For focused reading, disconnect wifi

Today I had a 50-page PDF whitepaper to read. I didn't know how long it was going to take, and — wanting to conserve my laptop battery charge – I disabled my wifi. It took me suprisingly little time to skim the paper and dig into the more relevant parts in detail, taking some notes as I went along.

During the ~2 hours it took me to work through the document, I tried to access the Internet about ten times. Either by clicking a link in the whitepaper itself, or trying to follow up on a tangential thought with some info online. But! My wifi was switched off, and I'd need to click the network manager icon to re-connect to the net. I chose not to do that, and instead continue reading.

Each time my impulse to access information was frustrated, I realized that had I been online, I would have wasted precious minutes reading tangentially-related web pages, and then some more time again, trying to get back to reading the original PDF, reestablishing the reading context and exerting willpower to stay in the PDF reader.

Acting on these distractions would have defintely prevented me from ingesting the whitepaper in 2 hours.

After the fact, I realized that what I'd achieved accidentally is the productivity hack identified by Matt Might as crippling your technology. By removing functionality from our tools and keeping that which is strictly necessary for completing the task at hand, we remove the 'friction' that gets in the way of sustained attention. Yes, we do "lose" some capabilities, but we make up for it by making it easier for ourselves to focus on the goal.

I'll try to keep this technique in my tool-belt, especially when I need long periods of focus.

Apart from Matt Might's productivity writings, a lot more in this vein can be found in Cal Newport's books & blog posts.