractible (picking up my phone and just tooling around with it for no purpose) I throw a 25-minute blocker on there, put it away and get on with something else.

I definitely have a tendency, if not otherwise checked, to be a Phone Idle Animation person—always on it flicking around doing nothing much of value if I'm deprived of stimulus for a second. Having blocked the active stimulus and having facility to block the more 'passive' things, it leaves me free to use my phone for the utility apps that are part of the reason that having a phone is actually useful. I've got my todos in Things that sync with all my devices; my shopping list in Reminders which is shared with my girlfriend; Maps to help me find my way around, the camera, so I don't have to carry a camera; Obsidian for all my notes, etc etc.

The problem is, fundamentally, that you want to be able to use some of these things some of the time and not have them available for fiddling with them the rest of the time, but it can be a little difficult to determine beforehand which point of any way will be which time! My current solution requires that I trust myself to notice and act when I feel like I'm being distracted, but so far that's been something I've been able to do. It helps the whole thing feel less like a cage that I'm putting myself into and more like I'm just putting things out of reach for a bit while I'm doing something else. Thinking of it as artificially enforcing the kind of limits that would've been physically enforced prior is quite helpful.

Developing A Solid Routine

I mentioned the app Things a few paragraphs back, which I started using at the beginning of this year, and I realised that this is the one for me. This, or its successor, is the to-do app I'll be using probably forever, barring a grouchy-old-man move to Linux or something. There's a weird feeling of something clicking into place. It's a feeling I get on my periodic re-organisations of rooms in my flat—every time fewer things change, we move closer to the ideal arrangement.

All of which is to say: I've recently found myself with a set of routines—particularly my morning routine—that feel like this, that just click for me. They're effortful, obviously, but feel very light. They're not frogs to be eaten. The key components are: take tablets and drink water, go outside, stretch, meditate, do morning pages. There are various other 'bonus' bits that can fit around that, but that's the minimum viable routine that can be cut back down to if I'm ever short on time. It works, I've been able to do it pretty much every day for months now, and it clears my head and sets me up to do, in the words of Krusty the Clown, all the pathetic stuff I have to do.

Watch Only, No Items, Final Destination

Leaving my phone at home and just carrying my Apple Watch was something I tried at the beginning of last year, and while I did like it in some ways, it was also a pain in the neck often enough that it's not really a goer for me full time—but it is perfect for specific situations, namely Sundays, which I'm trying to make as screen-free as possible. I can still be reached if need be, but it's not easy for me to reach others.

A part of me would dearly like to be analogue-only. I have considered it, in my more motivated moments. Obviously I couldn't stick it for work, and the fact that I'm writing this on a blog is itself faintly ridiculous. But a part of me really just wants to have all my notes in my notebook, all my pictures on a camera... aha, and that's where the strictness of analogue starts to break down: I don't want to have to mess around with film, so that'd be a digital camera. I also don't want to have to lug physical books around all the time so it's gonna be an e-reader: the compromise slowly, then quickly, creeps in.

Maybe one day I will be brave enough to take a step of this kind. For now, though, I am trying in as many ways as I can to reach some kind of accommodation with the technology that I have so difficult a relationship with. I'm asking the Amish questions: what is it that's good? How can I have that without having the other stuff?

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