When I think back to the early-00s, I think of a lot of chunky, single-purpose, monochrome screen devices: a Franklin PDA, a Memorex MP3 player, a Sony DSLR.
Now, obviously, things are different.
When I survey the devices on my desk now, I’ve got an iPad Pro and an iPhone 12 — both of which I use for everything from work emails to writing blog posts to taking photos of my kids.
So, when my wife got me a Kindle for my birthday a few years ago, I was kind of underwhelmed. I didn’t get it. A black and white screen? No web browser? An interface that reminded of a Palm Pilot?
But it only took a few days for me to get it. And then a few more days to fall in love. It was light. The battery lasted forever. It was just bright enough to read in the dark. And, best of all, no distractions. No matter how hard I try, I can’t check my email on my Kindle.
And so, as a result, I read longer than I would on my phone. I read better. I read more frequently. I’m not distracted by Slack or email or WhatsApp.
A year ago, I was in the market for a running watch. I debated for a looong time about the relative merits of an Apple Watch vs. Garmin model. An Apple Watch would be amazing, I thought, and it would pair perfectly with my constellation of Apple devices. But the Garmin’s single focus on doing one thing well – running – felt like the right choice. The last thing I want is to be distracted by a Slack message while out on a run.
And so I went with a Garmin Fenix 6X Pro. Sure, it felt strangely retro – no touch screen, no voice controls, no built-in 4G – but it was also the right choice. It enabled me to focus on doing one thing at a given time, and to do it well.
I find the same to be true for work productivity. I do my best work in one- or two-hour spurts of intense concentration, hopefully undistracted by whatever’s trending on Twitter. Back when I’d write papers in college, I’d turn off my wifi for a few hours at a time. And when I used to work in an office and had a big project to tackle, I’d tell my boss that I was “going to David-land”; I’d then recuse myself to another room, turn on “Do Not Disturb,” and just work.
All of this is to say: at a time when our devices are amazing and can do nearly anything, there is still room for mono-focus. And with greater capabilities comes greater inclination to distraction. I resisted the urge to check Twitter nineteen times while writing this blog post.
In fact, my next purchase just might be a typewriter*. I’m pretty sure there aren’t any push notifications.
*Kidding, kidding. I wouldn’t go that far. Probably.