Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Distracting Red Blinking Lights

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

Painting by Ewoud Bakker

Sometimes I wake up and look at Twitter on my CrackBerry while laying in bed. It's a bad habit I developed... looking at my CrackBerry within minutes of waking. I went through different routines over the years and one of them involved not sleeping near my phone and keeping it in my office, so I'd have to physically get up to get it. The reasoning behind this was that I'd get more rest because if I woke up and started reading texts, emails, or Twitter, then I'd be up for good and never have a shot at falling back asleep. For a while, I tried to not look at Twitter or email or even the newspaper for at least a few hours after I woke. The reasoning was that those activities killed my productivity. Instead, I tried to make those time killers more like rewards to do after I accomplished a certain amount of work.

When I was deep into the poker industry, I couldn't sleep for more than an hour or two before seeing that red blinking light on my CrackBerry indicating messages. Most of the time it was something bad. I got into the biz because I wanted to write about a cool topic, but as the years quickly passed, I spent less time writing and more time putting out fires. After the government shut down online poker in America, it had become such a cutthroat business that it didn't take more than a few minutes before I become enraged or pissed off about something... moderating childish comments, blown off by delinquent clients, or getting notifications that the same inbred doughboys are stealing my content or friends' content. Seems like every time I picked up my CrackBerry, something bad was going down. Even if I was having a positive day and everything was going swell, one of my friends or colleagues would be stuck shoveling around shit that day and I somehow got involved by default. You know the saying... shit rolls down hill.

Of course, if I had better discipline, I wouldn't need to do Draconian things like hide my phone before I went to bed or ignore any external connections for three or fours hours after waking to ensure I got at least two hours of uninterrupted writing time before being tainted by the outside world with current events, gossip, or other work stuff. Instead what happens is that I wake up rather groggy and foggy with the first beams of light shooting through the blinds in our bedroom. Nicky is still in a deep sleep on her side of the bed and I can hear how far away the homeless people are based on the strength of the echo of cats and bottles rattling around as they dive through dumpsters. I even haven't rubbed all the boogers out of my eyes before I reach for my phone because of that red blinking light on the top that indicates "messages" and I'm addicted to data retrieval like everyone else from my generation. Besides, I'd hate to blow off that text message about a sick or dying relative. I'm still in bed when I read any overnight text messages (more like early morning messages from east coaster like my brother) and then it's sifting through the multiple accounts I have synced up to my phone. 90% of the email is pure junk and the rest is semi-important. This is precise moment when I immediately get behind... and I'm not even out of bed to start my day and I'm in the hole... because I'll read a bunch of emails and not respond right away and instead I'll say I'll do it later when I get to my office, but most of the time I forget or it gets pushed to the bottom of the list. Or, I get caught up in writing an email and I end up spending way too much time on something that only required a single sentence. In the end, I try to adhere to a very simple, yet stern policy... respond to emails as soon as I read them. If I don't have time to respond, then I shouldn't be reading them. If I wait until later, then I'm wasting time because I have to re-read everything, or I'm setting myself up to forget to do something... and I'm not getting any younger and compound that fact that I've been a pothead for two decades and it's a bad formula for becoming absentminded.

I read Tim Ferriss book about the 4-Hour Work Week. He suggested email reconciliation only once a day and then to set a specific time period to do it. I'm inconsistent and try to check email no more than twice a day instead of constantly checking my CrackBerry to see if I got anything new. When I limit that need to constantly check for messages, I all of a sudden become insanely more productive.

When I lived in San Francisco, I spent days without looking at my phone. I had not done that since I got a mobile phone. It was liberating and I felt as though I had no longer become a slave to the machines. Some of the best times I had on Phish tour last summer were when my phone battery died or I had terrible reception, so I was able to live in the moment and not worry about covering the show for @CoventryMusic's twitter feed.

It's been about a decade now since I finally got rid of a home phone (land line) and had regular mobile phone service. For several years I had one of those pay as you go phones. I purchased a smart phone in 2008 -- my first CrackBerry -- and it's been a blessing and curse, mostly a curse. Back when I lived in NYC and used to write, I would hide my phone in a drawer to avoid distractions. These days I toss my CrackBerry into a laundry pile and let it get buried underneath dirty t-shirts while I write. It's not until I have to send someone a message before I fish my phone out of the laundry. Or, I just turn it off. No links to the outside world equals no distractions.

No links, no distractions.

Anyway, once I get sucked into the CrackBerry moments after waking up, my day has officially begun and I already start to triage the shit I have to do. Everything I forgot to do or procrastinated from the day before gets the top priority. These days, I've been betting on the NBA regularly, so I have to check the lines and keep an eye on any sportsbetting positions or potential injury updates. This is just like investing or when I was trying to day trade or play the silver future market a couple of years ago... and I'd jump out of bed to see if I have any edges to exploit. After I survived the first waves of text messages and emails and checking the lines, then it's time to write... free write, blogging, or catching up on work. As you can tell, it's easy to get sidetracked and expend energy before I even sit down to do what I love best... writing.

Even when I'm writing, I still get caught up in the bullshit. Then comes the internal drama and there's a huge fight and it's always about time. The hardest part is setting aside the right amount of time, or trying to pull myself away from one topic to finish up another topic.  It seems like I'm always spending too much time on the wrong things and don't spend enough time on the things that need extra work. How much time am I willing to devote to each piece? At that point it's not even mid-morning and I've had already expended energy on that internal battle figuring out time allotment. Something is going to get neglected... that's the toughest part.... picking what gets the least amount of attention. Sometimes, no matter what sacrifices I make, it's never the right decision. I want to do too many things... and to my own detriment, I have too many diverse interests that something I'm spread waaaaaay too thin. That's why I needed time off last year to seriously re-think what I wanted to do... and what projects I wanted to explore... and how much time I would devote to freelance and how little time I would set aside for poker in 2013. In the end, I get a little bummed out about how little time I have instead of trying to focus on making the best of each moment.

Then again, I wouldn't have it any other way. Being spread too thin means I'm not settling on the status quo, and that I'm being active instead of sitting on my ass doing the same old shit.

I might get bored with a specific task, but I can live seven or eight more lifetimes and never be bored. If anything, I lose interest in things very quickly but I'm eager to move onto the next thing especially when I have a long list of other things I want to do, or see, or read. There's too much stuff I want to do, and sometimes I get paralyzed with fear when I do the math on how long it will take me to do a specific thing versus how much time I think I have left. Most days, I'm overwhelmed with too many commitments and afraid I cut off too much than I can chew. Alas, we never have enough time and it can all be taken away from you in an instance, so I'm driven by this overbearing knowledge that life is completely fragile which is why I push myself so hard to live in the moment, but try to do something different and new each day.

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