Monday, March 06, 2017

Email Ninjerie Update: My Old-School Tool to Break the Ludic Loop

Behold the Zassenhaus.
Back in December of 2016 I posted "Email Ninjerie in the Theater of Space-Time or, This Writer's 10 Point Protocol for Inbox 10 (ish)." As I explained, for me the game-changer was point #1, tackling email in scheduled batches using a stopwatch. To quote:
I usually do 20 minutes of email processing with a stopwatch. It's not that I am trying to hurry through my email, but rather, I am respecting the limits of my brain's ability to effectively focus on it. I'm a speed-reader and I can type faster than lickety-split, but on most days I can deal with email for only about 20 minutes before my brain cells run low on glucose and I end up scrolling up and down the screen, dithering, feeling scattered in short, procrastinating. (You might be able to do 10 minutes, or, say, an hour in one go of course, not everyone's energy to focus on their email is the same, or the same every day and in every circumstance. One can always set the stopwatch for a different amount of time.) 
Don't believe me about batching? Check out the extra-crunchy research at MIT (PDF). 
By processing email in 20 minute batches, when the sessions all add up over the arc of the day, I find that I accomplish more in, say, one hour of three separate 20 minute sessions than I would have had I plowed on for an hour straight.
When the stopwatch dings, I do not expect to have finished "inbox zero" is a fata morgana! And that's OK, because I have another email batch session already scheduled (a few hours later, or five minutes later. It's important to take a break, at the very least stand up and stretch.)
Above all, because I am focussing on email at my convenience, on my schedule, my attention is no longer so fractured... [Read the complete post here

I didn't put it this way in that post, but now that I've grokked the term ludic loop, I must say, that rrrrrring slices right through it. In other words, paradoxically, the reason I was drowning in email was that I was spending too much time on it. That is, I would get stuck in a ludic loop, checking, looking, checking, looking. 

Yes, indeed, gentle reader, batching with a stopwatch works. But of course, when it goes off, you have to actually stop. I added the habit of standing up. Bell rings, I stand up. 

Which stopwatch to use? Of course everybody and their uncle's cousin's zonkey has a smartphone with a stopwatch app, and I know, for a lot of people, especially those under the age of 30, any other option would be, like LOL, a total eye-roller. 

For those answering email on their laptop, such as myself, I recommended using a free on-line stopwatch (get yours here). 

But of late, I have switched to using a mechanical Zassenhaus kitchen timer.* I chose that particular brand because it's better quality and heavier than the average cheap-o plastic kitchen timer.

Why an old-fashioned kitchen timer, pray tell? Because using something not on the computer screen but in the real world-- ye olde meatspace-- helps me stay focused on the task at-hand. It's one less reason look at the "desktop," one less thing to have to go click on (and so reduce the risk of another journey down the rabbit hole, or to put it another way, of getting caught in a ludic loop). 

As I quoted David Allen in my guest-blog for "Cool Tools" on why I use a paper-based organizing system, "low-tech is oftentimes better because it is in your face."


Methinks Dmitry Orlov is onto something. But that's another post.


*Perhaps you are wondering if I have not heard of Francesco Cerillo's The Pomodoro Technique and  his tomato-shaped kitchen timer? (Pomodoro means tomato in Italian.) Actually, I have... long, long ago... so long ago that I had entirely forgotten about it until this very moment! Well, definitely, Cerillo is onto something! Check out his website and watch his introductory video about the technique here. But I am not actually using the  "pomodoro" technique which, as I understand from having just watched the above-linked video, is about doing all kinds of work in stopwatched 25 minute "pomodoros," or chunks of time. For the past months I have been working on email in not only 20 minute batches but also 10 minute and, on occasion, even 5 minute batches. Neither do I want to stopwatch all the work I do... I like a lot of fluidity in my day.


One of the benefits of fluidity in one's day:
As the Muse does not call,
one can ever and always take the opportunity to 

assume energizing random yoga poses.
My writing assistant demonstrates.

> Your comments are always welcome. Write to me here.