Things I could do when I couldn’t focus, paid-work edition:
- Attend meetings.
- Make useful contributions in meetings.
- Take notes.
- Review email.
- Answer email.
- Field tech support requests (“I can’t print!” “Would you tell me what you see on your screen?…”).
- Annotate tech support tickets and mark them completed.
- Update project plans.
- Skim trade mags.
Things I can do when I can’t focus, grad student/summer 2020 edition:
- Walk, unless there’s a heat advisory.
- Read a book, unless it’s something I want (or need) to remember.
- Review my email, now mostly mass-mail.
- Read social media.
- Play solitaire.
The former set can easily consume days, and contributes to the organization. The latter… is feeling more and more sparse as the summer progresses.
I think, for me, there’s a quality to decoding — reading, playing cards — that listening (to podcasts or audiobooks) and/or watching (movies, TV shows) doesn’t engage. I don’t “get lost” in the audio-visual the way I do in print. Or digital solitaire. (Digital? Because who wants to shuffle cards? Not me!)
Maybe that’s also what made those paid-work activities effective autopilot for me — decoding others.
Now there’s just me.
And decoding myself ain’t autopilot, either.