Monday, December 3, 2012

Benefitting from a single focus

One reason why I won't be buying a Windows 8 tablet anytime soon is the home screen. Last week I was at the Microsoft campus in the UK and had my first opportunity to try one of the new devices for a few minutes. I found myself mesmerised by the constantly changing tiles on the home screen, always presenting me with new information.

And there lies the problem. It's way too distracting. I already have to fight to think through a situation for a few minutes without interruption. (One of the reasons why I enjoy going for a run: to clear my head for half an hour, keeping fit in the process, and thinking, with only the occasional incoming call to disturb me.)

My regular Windows desktop glories in its multi-tasking, alerting me to a contact signing in to Skype, yet another email arriving, even just that Norton is cleaning the disk or making a backup. Each alert catches my eye and takes a little bit of my concentration to decide if I need to take action.

Even my preferred MacBook Air has its temptations for distraction: I can get Skype and email alerts clamouring for my attention there, too.

Yes, I know I can turn most of these things off. That takes desire, motivation, skill and time; and regular maintenance. This time saving tech steals my time in keeping it working the way I want it to.

One of the many reasons I've fallen in love with my iPads and iPhone is that they hide their (crude by comparison) multi-tasking behind an all-screen focus on what I'm doing now. I get a subtle top-of-screen alert to incoming emails; but remain focused on this article from The Economist; or that presentation I'm preparing; or the web page or Twitter stream I'm reviewing; or that spreadsheet or PDF or document ...

I can switch between these things so quickly and easily. But by not seeing the proliferation of windows competing for my attention span I find I'm more productive and much less distracted. For me, the animated tiles of the new Windows versions seem a step backwards to a messy desk state. I have enough trouble concentrating to be productive without "upgrading" to something that'll make that harder!