Eddie’s note: This is a guest post by writer Yuvi Zalkow, who is also a PE reader I’ve really enjoyed getting to know this year.
* * *
Without thinking about it, I recently did three seemingly unrelated things with my laptop:
- I swapped out my 320 GB hard drive for a 120 GB SSD.
- I uninstalled Adobe Flash, using the method described by John Gruber at Daring Fireball.
- I decided to experiment with internet tethering via my iPhone – when the affordable, high-speed internet provider I used at my studio office went out of business.
Basically, I’ve cut my hard drive space to a third of what it once was and I’ve made my ability to watch videos or do anything bandwidth-intensive almost impossible. (I’m also foolishly paying AT&T $20 more a month for this, but let’s disregard that issue for now.)
On the surface, these appear to be downgrades, but they’ve actually made me more productive as a writer type.
Taking ownership of your data
There have been several good articles about how to deal with less hard drive space, but to sum it up, I’m now taking more responsibility for what I dump on my drive. I’ve pushed off the bulky media and bulky software to a (rarely needed) external drive. The SSD contains mainly the stuff I need to write stories, which is where my passion really lies. (Turns out that even 64 GB would’ve been plenty. I guess I’m not as passionate as I suspected.)
Of course I haven’t emphasized that the SSD is super fast and that’s definitely nice, but the most pleasant surprise is how much I like the new limitations I’ve put in place for myself.
The uninstallation of Flash is probably the least relevant item on the list because internet at this office is now too slow for reasonable video viewing of any kind. (It’s just that I like doing what Gruber suggests because he’s eloquent and perceptive.) I’m also employing Gruber’s cheat for when you’ve got to use Flash so it’s not a total shutdown of Flash. Even so, it happens to be another convenient barrier to prevent me from watching what are usually distracting video links someone might send me while I’m trying to focus on writing.
No more dancing cows
And so now let’s talk about my new, improved, crappy, overpriced internet scheme. I’m not trying to suggest that everyone turn off their high-speed internet and start tethering, but I’m just shocked how much it has helped me. The thing is, no matter how much I think I ought to unplug completely, I just can’t realistically do that on most days. I need to check and respond to email a few times a day. And I need to look up a few things here and there online for my writing.
What I’ve now learned to do is think twice about going online while I’m writing. And I lean towards the things relevant to what I’m working on. The book I’m working on requires me to do some (mostly text-based) research, but rarely does it require me to watch a video of animated dancing cows, for example. So it works out great.
Also, as a bonus, I find that I can now quickly reply to emails from friends and family who send me links of silly videos. I can say, “Couldn’t watch the link you sent me about the cows because of my crappy internet connection, but good to hear from you!” Much better than letting these emails sit in my “To Do” folder as I guiltily don’t watch the video for four months (and counting).
Embracing the barriers
I guess my point is this: can you put up barriers for yourself that help you focus better on what you truly want to focus on? The biggest and fastest and smartest tool in the toolkit isn’t necessarily the best one for you at the time.
I understand that limiting internet access and hard drive space is only useful for some pursuits – many pursuits require piles and piles of bits streamed to your computer, so you might need to get more creative about your barriers than what I’ve done.
It doesn’t have to be a big change or a long-term change either. It could just be a mental shift. Maybe just for an hour. Or a dozen minutes. Switch rooms or use a smaller desk or create a user account on your computer with limited access to distracting things. Give yourself access only to what you need when you need it and see what comes of it. You might be surprised just how far you can go with the right barriers in place.
You can read and see more of Yuvi’s work at yuvizalkow.com. Thanks, Yuvi!