If you are in any way into podcasts you may have heard of Note to Self, a great show about technology and being human. You may also have heard of their week long challenge to reduce the information overload many of us experience day to day – Infomagical. It consists of five challenges spread over five days, each designed to help you take back control of your digital life. In addition, you choose an information goal to reach using the challenges: I chose to increase my knowledge in a particular subject; there was a complicated topic I needed to bend my brain around for my oral exam. I actually thought I had a pretty good relationship with technology, but there’s always room for improvement in everything, so I thought why not? This is how it went down…

Day 1: Single tasking (2/5)

Not the greatest of starts. I live in a world that encourages multi-tasking, but as they mention on the show for this day, there really is no such thing. I knew that just concentrating on one thing at once was when I really got my best work done, but it’s so easy to become distracted by external things. I was also a little confused about exactly how singular a task should be. For example, I often listen to music (IDM, stuff with no human voices) or rain sounds when I work. I find it helps to keep that overly excited part of my mind occupied so I can concentrate. I decided that since this is a known entity in my ability to focus, I should keep it.

I started the day well with this challenge. I didn’t listen to music on my cycle to the lab, I made myself coffee and poured it without trying to do anything in between. I even managed to do my first couple of tasks without distraction, but around lunch time I realised I was trying to have a Hangouts conversation and read a paper at the same time. Then I needed to check my email (something I reserve for after lunch) and it all went to hell after that. I was double or triple tasking and my willpower got more and more eroded and my mind got more and more noisy. Who knew simplicity would be so difficult?

Day 2: The magic of tidying (5/5)

Today’s challenge was to tidy up my phone and any other devices I wanted to. To sweep away all those useless apps or other weapons of mass distraction, turning my digital space into a task oriented world. I was kind of at an advantage already – I have a fairly old smartphone that has limited memory so I constantly have to uninstall apps to make space. However,  did take the advice of one of the guests on the day’s podcast and clear my phone’s homescreen. I divided all the apps I regularly use among three folders, and got rid of any surplus notifications. It felt good. Then I cleared up my browser and my desktop that had been getting a bit out of hand. Then I went home, cleaned the kitchen, the bathroom and my room. That wasn’t part of the challenge, but once you’re on a roll…..

Day 3: Just say no (5/5)

I didn’t really earn any accolades here. Since I installed the Facebook newsfeed eradicator, it’s been particularly easy for me to stay off social media. I don’t use my Twitter account much and most of the people I interact with on a daily basis are also graduate students who also have no time to read every meme of the day. This is definitely an important part of the challenge because I know I used to spend forever scrolling down and wondering what I was doing with my life.

Day 4: Have a conversation (0/5 on the day, 4/5 later on)

This is my number one suck. I’m really bad at this. Despite being a total motor mouth in all other situations, I have this road block when it comes to talking about science stuff. Probably a remnant of my horrible oral exam failure experience, but something I’ve always really hated. I can’t seem to muster the courage to talk out something, apparently even if my career depends on it. I didn’t manage to do it at all on the day, but did have one eventually the next day with a colleague. I will hide behind reasons of the difficulty of talking about a really niche topic with a random and actually having my face in a microscope for most of that day.

Nailed it.

Day 5: My notes to self

I learned a few really good things this week:

  • Single tasking is REALLY hard and I should try it more often. Maybe try a single-tasking Monday or something.
  • I owe it to myself to start making baby steps to start talking out scientific concepts – I think this is something a lot of graduate students can benefit from at any point in their career. Or maybe I’m the only person that finds this hard?
  • Keeping my space cleared is a good way to start preventing procrastination. Do this little and often – 10 minutes a day?
  • I can learn quite a lot in a week if I put my mind to it. I think I already knew this, but somehow forgot it along the way.


Image courtesy of Note to Self