The hour is dark, I write this in shadows. The warm air of the day has settled in all the nooks of the house. It is night but I day dream - of hermits in caves and springflowers taking flight. This is Bombay in March, heat springs from everywhere.
I am Maneesh writing from sweltering Bombay, and this is my last letter for this month. March didn't come easy. Habits and routine remained elusive.
Time as a Matter of Material
I found myself distracted through these past three months. Focus was the big word in my scattered journals. I would jump from task to task, things to things from the middle of one. I wonder if the world feels the same.
An email arrives mid afternoon. In it is Seneca's timeless words on time:
Life is long enough, and it has been given in sufficiently generous measure to allow the accomplishment of the very greatest things if the whole of it is well invested. But when it is squandered in luxury and carelessness, when it is devoted to no good end, forced at last by the ultimate necessity we perceive that it has passed away before we were aware that it was passing.
Often the pressure of time is of our own making. We are not short of time, we just don't have the patience for it. We want one thing or the other all the time; we want it all. The question I suppose is what we are willing to trade? Often we have nothing.
Attention as a Matter of Colour
Sometime in February I chanced upon a tip that suggested to make your phone screen Black and White. Between December and January I was spending nearly 8 hours every day on it. And this after having removed all social apps two three years back. I was doomscrolling Zomato 🤷🏻♂️. Flipped the screen colour switch the moment I read this suggestion. Screen time is now down to 4 hours.
The tonal change just might be enough to make the apps on your phone a little less enticing, and you’ll help save yourself from endless checking and scrolling. Imagine Instagram without the saturated colors, or dim snapchat videos getting even harder to see. Plenty of app icons themselves use color psychology to entice you to click on them—and when you take away the color spectrum, you might also be able to take away some of their siren call.
(Via Apartment Therapy)
Distraction as a Habit
This The Knowledge Project podcast with Nir Eyal was a great listen on the topic of attention.
One of the key ideas he shares is that the opposite of distraction isn't focus. That the operative word on owning your attention isn't attention but ownership. That stopping social media is not going to make you productive unless you know what you are going to use that time towards. To be on YouTube or Instagram or play a game is fine as long as it is you who decides when you want to do it. That if you don't log on to them because you are bored and have nothing to do, you are fine, and they are fine.
I concur with Eyal because I haven't had a social app save for WhatsApp since years now on my phone, yet I have found other ways to be distracted. Distraction isn’t a result it is a habit.
(I must add that Eyal shreds the Netflix Show the Social Dilemma in this podcast as a badly made documentary)
I thought I will never have to, but I have begun reading Atomic Habits. I have always known and followed (tried to) the premise of the book - small but consistent efforts are better than big sporadic ones. Yet sometimes when staring at a potential rut, you seek all the help to avoid it. I always look forward to James Clear’s newsletter, and now I am enjoying reading the book just as much; it is great to get into that mind space of habits and routine.
Time as a Cause of Anxiety
I have subscribed to the Ness Labs newsletter since close to a year. A couple of months back, Anne Laure who runs Ness Labs started her YouTube channel. A few weeks back, while dealing with it myself, I saw her post on Time Anxiety.
Time as a Tool to Organise
Whether it is James Clear, or Nir Eyal or Anne Laure, every productivity solution comes down to this - time blocking.
Pick the things you really want to do with your life, allocate a set time every day or every week for it. Create a system of such blocks and let time take care of the results.
If you have never tried time blocking before, or if like me you are someone who tried it, found it handy but lost momentum with it, then the trick in both cases is to start slow. It is easy to discover time blocking and then open your calendar and fill all the hours in it. It never worked for me and I am certain it never works for anyone else.
We have to start slow. Add one thing at a time, make a habit of it, then the next, then the next.
Choice as an Enemy of Time
To touch on effective time blocking is to touch on choice. It extends to everything else I have spoken about in this letter too. The idea is to limit our choices. To want less not more. Time in itself is enough when you want to use it for fewer things. Else it is short.
The same goes for our addictions and distractions on the web. Have fewer choices for your calendar, for your plate, your social handles, your wardrobe even. Direct your decisions to creating things than consuming. Have fewer distractions and thus a lesser cognitive load.
Do few, but do better.
This was as much a letter to me as it was to you. Come April I hope to meet you in the company of newer, better habits and a sharper focus.
Wish you all a happy Holi.