An experiment in managing distraction...

Yes, I’m one of those people. I preordered the Apple Watch early in the morning on its first release, several weeks ago, before almost anyone had seen or touched it in person. I ordered a relatively expensive piece of electronics that saves me the exertion of pulling my phone out of my pocket.

In all truth, during most of the lead up to its launch, I had no intention of buying an Apple Watch. But as talk increased, my curiosity grew—and maybe not for the reasons you’re guessing.

As an improviser, business leader, parent, and human being—I think about attention a lot. Just as our calendars and bank accounts often say more about our values than any other statements we make, how we direct our attention is a key indicator of our truest values and approach to life. Time and energy are more critical currencies than any dollars you can pull out of your pocket.

The Apple Watch, like all other smart watches and phones, will serve as a great test to its wearers’ values—but also, perhaps, as an asset. 

The notifications, trivial emails, cat videos, and candy crushing games we carry around in our pockets on our phones already steal countless minutes and hours that could be spent on more meaningful endeavors. I’ve been as guilty as anyone of burning an hour reading Buzzfeed lists when I really should be doing something more creative, productive, and significant.

So, why—you may be asking—am I entertaining the possibility of strapping those distractions to my wrist?!

A fair question.

The Apple Watch may prove to be only an exacerbation of the plague of attention-drain that we are all battling in this modern world. But I’m also hopeful that the Apple Watch and other similar devices may have potential as deliberate lenses and filters with which we can focus our attention.

Any screen that’s connected to the internet these days deserves careful scrutiny towards its settings and what information you allow to pop into your frame of view. With its prominent wrist real estate, a notification-capable watch deserves the most scrutiny of all. I don’t plan to allow any email notifications, nor will social media dings be allowed space on the postage stamp sized screen.

Even more powerful, the capacity of smart watches as not simply information presenters, but also as idea collectors, has real potential to magnify our creative output.

Never mind my smartphone, my brain pings me with annoying distractions as often as any device I own does: “I really should mulch the yard this Spring….we’re out of toilet paper…I can’t forget to call Julie at work about the proposal due on Monday….next week is picture day at school for the kids….what did I just come down to the basement to get?”  

All of these unorganized and random mental alarms interrupt our focus and interfere with our ability to be present and at the top of our game.  As David Allen says, “Your brain is for having ideas, not holding them.” 

The capacity of smart watches as not simply information presenters, but also as idea collectors, has real potential to magnify our creative output.

I have long used an app called OmniFocus to manage all my projects and todos. There are lots of apps that do this sort of thing, but OmniFocus is my favorite for reasons I’ll write about at some other time. The key feature I love is that it syncs a master database of projects, todos, responsibilities, and deadlines across my MacBook, iPhone, iPad, and now my Apple Watch. It integrates with Siri, which means that whenever one of these thoughts comes to mind I can quickly capture it and get back to the project I’m working on.

Next time my brain reminds me that I need to pick something up at the store, find some information about conference I just heard about, or draft an email to the board, I’ll just raise my wrist and dictate the note into my watch. It’s immediately captured to my OmniFocus lists and I’m back to what I was doing.

Your brain is for having ideas, not holding them.
— David Allen

Capturing new ideas and quickly dealing with distractions is one of the most critical keys to doing our most meaningful work whether that’s launching a new project, being prepared to make this afternoon’s meeting as productive as possible, or having a calm and present dinner with your kids. Having a clear mind that’s not encumbered with the heavy lifting of keeping track of everything allows your mind to focus on what it loves most: exploring new ideas and possibilities, solving problems, and being present with the people around you.

So, I’ll be experimenting with this new watch and seeing how well it works as an asset and a liability when it comes to living a more creative and productive life. I'll keep you posted on what I discover.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear how you deal with all the daily distractions that pop-up—both mental and digital. What are the tools (electronic or analog) you’ve discovered help support your most creative and meaningful work?

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© Andy Zimney and Leading Off the Cuff, 2015.


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Andy Zimney is a writer, speaker, and facilitator. You can learn more about Andy and how he can help you and your team at AndyZimney.com.