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Assessing the Infinity Pools that Harm Personal Productivity

John Zeratsky, co-author of the book Make Time: how to Focus on What Matters Every Day writes about what he considers the most insidious type of smartphone distraction, “Infinity Pools”.

Infinity Pools are always-on, effectively infinite sources of information and entertainment. Things like: Pull-to-refresh apps (Facebook, Mail, Instagram, Twitter, etc); Video streaming services (YouTube, Netflix, HBO, etc); Even web browsers (Safari, Chrome, Firefox, etc), which provide on-demand access to pretty much all the information in the world.

Others might call them bottomless pits, time sinks or time drains. It doesn’t matter what you call them. Infinity pools can be a big problem left unchecked. In my own life, I know my failure to mindfully engage with infinity pools has damaged my personal productivity.

As part of a recent effort to be more mindful about the way I spend my time, I’ve tried to be more honest with myself about my own personal infinity pools. Here are a few of the ones I’m susceptible to:

  • Political news: Some days I can’t get enough of it. But if I’m honest with myself, I need to realize there’s no point in trying to consume it all. There were scandals 100 years ago and there’ll be endless scandals 100 years in the future too.
  • Tech news: Same as the above. There’s no shortage of new announcements or tech pundits telling us about the latest rumors and releases. In fact, almost all “news” is an infinity pool.
  • Online comments: I can’t help myself sometimes. I see an article or a video and I want to get a pulse for how people are responding to said content. Sadly most online threads leave me angry, irritated or sad. There’s no point in getting drawn into the endless debates and flame wars online.
  • TV and Netflix: I’ve mostly licked this one but need to be attentive going forward. The shear amount of original television programming available today is staggering.
  • Reddit: I’ve deleted reddit from my phone in the past, but it always gets reinstalled. While I take solace in the fact that I’m not active on Facebook or Twitter, I have to be honest and admit that Reddit serves the same purpose in my life.

Identifying these infinity pools is a good first step but since I’m serious about reclaiming my time, I also need to take action. Awareness of the problem isn’t enough/ To that end, I’ve established some new “rules” to curb my addictions to these infinity pools:

  • Limit news consumption to two 15-minute windows in the morning and the evening.
  • Remain mindful about my television watching by maintaining a “want to watch” list of programs and limiting the amount of time I watch tv programming (no binge watching).
  • Reddit: deleting the app from my phone and only checking reddit as part of my above two checks per day for news. Reddit browsing will only occur on the desktop.
  • Online comments: If I reduce my news consumption, I should be see a commensurate drop in time spent on silly online threads.

I’ll be working on the above for the rest of the month and will report back on the blog if these changes yield any big insights or benefits.

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