Sometimes It’s Better to Just Sit and Stare

By Deane Barker • Posted on November 11, 2005

I don’t want to talk about personal productivity too much, because there are other sites who do it better (warning: shameless inter-FM network plug). However, I’ve found a simple thing that helps keeps me from getting distracted –

Your computer is full of distractions. Windows for your RSS feeds, your email, the news, etc. are just a click away. You can easily click over and read the news for 40 meaningful seconds and then do something else. Your computer is just dying to switch you to something else – it sits there all day trying to seduce you into doing something else for 30, 60, 90 seconds.

But when I do this, I find that I forget to go back to what I was doing in the first place. It happens all the time.

It usually goes like this: I’m working in Visual Studio, and I need to debug. I hit the “play” button, and the project has to compile, then start up – a process of about 60 seconds.

While this happens, I’ll usually click over to my email or something else to pass the time. Five minutes later I’ll be in the midst of cleaning out my inbox and I’ll suddenly think, “Hey, wasn’t I doing something...” and there Visual Studio will be, waiting patiently at my breakpoint.

(I once found the window at the end of the day – about three hours later – when I was getting ready to leave. I meant to take my mind off the task for 45 seconds, and I never went back.)

To combat this, I force myself to sit and watch the screen. If I’m compiling something, FTPing something, opening a big file – anything that’s going to take up to about 90 seconds – I’ll just sit there and watch it happen. I’ll stare at the screen as if it was the most interesting thing in the world.

There’s a strong temptation to do something else for that minute-and-a-half, and my computer is only so happy to give me something else to do. However, switching tasks for that short an amount of time breaks the groove and gets me thinking about something else.

It’s not worth it. Sometimes it’s better to just sit and stare for a minute or two. Make a habit of it. It helps.

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