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Airplane time: an attempt to reclaim attention
Experimenting with a tiny new ritual for focus.
The launch of Threads by Instagram this week has me thinking about inboxes and attention. Like many others I gleefully jumped into Threads, picking apart design choices and appreciating the nuances of how Meta bootstrapped a blended social graph.
At the end of a long day yesterday, I stopped for a minute. Do I really need another feed? The short answer is probably not. 100s of Slack channels across 3 Slack workspaces, 2 email inboxes, several Discord’s, WhatsApp groups, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram is probably enough? Don’t get me wrong, I’m almost always optimistic about new technology but we all have a choice of where we spend our time. When it comes to our attention, we’re all frogs in boiling water.
So how might we step out of the boiling water every few days? The past couple weeks I’ve been experimenting with a new ritual that I’ve jokingly called ‘airplane time.’ It’s based on three (obvious) insights:
Planes are an amazing place to think, primarily because you’re disconnected from WiFi. By contrast, we’re all connected 24/7 otherwise.
Planes keep you in one environment, and limit your interactions with other people. By contrast, we’re often in open offices with a myriad of continuous distractions.
Even when you have free time on your calendar, you have to actively choose to focus your attention. Free time doesn’t always equal focused attention.
The idea behind airplane time is to mimic the glorious feeling of being focused on a plane. It’s pretty simple, just turn off WiFi on your computer and phone. Then figure out an environment that is conducive to the work you need to get done. For example, go for a walk to come up with new ideas, or park it at your desk to write a doc.
For people like me, who can be easily distracted or pulled into things, it’s been an effective tweak to help get focused work done. If you’re interested in this topic, two books that have inspired me are Make Time by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky, and Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman.
What are your focus rituals?
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