Zettelkasten Forum


Digital distraction

There are some nice posts in the Transitioning links from Obsidian to the Archive thread on distracting environments, particularly this post by @sfast that mentions an experiment in which simply having a smartphone in the same room was detrimental to working memory.

I'm not a current user of The Archive, but am drawn towards it due to the philosophy of being a focused, minimally distracting environment. But I am particularly interested in how people handle digital distraction beyond simply app choice. Personally I feel like the modern operating system lends itself to distraction so much, that app choice is actually minimally relevant.

Even were I to use The Archive for example, my brain is wired by now to hit Cmd+Space and start typing the name of my browser, to hit Cmd+t while in a browser and start typing the name of a distracting website without thought, to swipe left and right on the trackpad to switch between multiple apps on multiple desktops and so on. Even with enough disciple to avoid those things, as @sfast points out, just resisting them is using up working memory itself.

Where a tool like Obsidian encourages some background mental processing simply due to the complexity of options that are available, even if you're making an effort not to use them. The whole OS feels like this to me x10, kind of nullifying the benefits of a focused environmental like The Archive.

It doesn't help that I have ADHD, and am just young enough to have grown up with social media, so these behaviours were hard wired into my developing brain.

I would like to use The Archive for all the many advantages it provides, but I'm almost tempted to go the route of a physical Zettelkasten simply to be able to work in a room with no devices.

Does anyone have any thoughts on this topic, and how to manage digital distraction particularly in a desktop environment?

Comments

  • Even were I to use The Archive for example, my brain is wired by now to hit Cmd+Space and start typing the name of my browser, to hit Cmd+t while in a browser and start typing the name of a distracting website without thought, to swipe left and right on the trackpad to switch between multiple apps on multiple desktops and so on. Even with enough disciple to avoid those things, as @Sascha points out, just resisting them is using up working memory itself.

    This might be the very focal point in which the most problems emerge and the most potential is lurking for the average user.

    There is another study that came to as equal disturbing conclusion: Practicing multitasking makes people worse at multitasking.1

    Concentration is not only a function of your mind (not: brain!). It dependend on habitual fascilitation. So, The Power of Habit by Duhigg can also be read as How to fascilitate concentration if you are familiar with the foundational knowledge.

    The choice of the first steps depends on the individual make up of cognitive style and habits. In you case (ADHD), I'd suggest the following:

    1. Heal your brain by adopting a ketogenic diet with a high to very high micronutrient density. (eggs, liver, kale, etc.) Combine it with a cold adaption protocol (Follow Jack Kruse but ignore all the insane Quantum Biology stuff).
    2. Chose an intermittent fasting protocol if you are male (females are not as suited for that protocol) and start with one 30s sprint during the fasting period and build up to 4-6. (Leptin Signaling is one reason. But the fascilitation of neuroplasticity is another)
    3. Condition good habits of concentration by using a timer: Close anything you don't need for the task at hand. If there are to many apps (and features!) involved, so you can't concentrate switch the task to concentrate. If digital is not working switch to an analog way of working until you built up you mental capabilities. Set the timer to 20 Minutes and work with 100% effort and concentration. Rest for 2-5 Minutes. Repeat 2--4 times. Build up the number of intervals and the duration to your desired level. (You will experience drastic changes in mood in the beginning, the tappering off of changes is you signal that you reaped most of the benefits available to you)

    Only two of the three points are directed at the way you work and cognitive habits. The reason is that most people are abysmally unhealthy just on the level of their tissue. Even little lifestyle changes like walking barefoot on gras in the sun for the first 10 minutes after waking have a great effect because the starting point of many people is so low. How can you expect your yourself to act properly, if you sit on a sick mind, that sits on a sick brain that lives within a sick body that moves through a sick environment? You can't. Building the foundation is key. (The above steps are in order)

    But if you just want to focus on the mental habits: Create a diligant description of you desired task (e.g. working on a project in the office while XY apps are open for 6-8h with no breakdown of distraction etc.), remove anything that is interruptive or distracting, build up capacity (treat it like training with intensity, progression etc.) and then add back the distractions until you can function as properly as needed to meet your personal standards.

    This article can give you some more hints: Deep Work Day


    1. Eyal Ophir, Clifford Nass, and Anthony D Wagner (2009): Cognitive control in media multitaskers, Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 37, 2009, Vol. 106, S. 15583-7. ↩︎

    I am a Zettler

  • Controlling the environment is easier than self-control, so I enlist the Internet of Things to subtly coerce my future self to act in its longer-term interests. The Amazon Alexa is programmed to remind me at 10:45 PM to "Get to bed already! What's your problem?"

    A digression. The Internet is designed to encourage its users to hyperbolically discount their future. In exchange for volunteering information about themselves, users mostly promote to other users the content fed to them by corporate entities. A smaller user population "shares" their own work without compensation, and an even smaller population is compensated for their work. Underneath the distracting collectivist interface of the Internet is a focused capitalist substrate, inaccessible to users but accessible to owners. The primary function of the substrate is to algorithmically optimize in real time the hyperbolic discounting of the future by thousands, millions or billions of distracted users, and to transform the result into compound interest for the owners. (End of digression.)

    Another thing I do is enable parental filters on my internet wifi router as if I were a child. The phone is disabled on the wifi after midnight. Games such as solitaire are blocked. I try to limit traffic to something useful. Finally, to confuse the click trackers, I installed the AdNausem.io browser extension, which "volunteers" useless and misleading information about my preferences to the festering cesspit of online advertising and user-tracking databases.

    Erdős #2. ZK software components. “If you’re thinking without writing, you only think you’re thinking.” -- Leslie Lamport. Replies sometimes delayed since life is short.

  • edited June 20

    Wow, these are great replies. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but these went way beyond it. Thanks both.

    @Sascha that really helped me to look at this much more holistically. I've had in the back of my mind to tackle some of the other things you mentioned, but your post has really helped solidify the idea that I should work on these things in an integrated way.

    I'm going to put together a plan this week combining diet, physical training, habit training, and a full "detox" from the things that are problematic for me using environmental controls like @ZettelDistraction mentioned.

  • @ZettelDistraction said:
    Controlling the environment is easier than self-control, so I enlist the Internet of Things to subtly coerce my future self to act in its longer-term interests. The Amazon Alexa is programmed to remind me at 10:45 PM to "Get to bed already! What's your problem?"

    Battling with distractions and also stopping to work at some point is not an easy thing for everyone.

    Recently, fellow programmer Marin Todorov wrote a plugin for the Mac/iOS development tool "Xcode" that makes Xcode refuse to work when you try to use it outside of 9-to-5, https://github.com/icanzilb/DoNilDisturbPlugin, so remote workers have another aid to not work overtime from home.

    So yes, that's a thing, and there are tools to help our stupid brains to do the right thing :)

    Author at Zettelkasten.de • https://christiantietze.de/

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