Monday 11 January 2016

Time and Timers: A Good Resolutions Post for 2016

Posted by Perig Gouanvic

Some say that the Internet age is deleterious for our brains, that we have become scattered and shallow; others applaud this change, insisting that we are simply adapting to a new and better age of connectivity and openness. Being prone, from birth, to being scattered, I would have some advice for those who are starting to wonder what their brains are becoming in the Internet age.

I made the discovery of a technique (wait, this is not promotional material -- I have nothing to sell!) that is based on the hypotheses that the brain is not really capable of focusing, to its best, on a single thing for more than 25 minutes maximum (on average) and that hearing and controlling a timer can help exorcise the anguish of time. I did not try this technique to boost my "brain power" but rather because I was intrigued by the idea of devoting such short periods of time to the 10 or 15 different things that I have in mind everyday (15 times 25 minutes fits in a single day). These things are extremely different one from the other, and it is the fact that they kept nagging me, even becoming intrusive, one idea coming into conflict with the other one, that caused me to be mentally too exhausted to do anything at all.

I guess this is how most of us feel when they have about 15 different tabs open in their browser.

Only a few days after I started to practice the first elements of this pomodoro technique (that's how its called; tomato in Italian, because timers often are tomato-shaped down there), the heap of other things to do stopped bothering me and I could focus for about 20 minutes on a single thing. And then on another one. And so forth.

After a few days I had to stop using this technique because it had changed my personality  rather profoundly. I drew several lessons from this tomato-free day. But the most important is that there is a time to be frantically scattered and superficial. It is the daytime version of REM (random eye movement) sleep, and it is as important. The only problem is that we are REM awake too often, these days, because of the Internet; ultimately this REM awakeness becomes counterproductive. Learning to manage my own inner tabs not only helps me to be more structured, but to be more positively scattered, more intuitive, when I decide to stop structuring myself.


docmartincohen said...

Great, indeed life-changing', post. I need this clock always watching me. Not that I agree to respect the limit, mind!

Perig Gouanvic said...

Yes, the time limit, I suppose, doesn't have to be respected all the time, and this method should not be a self-imposed straightjacket. More like a stepping stone, like many stepping stones you can offer yourself in a day.

In addition, the reluctance to respect a 20-25 minutes time limit might be a symptom that the limit should be set higher for cerebral types like us. I tend to think that, often, my limit, the moment when I start self-sabotaging because of a lapse in focus rather occurs around the 35th minute. In addition, some days we feel much better or much worse. But once you get a feel of your chronotype for the day, it's simply respectful of your body to keep the same rythm.

I wouldn't be surprised if this technique, being, obviously, used by persons who have more problems focusing, tended to make 25 minutes look like a kind of constant, while in fact, if it was taught to persons who wouldn't normally look for it, other values would emerge.

Today, OTOH, after very little sleep, 20 minutes look like the very best I can do!

docmartincohen said...

Perhaps too, it all hinges on how intense your 25 minutes is. Maybe I do 25 minutes thinking in about 2 hours of other people's time?

eugenealper said...

"But once you get a feel of your chronotype for the day, it's simply respectful of your body to keep the same rhythm." I like your idea of being respectful of my body. I think it is important. For example, after years of resisting my body's urge for a 20-minute nap every so often, after trying to fight it and always losing the fight, I finally gave up a couple of years ago, and have been much happier since. "I need to respect my body" I now say to myself, "it is the vessel of my immortal soul." And I don't feel guilty anymore taking a nap. Now I think being in concord with my body is important: I respect it, and in return, I think, it may be bothering me less than it might otherwise.

Perig Gouanvic said...

Thanks Eugene, I have reflected on this in the last day.

I have focused a lot, in the past, on the needs of our bodies from an orthomolecular medicine perspective -- keeping the right amounts of the right molecules in your body, avoiding the wrong molecules too -- but this mostly technological and costly method kept me from trying harder and harder to actually feel what my body needs. Still today, the tomato thing is essential, because otherwise I quickly lose sight of what's happening in there! I wish I knew more of all those needs I have -- we have -- and do not realize we have. Exercise in one of those needs for sure... Thirst too. Proper posture (I can tell you about it! I just when to the physio today...)

Huge project, that would easily keep busy a bunch of editors...

docmartincohen said...

This is me being humourous, by the way...!

docmartincohen said...

Yes, I used to feel bad about staying up late and then sleeping in. But now I think that is how my internal clock works (or doesn't ) and well, if one is luckily able (that's 'luck' in some ways, not in others, in my case - I'd like to have important commitments 'in a way') to sleep in...?

Perig Gouanvic said...

Ah... yes, Delayed sleep phase disorder... or syndrome...

part of life -- we used to be those who guarded the fire when others slept, listening to potential dangers in the wilderness... now, well, we pay attention to other dangers, and cultivate other kinds of fires... or try to...

Keith said...

“[H]earing and controlling a timer can help exorcise the anguish of time.” For me, to the contrary! I couldn’t imagine becoming more hypersensitive to and anguished about the passage of time than if I were to subject myself to the torturous pressure of ‘hearing and controlling a timer’. Aaaagh! But, on a more positive note, I can buy into the notion of a personal ‘chronotype’. I’ve been aware for years that I do my best—more creative—navel gazing before I even arise for the day. I sometimes awaken around three or four in the morning, and remain in a ‘twilight’ period for at least a couple of hours, every so often making a groggy grab for a piece of paper within reach in order to jot down random thoughts about ‘the topic of the day’. To be sure, this exercise is by no means an ‘everyday thing’—far from it. It’s occasional. Whether the habit ties in with the highfalutin ‘alpha brain waves’ supposedly associated with that half-awake state, I have absolutely no idea—and, frankly, I don’t know whether it matters. The point is, for me, it works. It’s my ‘chronotype’. Some chunk of the rest of the day—usually right after a dawn java jolt—I try to make sense of my in-the-dark shorthand and buckle down to the more worker-bee task of trying to make something coherent, on paper, out of my hieroglyphic scribbling. Well, not really on paper, of course, but while staring into my computer screen. And, to be sure, in the absence of a ‘timer’! Oh, and yes, for me a measly twenty-five minutes won’t cut it—more like a few hours, please. Again, my ‘chronotype’. Thanks, Perig, for prompting reflection of what works.

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