On Distractions and Tools

I’m writing this blog post to relate the following:

I’m planning a reading tour through the American Revolution, probably starting with Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, by Bernard Bailyn. It stood out most to me after perusing multiple pages for good starting points.

Truthfully, I’m writing this blog post to relate why I’m planning a reading tour through the American Revolution. It was instigated by my sudden desire to get a grasp of the basics of the Revolution and the people and ideas around it. That came out of peeking into an IRC channel full of my American friends. Which happened because I opened my chat terminal session. Because I’d just logged on to my server.

I logged onto the server to change my status page from working.gif to dancing.gif. I was doing that because I had just visited my own blog and seen the status-page post on it. I visited to… write a brief post, about doctype vs DOCTYPE in html5 documents. I was writing that post to relate some amusing and interesting facts that came out of researching it. [1]

I found those facts after an instance of “DOCTYPE” in Bootstrap’s examples set me off reading about why people prefer the different casings and whether they matter at all.

That’s all because I sat down half an hour ago, thinking, “I should make a quick stab at building my list-webapp page, or at least think about it.” I’ve since been like a ping pong ball zooming back and forth between making and consuming, flung by inspiration and curiosity.

Overwrought Introspection Section

This is a normal pattern for me. I’m a bit curious if it’s normal for everyone, but I’ll stash that curiosity for now, because I’m onto something here. I fortunately know where my thoughts would usually lead: I’ve found a book, so I’ll try to find a copy to acquire. I know I’ll either never read it or take aeons to do so, so once I’ve got an ebook, I start looking for audio. If I haven’t wandered off.

I’d flounder at finding audio for a bit and end up researching text to speech options. My probability of not being distracted into a wholly new line of thought by now is nil, but if I miraculously stay on-task I’ll start trying to get the ebook onto my phone, which mysteriously does better text to speech (for free) than my shiny desktop computer. Then I’d give up and resolve to return to it tomorrow.

But first, I would start to write a blog post about it.

The blog post would devolve into some vague call for a text-to-speech service, or a list-manager (to keep from getting so lost and distracted), or some unspecified knowledge tool that would help shorten a cycle and increase the ratio of signal to noise in my life. I’m not going to risk looking back through my old blog posts for prior art — I would spiral out of control! Rest assured, those posts exist.

And that’s where we’ll return for now. Thinking deeply about this will take some time, but for now, I feel like distraction of this sort is a natural result of the mixture of curiosity and highly available information. Maybe it can be useful.

Tools Considered Helpful

As usual, I still think that tools can help.

Something to help keep track of a branching tree of ideas and mental states one encounters while researching / focused on other tasks would be useful. A list management tool feels like it’s worth trying for this. My vision is a little bit like workflowy crossed with trello: not a single permanent list, nor a tool for moving items between many lists — more about easing management of the variety of lists we already make) would be amazing for this situation. I could make a “dec 28th research thoughts” list and throw things into them to scan for later, along with my “dec blog post ideas” list. Deleting either of those or swiftly clearing cruft from them and merging their content back into other collections should be easy.

Things to shorten the loop between thought and action, i.e. “I want to be writing code for my website” to “I am in the write/test cycle, working in my website” would make me do more work, more often. Faster ways to open text editors already exist. It definitely hurts me that my primary “simple web dev” environment is also my primary IRC environment — I may change that.

Shortening the loop between discovery and consumption would lessen the opportunities to wander off down intriguing candle-lit corridors and be a step on the path to superpowers. Quickening “I want to read a book” to “I am listening to a good sounding voice reading that book at a good speed.” would likely result in monocle-level riches, and probably also in me being a gosh-darn genius.

Tools to prevent distracting actions might also be worth considering, like search/social/new-context blockers, to keep me in-context when I want to focus. I’ve seriously considered cancelling my home internet connection, and I feel that the argument for it gets stronger by the day.

The Cycle Continues

So, ra ra ra, I’ll go make the tools or whatever. When it’s not 4:00 AM, and when I’m actually able to get past the attractive nuisance of the distractions available to curious minds on the internet.

Which is indistinguishable from a euphemism for never.


1. I’ll get to these sometime.

One thought on “On Distractions and Tools

  1. I can relate to this so much. In fact, I stumbled onto this post very much the same way you might stumble onto a blog post via a link you found in a tweet written by another curious mind that decided to share it as they themselves got caught on a distraction tangent somewhere between researching best auto-repair manuals on amazon and determining which might be available on audiobook for their ride home the next day if only they could figure out how to fix the car that sits broken before them right now.

    I digress. What I really wanted to ask is, what did you uncover about the differences between DOCTYPE and doctype? I’ve been wondering about this myself since I have to teach this one line of HTML5 code repeatedly at LLC beginners’ workshops. And every time someone will ask whether it matters that they be uppercase or lowercase letters. I say no because I’ve tried both ways with seemingly no perceivable difference to show for it. I hope you get to that blog post eventually because I’m afraid I’ll get too distracted momentarily to bother researching about it myself.

    Also, have you ever used mindmeister? It’s a brainstorming tool that allows you to connect thoughts in a web-like fashion. That’s the best way I like to make lists of ideas and thoughts. The issue is that I’d like it to be available in more organized formats after I’m done sorting through the mayhem of my brain. I think that’s the biggest problem I have with list-making tools. The free-associative and messy way I’d like to put ideas down is not the way I’d like to stumble upon them later. I think there should be more tools that allow you to reformat your lists depending on what you may need them for or how your brain feels like reading them at any given moment.

    Good post.

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