Regular visitors know I’m pretty weird about my kitchen timer, crucial for everything from implementing the Pomodoro Technique to minimising time spent on housework. (Because when you time yourself, or at least when I time myself, it has the effect of gamifying the undertaking — sad but true.) But I keep discovering further applications. Favourite at the moment is to combat the time-sucking effects of too much time spent online without a specific goal. Like many people, I suspect, I’m not sufficiently strong-willed to resist checking email/Twitter/blogs repeatedly when working on, say, a book chapter. But it turns out that I am sufficiently strong-willed to remember, as I click on Firefox and get stuck in, to set the countdown timer for 10 or 20 minutes and set it going. Ten or 20 minutes later, I’m roused from my absorption and there’s at least a chance that I’ll seize the opportunity to return to what I planned to be doing. It’s the extended will in action! Now stop reading this and get back to work.
In the midst of last week's hoopla over the launch of the Kindle Fire, Reuters social media editor Anthony de Rosa tweeted:
The beauty of the Amazon Kindle is that I am not a click away from other distractions, that all changes with Fire.
I couldn't agree more. I love my Kindle with a troubling intensity, but the reason I love it is that it helps me focus my attention, instead of dissipating it.
Like the war on terror — though I don't have high hopes for this analogy making it beyond the opening sentence of today's column — the war on email is now about a decade old. Recently, I've noticed a hard-headedness creeping in: gone are the ingenious tricks for staying on top of it all, replaced by the frank acknowledgment that sometimes you can't. The website five.sentenc.es, for example, urges you to announce "a personal policy that all email responses... will be five sentences or less", and earlier this year Chris Anderson, organiser of the TED conferences, proposed several new rules for email, including the use of "NNTR" — "no need to respond" — as an act of generosity towards overburdened recipients. These are welcome developments, since the curse of most productivity advice is the assumption that, given the right techniques, you can fit it all in, when to be honest, who knows? But my unscientific surveys of email-deluged friends suggest this isn't the whole story. On the rare occasions I'm permitted to inspect these bursting inboxes, one thing’s clear: half of what's in them shouldn't be there at all.