For the first few years of elementary school, I was a funny kid.
I’d act out in class, do something when the teacher wasn’t looking, and every other day I’d often be sent to the principle’s office for being a smartass.
It was my way of distracting everyone from the fact that I had massive attention deficits and couldn’t focus on any singular task for more than a few minutes at a time.
So I was the person who was pulling everyone’s attention away from the teacher, away from the task at hand, and towards me.
Being funny and making people laugh made me feel good, but it had no real value.
At some point, after dozens of instances of this, the school decided to get a psychological evaluation and diagnosed me with, you guessed it, ADHD.
Days after that, I started taking Ritalin — and suddenly, the kid who could barely sit still for more than a few minutes in class began grinding his teeth in the back of the room like a strung-out meth addict, eagerly anticipating the next lesson.
I went from being a perfectly mediocre but troublesome student to someone who was soon being selected for advanced level classes in elementary school, and middle school.
I now found myself with reserves of focus that could last upwards of two to three hours.
While math and other subjects started to quickly get away from me in their complexity, the one thing I was always drawn towards was English.
English was an opportunity to be creative.
English was an opportunity to craft words compellingly and to tell stories.
I loved English, even though it never really loved me back.
And so, in my Ritalin-fueled days, I’d often spend hours and hours at home at the computer crafting beautiful essays that I’d never turn into my teacher — always assuming that they were far more poetic than my teacher’s ever thought.
It wasn’t until 9th or 10th grade that I started to cut myself off from using those drugs — I felt that they’d killed a part of me that I wanted to get back.
A part of me that found joy in making other’s laugh, even if it’d bothered the shit out of my teachers.
So I stopped — and with that, my grades began to plummet, as well.
But I always found solace in those long writing sessions — spending sometimes what would amount to hours for creative lessons and assignments that teachers would never read.
And to really craft something that drew a teacher’s attention, I needed that time.
Instead of being the ADHD kid who could tell jokes, I needed to become the Ritalin-laced child who could tell stories.
In the last few months, I’d been finding myself being increasingly drawn towards exercises and actions that produce short-term dopamine hits but very little long-term gain.
LinkedIn, email, and Reddit all come to mind.
In minutes, I can get dozens of notifications and comments on posts, read all about the world, and respond to several non-urgent, and completely unimportant emails.
I’ll feel accomplished, even if the work that I’d just completed amounts to nothing in the grand scheme of life.
Sitting down and committing even 30-minutes to a single piece of writing would often be difficult, but I knew that to create the sort of written work that I wanted to create — stories that move people to take action — that I’d often need hours and hours of focused time.
For videos, sometimes dozens of hours on a single video.
That started to change when I recently relaunched my blog — whereas before, I’d find myself sporadically spending maybe a few minutes a week writing out emails to my list, I now started to find myself spending hours upon hours every week writing extensive blog posts and stories.
(In a given week, I write around 1,000 words per day.)
But those moments of deep focus are still broken up by minutes (and sometimes hours) of fractured attention, thanks to our friend social media.
I’ve started to remind myself that social media doesn’t give a shit about me or my dreams.
That even if I win on someone’s channel — whether that be Instagram or Facebook or Twitter, or whatever — that I am still contributing to their success.
The media have become masters of this as well — they’ve learned that through stoking fear and outrage, that we will spend more and more time on their websites and channels, and they will earn more ad-dollars.
Tech companies, media companies, and everybody else vying for your attention do not give a shit if you have a dream or a vision for yourself that does not involve them.
Nor do they care about your mental health or well-being — they simply want you to spend as much time on their products so that they can make more money.
Like the little funny kid in 1st grade — they are the ones vying for your attention while you become increasingly distracted from the task at hand.
It’s time to break the habit of busyness.
In the past few weeks, I’ve tried to spend more and more of my time on long-term, valuable tasks and less and less time on complete and utter bullshit.
I’ve done that, in part by:
- Eliminating a lot of client work that was often meaningless, time-consuming, and frankly short-term focused and begun focusing almost purely on more long-term client projects.
- Going to bed without my phone nearby so I remove the urge of opening up stupid apps at 2am in the morning that fucks up my sleep and makes me angry.
- Spending more time everyday journaling, writing, and exploring ideas in-depth — and less time sending off useless emails.
- And reading more. Instead of spending an hour on my phone or on Netflix right before bed, my only option is my Kindle. In the past few weeks, I’ve read about a book a week which is a total freakin’ world record for me. For the first 18+ years of my life, reading even a Dr. Seuss story felt like a feat of Herculean effort.
As Cal Newport writes in Deep Work, “What we choose to focus on and what we choose to ignore—plays in defining the quality of our life.”
Our attention is an insanely valuable resource that we’ve started to abuse in recent years — most of that isn’t entirely our fault.
Social media, including the likes of TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, and dozens of other channels, have created this completely baseless FOMO — that if we don’t actively cultivate our social media presence on any of those channels, our friends will forget about us, clients will no longer find us, and people will stop giving a shit about who we are.
Over the past few weeks, I have all but eliminated my engagement on many of those channels — LinkedIn was the only network, as of a few weeks ago, that I was actively posting to several times a week, and I basically stopped.
I stopped because…
A. I no longer found any enjoyment from contributing to that community.
B. I started to realize that, after striving towards building a massive following over the last year or so, that it was essentially a meaningless goal. Increasingly, I was discovering that 99% of ‘Influencers’ on those channels do little more than inflate their numbers.
That an alarming amount of content is stolen.
And that if your content is simple to reproduce — short videos, short text posts, and simple images — that it is almost always worthless in the marketplace.
I’ve found dozens of ‘Influencers’ with 10s if not 100s of thousands of followers whose businesses likely never cleared an average white-collar salary.
Whose puffy titles of, ‘Thought Leader in [X]’, mean little more than the fact that they spend an inordinate amount of time creating easy-to-repeat, easy-to-steal content that no company in their right mind would ever go out of their way to hire anyone for, let alone reward them with through significant monetary investment.
And so, I’ve stopped contributing tiny, meaningless bites of content to channels that won’t reward that work, anyway.
I’ve started focusing more and more of my attention on highly intensive, meaningful work.
Things that bring me joy, satisfaction, and that expand my mastery as a writer, filmmaker, and entrepreneur.
And I challenge you to start looking at your day-to-day actions under the light of that microscope, too: are you finding that more and more of your time is spent doing what equates to surface-level actions that build no real value beyond meager internet points?
Last month, I posted an article on Quora about the current situation in Japan in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s been read by over 800,000 people — the only meaningful response I’ve gotten from that beyond highly-politicized commentary is a message in my inbox that read, “You got force-fed Ouzo in Greece!?!”
(So, uh, zero. Zero meaningful connections and interactions.)
Writing is easy to reproduce and rarely rewarded in short form.
A few weeks ago, I posted a video that took me hours to film, hours more to edit together, and is the culmination of 1000s of hours over the last few years working on my filmmaking craft.
(Which means that I am still very much a total beginner in the world of filmmaking.)
Only a few thousand people have seen that, but it’s already resulted in at least two client projects that I can directly tie it to.
When you look at the things you spend your time doing on a day-to-day basis — which you can easily do with a tool like RescueTime — is it time well-spent, in deep focus, building things with long-term value and appeal?
Or is it all just noise?
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