How I stop wasting time and better manage my curiosities

How I stop wasting time and better manage my curiosities

Yesterday I stumbled across an article on Medium called “The 7 Most Underrated Websites Online.” Being my naturally curious self, I spent time clicking through the 7 websites to see what they have to offer.

I started my journey on this curiosity crusade around 12:30 pm. When all was said and done, I spent the better part of a half hour poking around on these sites, instead of working on research that I needed to do.

We’re in this together

One thing that struck me a few months ago in my article titled “Be More Greedy With Your Time” is that many of you struggle with the same thing I do when it comes to curiosity. As I noted in that article, curiosity is the lead domino that starts to cycle of me wasting time.

I was kind of surprised when I saw how many of you out there have the same ailment as I. It got me thinking…we can’t be the only ones who have to deal with this issue on a daily basis.

The purpose of this article to address some possible solutions to this curiosity bug. I want to explore some ideas I’ve incorporated, and some others that I think could be useful to those who are in a similar predicament.

Want to know your priorities? Look at where you spend your time.

One of the first things I would recommend for those of you with a curiosity bug is to review you internet history. You can’t know where your time is going if you don’t know what you spend your time on.

I’ll admit, I got inspiration from this idea in “The Effective Executive,” a classic business management book written in 1967 by Peter F. Drucker. In that book, he states that one must record their time before one can know where it goes and before one can attempt to manage it.

This is great advice for managing time, and I think it can be applied to managing those curiosities as well. I used this advice myself by looking through my browsing history over the past week or so and seeing where I spent a majority of my time online.

I see that I spend a lot of time on Facebook and ESPN (no surprise). But I also see all of my searches I’ve made in Google during that time period as well.

I’m able to get an idea of what I was looking at, when I was looking at it, how long I was looking at it, and what path it led me down during that period of time.

How many websites did I visit? What was I looking for initially? Was my curiosity satisfied? Or did I stop searching before I actually found what I was looking for? Or did I get distracted by something else along the way?

One surprising thing I noticed was that many of my “curiosity searches” come to an abrupt end before I even found the answer. Another large chunk of those searches were completely unrelated to what I was looking for initially. Finally, many of those things I was searching for at the time seem to have disappeared from my memory now. Is this the best use of my time?

In order to manage this I asked myself, what can I do? How can I prevent myself from wasting so much time? Here are some of my possible solutions.

The art of non-reactivity

In mindfulness circles, non-reactivity is the art of creating space between a trigger and your response. It’s the ability to not allow a stimulus to direct your actions to do something you don’t need to do right now. And it’s an awareness that allows you to observe and see what it is you really want.

The way I use this to my advantage is to keep my Evernote app open, and jot down those things I become curious about as I become curious about them. I write down either: the search terms I would look up at the moment or the question that I’m curious about, and then I get back to working on what I was originally working on.

I’ve found that many times I become curious when I’m smack dab in the middle of something. It may be while I’m at work, at home cleaning, reading a book, writing an article for Freethinkr.

This curiosity trigger takes me out of a focused mindset. Often, I give in to this curiosity. And this pulls me out of the deep work I was engaged on at the time.

Breaking “deep work”

Many thought leaders have argued that breaking “deep work” is detrimental to your success in getting work done effectively and efficiently. In his book “Deep Work,” Cal Newport states

“Efforts to deepen your focus will struggle if you don’t simultaneously wean your mind from dependence on distraction.”

He goes on to argue that individuals are poor at multitasking and that it results in people who are less productive and very ineffective. Newport supports this claim with information from Clifford Nass, a late Communications professor at Stanford. He found that constant switching of attention can have a lasting negative effect on your mind. He states:

“So we have scales that allow us to divide up people into people who multitask all the time and people who rarely do, and the differences are remarkable. People who multitask all the time can’t filter out irrelevancy. They can’t manage a working memory. They’re chronically distracted. They initiate much larger parts of their brain that are irrelevant to the task at hand…they’re pretty much mental wrecks.”

Applying this information

When I take a break from deep work, I take a few minutes to go through my list of questions and search the internet.

At the end of the day, I’ll look up all of those things I was curious about during the day.

You know what’s funny? Sometimes I’ll go through my list and think to myself “What was I thinking? Why did I care about that?”

But there are times where one of my curiosities was memorable or important, and I’m able to tackle those things with further clarity and focus.

It’s almost as though taking some time to let those ideas simmer will allow you to filter out what matters from what you were just using as a distraction to take you out of your focused work.

An excuse to escape

I’m guilty of using my curiosity as a distraction. When I take for a break from what I’m working on, I surf the web. But I don’t want to go on Facebook or ESPN or any other websites, so I used my curiosity as an excuse.

I’ll distract myself by going on Wikipedia and reading about the Roman emperors. Interesting? Yes. Necessary for me to know? Probably not.

How many times has this happened?

You’re in the middle of an article or paper or project that you are working on. You get to a tough point in your work. And a thought pops into your head. “How do cell phones really work?” Then, just like Alice, you go down the rabbit hole.

But this sort of thing is just as bad. It breaks concentration. And if I really want to get something done, I’ve learned that I need large uninterrupted chunks of time. All these curiosities do is break my concentration and flow.

So I take a break from what I’m working on and look it up. Just as things are getting difficult, I take a completely sideways tangent to escape from my work.

One thing I try to do is remind myself that those difficult times are when you need to push through the most. Those are when you have those moments of breakthrough. And if you really need a break, maybe you just need a mindfulness break.

An alternative to curiosity?

I’ve been making an effort to take more mindfulness breaks throughout my day. To me, this is about taking a few minutes to focus on myself.

A few minutes to bring awareness to my body and my mind. A few minutes to observe my thoughts. A few minutes to check in with my body and see how I’m feeling.

While on the surface this practice looks like I’m doing nothing from the outside, I actually find this practice extremely helpful for me for a couple of reasons:

  1. I’m getting away from what I’m doing. Sometimes, all I want is a short break.
  2. I’m taking a break to stop completely. I’m not spending time online. I’m getting away from the computer. (Sometimes just being on the computer itself can be a tiring exercise mentally.)

How else does mindfulness breaks help?

This practice also allows my subconscious to do some processing. Ernest Hemmingway always said, don’t go to bed without having a request from your subconscious. I try apply this to my thinking when I’m working on something.

Say I’m in the middle of writing this article and suddenly I get tired halfway through. I can take a mindfulness break and check in with how I’m feeling.

As a byproduct, my subconscious continues to work on whatever it was I was doing. And because I’m not filling my mind with other random information, I’m able to stay on task better.

I feel like this allows my brain to make connections that I wouldn’t normally make if I didn’t take a brief interlude.

One final thing is that this allows my brain to become bored. If you’ve ever tried meditation, you know that your mind begins to wander easily. By taking mindfulness breaks, my mind begins to wander, but it usually wanders to whatever the task at hand is.

So what’s the protocol?

Focus only on those curiosities that are important to you and help you achieve your goals.

Keep Evernote or other notetaking app or a pen and waiter pad nearby and jot down those things you are curious about.

Take mindfulness breaks every so often (for me it’s about every 10-15 minutes of work, on average) where you pause for one to two minutes and bring awareness to your body and how you are feeling. Because what you really want (or need) is a break.

These breaks helps you stay focused and on task. And they will allow you to get deep work done and accomplish more work in less time. This, in turn, (and ironically I might add) gives you more time to dive into those curiosities later since they aren’t interrupting the flow of your work.

Curiosity is a great trait to have. But don’t let it be a time suck like it has been for me. Get meaningful work done and address those curiosities later.

What are some tricks you’ve learned to manage your curiosities?

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How I handle uncomfortable emotions

How I handle uncomfortable emotions

There I was, sitting at a conference table with the CEO, CFO, the VP of Finance, one of the members of the board, and my Supervisor.

Prior to meeting my Supervisor mentioned to me “Since you did most of the work would you mind taking the lead on this?”

“No,” I thought quietly to myself. But I knew that wasn’t really an option.

I had a feeling this would happen. That’s why I prepared for this moment.

We just finished our compliance audit of this company. Now I had to present all of our audit findings.

My mind raced.

These men and women were in the 50s and 60s. All of them had more years of experience in their fields than the number of years I’ve been alive. And now I have to tell them people all the things they did wrong.

No pressure.

As I was about to present the findings, my nerves were getting the best of me. My stomach was in knots. I wanted to be anywhere else but here.

I used what knowledge I had of mindfulness, and tried to turn this situation into a positive.

“No sweat,” I thought. “Focus on this feeling you have inside yourself. Embrace this feeling. This feeling is merely a guest. Treat it so.”

I used whatever mind hacks I could to get into the proper frame of mind. I asked myself “What’s good about this?”

My mind searched and searched for answers.

“For one, I don’t normally feel this way. Embrace this discomfort. It’s going to go away soon.”

“Be mindful of the feelings going on inside of you. What are they telling you? Should they be avoided?”

“No, they shouldn’t be.”

Months after this presentation, I came across something fascinating. While reading “Search Inside Yourself” by Chein Meng Tan, a great point was brought up.

The key to let go is two things: grasping and aversion. Grasping is when the mind deliberately holds on to something and refuses to let it go. Aversion is when the mind desperately keeps something away and refuses to let it come in…Grasping and aversion together account for a huge percentage of the suffering we experience, perhaps 90 percent, maybe even 100 percent.

He goes on to state:

The theory is that aversion, not the pain itself, is the actual cause of suffering; the pain is just a sensation that creates that aversion.

The idea is that the pain isn’t what causes suffering. Rather, it’s how we choose to respond to the pain.

This echoes many of the ideas I’ve read in unrelated fields. Tony Robbins, for example, states that you can’t always choose the situation you’re in. What you can choose is how you react to the situation.

Much of this relates to letting go. I didn’t choose to be in this situation. It just sort of happened. However, I did choose how to respond to the situation in a novel way.

I didn’t get angry that my supervisor put me on the spot. I knew it was a possibility.

I didn’t let my nerves get to me. This feeling was only temporary.

I didn’t try to escape the knot in my stomach. Instead, I decided to embrace it.

I embraced that emotion building up inside of me. I welcomed it as if it was a guest in my house. I danced with it.

If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.

-Marcus Aurelius

I chose not to give more power to my emotion than it deserved. After all, it was just a physiological response that probably evolved over thousands of years. What’s the point in trying to change that?

I hadn’t read anything about grasping and clinging prior to doing this presentation. All I knew was that I would choose how I would react to the situation. And running out of the room wasn’t an option.

So I took a deep, mindful breath. I felt those emotions inside of me one more time. Then…

“I want to thank you all for joining us today…”

It was one of the best presentations I’ve ever given.

I was calm. I was composed. All because I didn’t escape my feelings. I welcomed them, embraced them, and danced with them. I try to do the same in all uncomfortable situations.

When was the last time you were in a situation that made you uncomfortable? How did you (or could you have) put a positive spin on it?