Pathway to Sanity

This is 2017.
The machines that we do our work on are also our main entertainment sources: Youtube, Facebook, Buzzfeed, Netflix.

Never in the history of mankind have work and leisure been closer together than today. We don’t differentiate between work terminals and home entertainment systems. Everything we need in life runs on our Macbooks or Surfaces.

I love that. Having all seasons of Seinfeld only a click away – my younger self wouldn’t believe it. Yet, there’s a risk. With potential distraction only one browser tab away, it gets very hard to concentrate and stay productive. When this Facebook notification pops up, it’s impossible to not look. When you’re stuck or bored, it’s too tempting to watch a video in between. And another one. And another one – keeping you from doing what you actually wanted.

In the words of lettering artist and procrastiworker Jessica Hische:

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not against consuming content online, it’s about finding the right balance. Creating at least as much as you consume. Matthew Inman, better known as The Oatmeal compared creativity once to breathing: when you create, you exhale. You can’t exhale forever – you need to breathe in at some point. This is when you read, when go outside or when you just relax and entertain yourself. Netflix and chill. But how to avoid this when you actually want to create?

Put yourself in flight mode

Don’t even get into temptation. If you can afford it, turn off Wifi on your computer and set your phone to flight mode. This of course implies that you don’t need any online tool for doing your work. It only works for real offline jobs.

IRL, at some point you’ll need to go back online. So try to do it for a limited amount of time. One team I worked with tried a “disconnected hour” per day for the everyone – that’s a cool start.

Turn off notifications

If you can’t turn off the connections to the outside, at least deactivate your notifications. This might sound scary at first: Am I not going to miss an important email? What if my colleague waits forever for my reply on Slack? How do I know somebody commented on my Instagram?

I have deactivated Slack notification over a year ago, it works like a charm. You would wonder how many problems solve themselves if you give people a couple of minutes to think about it and figure a solution on their own. Try to see it like this: If they have a burning question, they will walk over to your desk (or call you if you’re not in the same office space) anyway.

Find fixed times for dealing with email and and social media. Instant replies to notifications is probably the biggest source of distraction we have in our modern times.

Restart your browser

This is an easy one: Shut down your web browser and restart it completely. Not only will your computer run much faster without the many opened tabs, but also you will automagically get rid of all the pages that you kept open to “read them later”.

It’s not only the fact that we consume things instead of creating them, it’s also the intend and the plan to do so – a fresh start every now and then can do wonders and help to focus. Also, this will log you out of Facebook every now and then, which can’t be bad.

Dont start a series

TV or Netflix series can eat up so much time – and once you started, you have to binge until the end.

When I was writing my diploma thesis, my girlfriend was the biggest fan of Lost. All she was talking about was Hurley, the others and what else was going on the island. I had a hard time catching up – and no time to start watching the show at all.

Luckily, I discovered this video:

Lost in 8 minutes – 5 seasons condensed to the bare essentials, just enough to meet my urge of knowing what the fuzz is about and to pretend I would watch the show.

Watching a summary does not only bring you up to speed, in best case it also spoils a complete series for and will keep you from starting it at all. In case of Lost, this saved me 3 days and 3 hours. Here’s another one for Game of Thrones:

Congrats, you saved yourself 2 days and 13 hours of dragons, weird incest scenes and Peter Dinklage. You are welcome.

Consume while creating

Let’s face it: we can’t totally avoid consuming things on the internet. The temptation is too present. To still get some work done, try the following trick: Consume while creating. I know artists you watch shows on a second screen while they color their illustrations or do shading works. I’m listening to podcasts while coding.

My trick: I keep a playlist with things that I only listen to when doing certain works – the “Watch Later” function of Youtube is great for that. Playlists in general can be a great tool for your creativity – read about this here.

Do you have issues keeping a balance between breathing in and exhaling? How do you keep yourself from getting carried away into the internet? Any tools or tricks you would like to share with me on Twitter? Thank you for reading my article, I hope you liked it. And now, back to work!

Johannes Ippen
About the Author

Johannes Ippen is a designer from Berlin, passionate about French punk rock, really strong espresso and writing about design. Follow him on Twitter for more of design-related essays. Full bio →