“I wasted time by reading emails whenever they came into my inbox. I noticed that once I had started reading the name of the sender, I read the first line of the text. Once I mastered that, I continued reading the entire message, and once I got to that point, I felt compelled to respond because there was no point in leaving an already half-finished task. Then sometimes I needed extra information to answer the message, so had to add other tasks… [I] often wasn’t making any progress with what I was originally working on – and in the end felt quite breathless and exhausted. I thought I couldn’t be the only person struggling with this.” ~ Ulrich Weger, quoted by Lucy Tobin

The recent Guardian article “How To Beat Technology Addiction,” by Lucy Tobin, is one I nearly missed. I don’t really think of myself as addicted to technology. I don’t have a smart phone or a texting plan or even, for that matter, a microwave oven or an automatic dishwasher.

photo of busy womanAfter reading the article (a reading which, by the way, was punctuated by a trip to the kitchen to toast a bagel, a search on my bookshelf for a couple of books that recently came to mind, and a Google search for “Writer, Interrupted,” to make sure the title hasn’t been overused, which led to some interesting blogs by writers), I realized that its message about the interrupted life is as important as technology addiction.

For me, technology has fed what seems to be my innate tendency to follow the next new thought. Sometimes this is a good thing. More and more often recently, I find that it’s not. Over the past few months I’ve been slowly trying to retrain myself to pay sustained attention to my reading and writing, often offline (or at least with only one tab open), trying to learn new habits and unlearn old ones.

It’s not easy, but I can definitely say I am making progress. My experiment last fall with writing for an hour before going online showed me how important my early morning hours are, and in the end led to my doing longhand morning pages for 20 minutes before checking email, just as a way to set the tone for the day. I continue to work on giving myself time limits and specific “appointments” during the day for checking and answering email. I’m more successful some days than others, but, like psychologist and researcher Ulrich Weger, quoted above, I’m definitely more “breathless and exhausted” on interrupted days.

In the end, that’s what matters: How I want to feel. If more productivity is a byproduct, that’s great, but my main goal is to feel calmer, more whole, and less scattered.

Weger offers hope for the chronically interrupted with a simple exercise:

“As soon as you notice that you have diverted to another thought, pull yourself away from the intrusive thought and turn back to the image straight away. After practice, you get more competent at shielding yourself against the countless tempting stimuli in our world of information overload.”

What works for you? Let’s pool our ideas.