I'm Surya

I ran for Congress, was on reality TV, was once a brand manager, and have worked at various startups. I just finished my book. I'm active on Twitter. Full bio here.

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Mar
10

attention & value.

One of the reasons I love writing is that it makes me form coherent thoughts. This process sometimes ends up changing how I view a topic. My previous post on what we value has ended up being one of those times.

We live in a world of insane inattention. For me it started with AIM back in ’96. You signed-on and messaged people whenever you wanted. Eventually you just never shut it off. Next, email became indispensable. Then I not only IM’ed friends, but checked their away messages every little bit to see what was going on (the *original* status message!) Blogging. Facebook. Twitter. Brightkite. Google Lattitude. Nowadays it’s more the ridiculously awesome content freely available & constantly updated: drudge, nyt, espn, huffington, politico, message boards, list, goes, on, and, on. All of these things compete, relentlessly, for my attention.

My original post was really about the meta and questioned how we viewed life. This eventual impacted me in 15 minute increments. Tim’s written well on this topic and is what his book is all about. 43 folders has always been about this whole philosophy. Here’s my take and thoughts:

1) I’m using BubbleTimer. It sounds kind of anal. OK, I guess it *is* kind of anal. The premise is that you define a set of things that you want to and actually spend time on. You then bubble in where you actually just spent that last 15 minutes.

One, it holds you accountable. When focused, fifteen minutes is a ton of time. It’s harder to get sidetracked when you realize that you’re documenting your weaknesses. It actually reminds me of one of the few things I still remember from 4th grade. Our teacher taught us this cool hack where when things got too crazy busy and we felt overwhelmed, we should stop what we were doing and just stare at a clock for 60 seconds. Doing nothing else, helped you realize how much time we actually have.

Two, you get great data visualizations back which like using Quicken, Mint, or Smallspend for your money will help you make some choices to improve things. I’ll see where I spent too much time, too little time, etc.

Three, it helps with goal setting & tracking. We each set high-order goals around New Years. Go to the gym. Talk to Mom more, etc. Well, you can set time max and min’s here. If you don’t bubble in the necessary time here, then you’ll see that you failed. Pretty good for that accountability thing.

2) I’ve given up on email. Sort of. I turn off my Gmail notifier and don’t constantly check my work email anymore. If you’re like me, you feel an urgency to respond to everything asap. I hate to leave someone hanging, so I end up spending way too much time responding to emails. Aside from the raw time of email, it also interrupts my workflow. It might start with checking and responding to an email. But I eventually end up on espn.com or on the couch watching House M.D. (how awesome is that show, btw?) So I’m doing email at set times and trying to ignore at all others. Many of the really sharp, productive people I know do this. I’ve finally gotten on the bandwagon. For now. I’ve tried and fallen off a number of times on this over the years. I’m also paring back substantially on twitter, facebook, linkedin, IM, and my other social indulgences.

3) Everything is a draft. This is probably the most singularly meaningful change I’ve made. It came from this post: Accept that everything is a draft. It helps to get it done.

It’s only been a few days, but this has been a ridiculously liberating line. I’ve always had some amount of trouble pushing things out there. Why? Probably because I was used to get reprimanded as a kid for stuff that wasn’t done right. I guess this produced a fear of failure. I’ve thought a ton about fear of failure and it’s impact on my life from a macro level, but not in the micro. Since I was nervous about not creating perfection, I dreaded starting and ¬†sharing my work. Now, what I try to do is get something done as quick as possible and reassure myself that it’s just the roughest possible draft. I try and judge it like that. It’s freed me up to just do it, and then figure out the rest later. If you’ve ever felt this pang, repeat the mantra of “everything is a draft.” So great.

4) Do it or kill it. From the same list: Banish procrastination. If you wait more than a week to get an idea done, abandon it. Married together with #3 above, this is a recipe for just getting stuff done. I’ve always had a million ideas bouncing around in my head. But since I want the perfect way to do them, it often takes me too long (if ever) to get them out there. When my alternative is to do something within a week or never, it spurs action.

In this world of realtime sharing, our attention is more precious and in demand than ever. I could spend half my day reading my Google Reader feeds, responding to emails, seeing what my friends are up to, reading magazines, etc, or I can control my attention and try to marry that up to what I value.

So I’m seeing two stages:
Stage 1: On the day-to-day, what matters? What do I consider high value and things that I’m satisfied I did at the end of the day? What’s not?
Stage 2: At the 1000 foot level, and specific to how I want to go forward, what matters to me? What would I be disappointed I never did in my life if I only had a few years to live?

Stage 2 informs stage 1, but gaining more control of your minute-to-minute will embolden and free you for the higher order thinking. Hopefully this ramble wasn’t too theoretical. It’s past 1 at night and I’ve been sort of distracted talking to arjun on IM :) Oh, and forgive poor grammar, this is a published draft.

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