I thought I’d get a lot of writing done while I was visiting with my dad in Ohio earlier this month.
I thought wrong.
Dad’s 94 and still lives in the family home, with daily support from my brother. Dad loves company and is a great conversationalist, but often he slips into the eternal now. I’m pretty sure he knew who I was most of the time, but the details are foggy, such as where I live now, or how long I was staying, or if he’d had supper yet, or where my brother was (in Germany for a business meeting, which is why I was doing the checking-up and shopping and transportation to Kroger’s and the Senior Center).
By the time I got to the coffee shop in the afternoon–one of the few places in town with a public wi-fi connection–I had a bunch of emails to catch up on and a small job for one of my regular clients that needed a bit of attention on a daily basis. And there went my two-hour break and it was time to go home and help Dad decide what to fix for supper. By the time he went to bed, I was so drained I barely had the energy to listen to the audio book I’d brought, let alone write.
But as every caregiver learns, there are times when the “interruptions” to your regular life become the work you are supposed to be doing, and everything else goes on Hold. It was a blessing to be able to spend this time with him.
During the long drive back to Wisconsin, I thought a lot about the regular old interruptions that get in the way when it’s just me and the computer. I remembered an article I read on the subject in The Writer magazine several years ago. I’d found it so interesting that I took notes and used it for a presentation I had to give.
The article about managing interruptions noted that one study found it takes the average writer 8 minutes to return to creative mode after being distracted.
I consider myself a somewhat-above average writer, but I sure could relate to the eight-minute delay. If there’s a load of wash in the basement, triple that amount.
Another study the article cited found it takes 15 minutes to get back into the zone after a phone call, but only 64 seconds after an email. HOWEVER, those 64-second email distractions do not include the time it takes to read or otherwise react to each email. And because most people receive a lot more emails than phone calls, and 70% of users check email within 6 seconds of the “New Mail” notification, the more often your email notifies you, the more time you lose to distractions. Further, people react more quickly to a sound alert than a silent alert.
So…new policy on email here. Now I check it once before breakfast in case Older Son, who is seven time zones away in an internet-challenged village near the Black Sea, has somehow scavenged enough bandwidth to let us know what he’s up to, and then I either close the email program (I use the Mac’s Mail program so it’s easy to do; no pesky gmail notifiers to keep popping up) or turn the computer’s sound off so I don’t hear the little “clunk” that lets me know a new message has come in. Unless I get bored or am working on a paying gig, I usually don’t check for new messages until lunchtime.
I check again in the early afternoon before I leave the house for an Undisclosed Location to give some attention to the Work in Progress. I leave the house to get away from the stuff that keeps tugging at my sleeve, whispering “Just throw one more load in the wash and then you can write your novel. Oh, wait. Don’t you need to water the plants? And how about that grocery list? And isn’t it time to rotate the tires?”
While at the Undisclosed Location, I usually activate Freedom, an internet-lockout program, although sometimes I only set it to keep me offline for an hour in case I need to do some, um, research.
I’ve also started making use of the “Rules” thing so that certain kinds of mail automatically go into separate folders instead of my InBox: LinkedIn updates, round-robin discussions among members of a professional group I belong to, e-newsletters (mostly about publishing and writing), and what I call B Mail and other folks call Bacon: stuff that would be spam except that it’s advertising from places I do business with or would like to, such as Williams-Sonoma.
The emails from the professional group I keep up with every day. The rest of the filed messages I get to whenever… except, I confess, for the ones from Williams-Sonoma. I do check those every day, because there’s always the chance that something I’ve had on my Wish List for decades will be on sale For This Week Only. I snagged a chicken jug that way just last year and saved Santa a bundle. I live in hope that they’ll have a similar sale on the cow cream pitcher one of these days, although a store manager told me that probably will never happen because it’s one of their best-sellers.
But you gotta have a dream. If you don’t have a dream, how you gonna make a dream come true?
© 2011 Anne Bingham and Making It Up as I Go