Stalled by Distraction

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The fact that I'm having "one of those mornings" reminds me of a short post I saw over at the Endeavour some time ago, in which John Cook notes that one of the best ways to "handicap intelligence" is "[w]ith interruptions." This is a point I've commented on indirectly before, and it is especially true for projects requiring a great deal of integrative effort, so much so that even a scheduled interruption can sometimes scuttle a day's work.

Regarding the former, Paul Graham once noted:

When you're operating on the maker's schedule, meetings are a disaster. A single meeting can blow a whole afternoon, by breaking it into two pieces each too small to do anything hard in. Plus you have to remember to go to the meeting. That's no problem for someone on the manager's schedule. There's always something coming on the next hour; the only question is what. But when someone on the maker's schedule has a meeting, they have to think about it. [bold added]
And why are the two pieces too small to do anything with? John Cook quotes Graham on that matter:
The danger of a distraction depends not on how long it is, but on how much it scrambles your brain. A programmer can leave the office and go and get a sandwich without losing the code in his head. But the wrong kind of interruption can wipe your brain in 30 seconds.
Distractions and interruptions are inevitable, and sometimes, as Cook notes, even beneficial. Among other things, they can force us to step back for a moment to see a problem from a new perspective, or allow our minds to work on something subconsciously for a while.

My brief reflection on interruptions inspires three nascent, related thoughts that I will, alas, be unable to pursue further at just this moment: (1) I have spoken in the past of "America's collective lobotomization by pragmatism." A mind needs not just the opportunity, but the correct method to function at its best. (2) I agree with Valery Publius that such social media as Twitter aren't to blame for the vacuousness of our current time. In addition, one choice many people make that does cause them to seem (or become) vacuous is to allow themselves to be distracted by such things on a continual basis. (3) Regarding how interruptions impact me, personally, I'm going to have to think back on grad school a bit: I had to work around lots of distractions then, and I'm going to want to start remembering what worked for me, pronto!

-- CAV

P.S. Gus Van Horn Turns Seven: Speaking of dropping the mental ball, today marks my seventh year of blogging. As I said last year:
Although most of my writing here is driven by my own curiosity, knowing that people come here expecting to see something new each day has helped me in a similar way to having a running buddy. So, thank you, regular readers! You have been great running buddies.

In addition to a good number of "regulars," I have had random people from the gamut of occupations -- Starbucks baristas, car salesmen, and entrepreneurs just to name a few -- chime in on discussion threads, always with something germane to add. Thank you, commenters and occasional visitors!

Over the years, this routine has led to my making many new friends and acquaintances, and reviving a few other, older friendships. In the process, I have: received many tips on potentially "blogworthy" material; batted ideas around in interesting email exchanges; and have had lots of advice about things I can also use away from the keyboard, like restaurant recommendations and advice on time management. ... Thank you friends and fellow bloggers!

I'll close by thanking my family for their support. This goes especially for my wife, who puts up with my routine day in and day out, and in very good humor, at that.
Thanks again!

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