3 2 1 … Disconnect !

Jun 26

The hardest part about blogging is not about WHAT to write, its about
WHEN. As you can see by the latest "irregularity" in my posting cycle
I’m yet again experiencing one of those weeks where "sitting down and
writing out my thoughts" is harder then drawing the formula for
cold-fusion on a post-it. Many of us say that we are "busy", "don’t
have the time to settle down" or "life got in the way". And to some
account that might be true. Over the last week I’ve been constantly
tinkering and tampering (read : FIXING) computers for friends and
relatives. Not that this is something I do on a regular basis, but
sometimes all these little "2do’s"
decide to wait in a corner near the alley and gang up on me. Add busy
times at work, a spouse who is in the middle of her exams (and doing
darn awesome) and the last remaining shards of a "creative routine"
that you have.. evaporate.

Now there are hundreds of websites, podcasts,
lectures video’s and books about ‘ getting thing done ‘
and being more
productive an all that. In truth, I might require some of that
knowledge to keep me on course in the gazillion things I "need to do",
but instead I have reflected about all the things that DO keep me
occupied WHEN i HAVE the time. The runner up in swallowing my free time
is of course "other people’s problems". I have been scaling down on
this one in a BIG way over the last six months, but this week it’s
another case of a cyber-pile up where a Mac mini that needed reinstalling, An ACER
laptop with a bad case of "The Vista"s", A HP desktop suffering from
"crap on the net" and the micro surgical process of installing as many
games as possible on Granny’s EEEpc. Add a website and another project to the mix and … Well I could quit my day job and still have my hands full.

the major obstacle in "sitting down, writing / recording / doing some
video work / being creative" is not the fact I have stuff to do for
somebody else. The larger source of procrastinating stuff I want to do
for ME … is the constant interruption the miriads
of communication tools out there. Just imagine me, sitting down behind
the computer and "tuning in" to most channels of communication :

MSN / Googletalk : To keep in touch with family / friends.
IRC : Mostly scanning through conversations on #ubuntuuk.
– Mail : If I don’t have my Gmail open, i’m mostly run the command line application Alpine OR get a buzz on my blackberry whenever I get an email.
Facebook : BIG source of interruptions. Whenever somebody comments on something, sends me an IM or what have you … my Blackberry buzzes AND i get an email.
– Twitter : If there is a black hole where all our focused attention is sucked into .. it MUST be twitter. Tweetdeck only makes it worse since I have entered several "custom" search-bars who keep stuffing me with additional information. Dm’s
on Twitter (ALSO) arrive on my blackberry, replies and new tweets pop
up regularly. Before you know it you’re clicking links and .. well ..
you’re all over the place.
– Feed-reader : Of course my subscription to my RSS
feeds cannot remain absent to the party of interruptions. A pop-up and
a ping when somebody posts something new is a surefire way to take away
my attention.

Looking through the list it is amazing that I get
ANYTHING done in my "creative time"
. One can easily sit behind ones
computer in a "reactionary mode": where you only ‘respond’ to
everything that is coming your way (converstations / email / IM
/ links etc ..) and never actually DO anything in particular. I’ve
heard this from friends over and over .. saying they have "sat behind
their computer for 3 hours .." and didn’t get down to doing what they
came for in the first place.

Now there are times when you "need" to be "plugged in"
. Our computers are (at least to Nyana
and me) our primary means of communication. Seldom do we get
"phone-calls" or "visitors at the door" 95 percent of our interaction
with the outside world goes through our digital line. But these times
of "heavy communication" are devastating to your attention span or your
creative instincts. So I have decided not only to "streamline" that
flow of "communication-static" into something I can manage.

first step
is of course to "find peace" in "not being there". It’s OK
when you’re not on twitter for a day .. its OK when you are absent on
your IM
client. People can drop you a message if they want to. Twitters
‘replies’ get saved for when you come online, people can send you a
direct message when they need you. On the other hand I have both my IM client AND my IRC client running in terminal mode on my Ubuntu
server at home. That way they are "running and active" all the time, I
just "connect" to the session from whatever computer I’m working on and
chat away. To the outside world it is like I’m "online all the time".
The great thing is I get to "choose" when I "connect and interact".

The second step
is that you have to find peace with the fact that it is "OK to miss out on things". There is SOO
much going on in Cyberspace that you just "cannot" keep up all the
time. Either you are 100 percent in the loop on what’s been said in
Twitter-verse, or you are the "all-knowing lounger" in your IRC
channel .. but it will cost you the better part of the night. The
impulse to "sit behind your computer" and "open ALL hailing
frequencies" just to stay in touch, would even give Uhura
one hell of a headache. There are plenty of ways to " catch up " on
things later, and if something is REALLY important ..you will find out
soon enough.

The third step
for me is fine-tuning my
communication channels into a clutter free interface. Mostly I do this
by using the "command line" version of these programs on my Ubuntu server. I have replaced MSN Messenger / Adium / Pidgin  / googletalk with Centerim. MIRC has been replaced by Irssi. My Gmail page replaced by the tight command line interface of ALPINE and my RSS feeds come through NEWSBEUTER.
All of these applications run in a terminal session I can connect to
from ANY computer and continue to run (on my server at home) even when
I disconnect from whatever laptop i’m
working on. The great thing about the command line interface is that
its a no-nonsense zero clutter environment that helps me focus my
attention to the task at hand. I’m still looking for a decent command
line version of a twitter client where I could "scale down" my twitter
feed to something resembling a good old IRC
channel.  The blackberry is ON my desk instead of on my belt so its
"buzz" won’t tempt me to "Check what email I just got" I"ll see the
mail when I check Alpine. While a valuable tool "on the road", the
"interruptions" of the Blackberry are not needed when already BEHIND
the computer.

"Creative time": And finally it comes down to a
matter of discipline and giving yourself the luxury of solitude.
Schedule or MAKE some "Creative time" where you shut down the flow of
information coming your way and start working on "creating" new
information. Shutting down Twitter, closing the IM
windows.. (and on the mac DISABLING GROWL) is good for you when it
comes to homing in on whatever you want to do. Fight the impulse to
"open up a new tab" while you are writing / recording and put some
headphones up. Upbeat or relaxing music drowns out the world and then
its just ‘you and the screen’. You would be amazed just how much you
can do when you "disconnect" for a while.

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