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I opened my first class session this semester by projecting the word ATTENTION on a screen and telling my students that class begins when they turn off their telephones, close their laptops, and shut their eyes for sixty seconds. I asked them to observe for one minute where their minds leap without any external distractions from their top friends on MySpace or their World of Warcraft guild. From the beginning, I remind these young people that the purpose of my attention probes are to plant seeds of mindfulness about how we all use our attention, especially in the presence of seductive distractions from email to Facebook to IMing.
An essay written by Venkatesh Rao, author, IT consultant and programmer, caused a stir in the blogosphere last year by suggesting that as many as one in four people could potentially transform themselves into ten-xers. Mr Rao divided daily tasks into short, low-value chores (answering e-mail, paying bills, going to the post office, etc) and lengthier, high-value activities (eg, coding software, composing music, writing books) that required a person’s full creative juices to flow. The former he likened to aerodynamic drag; the latter to engine thrust. According to Mr Rao, boosting performance was simply a matter of increasing thrust and reducing drag.
* * Updated: I have posted the video at the foot of this post * * These are the notes and links to accompany the talk I gave just now at TEDxBrighton (I will add the video to this post once it is available).The opportunity to give this kind of a talk was one I was really excited about, because it gave me the excuse to focus on a subject I’d been thinking about for a while and develop some ideas.When we talk about the web as a distraction, about information overload, about fears and doubts we are not alone. But rather than blame the web, or tools like Facebook, Google or Twitter, we should think about how we can learn the skills, habits and self-discipline required to tap into the web?s power to help us to do things faster, better and with greater impact. To gain the most from using the web we need to think about how it is best used. This applies to everyday life, especially to knowledge work, or the knowledge-based elements of our working lives.