This is an excerpt from The Answer is in the Conversation, dedicated to my dear friend on the west side.

Humans are social beings that have an emotional need to interact with one another. As technology evolves, the number of digital tools continues to expand, along with the amount of time we dedicate to using them. Articles on the dangers of overuse abound, warning us that increased screen time may cause a decrease in our cognitive functions. And it has been well documented that one particular tool, social media, is designed to be addictive.

Recently, a study on social media use was conducted at the University of Pennsylvania by psychologist Melissa Hunt and her research team. A total of 143 undergraduate student volunteers were divided into two groups to examine the potential causal role that social media plays in an individual’s well-being. The control group practiced their typical social media behavior, while the experimental group limited their Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram use to ten minutes per platform per day. The findings “strongly suggest that limiting social media use to approximately 30 minutes per day may lead to significant improvement in well-being” (Hunt, Marx, Lipson, & Young, 2018)

In a recent interview about the study, Hunt discussed the findings, which were published in the Journal of Social & Clinical Psychology.

“Here’s the bottom line. Using less social media than you normally would leads to significant decreases in both depression and loneliness.”  (Berger, 2018).

When Hunt was designing the study, she did not consider halting the experimental group’s use of social media altogether. “Hunt stresses that the findings do not suggest that 18- to 22-year-olds should stop using social media altogether. In fact, she built the study as she did to stay away from what she considers an unrealistic goal” (Berger, 2018). 

For many people, it would be hard to imagine their lives without social media. Millennials and post-Millennials (or Gen Z), in particular, view social media apps as a tool that connects them with friends, provides a space to share their views, and facilitates the process of finding employment. These are just a few of the positive effects of using social media in a responsible fashion.

“There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to support either assessment [arguments for and against social media]; however, research into the effects of social media is still in its infancy, so scientific data are relatively scarce. What is clear is that the internet, social media, and the digital devices on which they operate are here to stay. Therefore, it is incumbent on each of us to understand, and help others to understand, how to use them productively and responsibly” (The Good, Bad, and In-between of Social Media, n.d.).

Make a conscious effort to exercise your intellectual independence by constructively limiting, not eliminating, the use of social media applications. Talk with your kids about what it means to be a responsible social media participant. Gently monitor their usage and keep the conversation going.  In this way, you can ensure that social media will be an enhancement to online life, increase social capital, and provide a gateway to connecting “in real life” (IRL).

until nxt time …


Berger, M. (2018, November 9). Social media use increases depression and loneliness. Retrieved from

Hunt, M. G., Marx, R., Lipson, C., & Young, J. (2018). No More FOMO: Limiting Social Media Decreases Loneliness and Depression. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 37(10), 751–768.

The Good, Bad, and In-between of Social Media (n.d.). Retrieved from


The ability to concentrate and focus are two skills educators strive to help us cultivate during our developmental years. Two verbs from the same species. They are highly coveted and necessary to perform valuable work. And yet, they seem to be disappearing.

The mental skills we once took for granted are threatened by the tools and apps that dwell in our high-tech environment. Their push notifications beckon to us, stealing our focus and robbing us of our ability to concentrate. One might say these skills are on the endangered list. Here are three things you can do to save them from extinction in your life.

1. Limit your time on social media.

Time is a finite resource. It’s a worthwhile exercise to evaluate how you spend your time and what you spend it on. Many of us spend what little discretionary time we have on social media.

In an address at Stanford University, Chamath Palihapitiya (former Facebook Vice President of User Experience) warns graduate business students of the addictive nature of social media. He hasn’t been an active social media user for years.

“People need to hard break from some of these tools … the short-term dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works.”
– Chamath Palihapitiya, former Facebook VP of User Experience

Deep Work author Cal Newport feels so strongly about it that he suggests quitting social media, or at least controlling how much we use it. He challenges his readers to isolate themselves from it for thirty days, and then ask themselves two pivotal questions: “Would the last thirty days have been notably better if I had been able to use this service? Did people care that I wasn’t using this service?” (2016, p. 205).

His advice? Quit social media if your answer to both questions is “no.” If yes, return. If it’s unclear, it’s up to you, but he encourages his readers to “lean toward quitting” (Newport, 2016, p. 205). Why? It takes away from your ability to spend time doing deep work, which delivers greater value in exchange for your limited time.

Clive Thompson writes “… the true danger of social media is … the problem of time – and becoming stuck in the present.” He concludes by saying “A culture that is stuck in the present is one that can’t solve big problems” (2017).

2. Train yourself to focus and concentrate.

If you have already conquered these skills, congratulations. If, like many of us, you have not – it’s a worthwhile goal. But, like so many things, you are limited by the amount of your desire. “Your ability to concentrate is only as strong as your commitment to train it” (Newport, 2016, p. 180).

There was a time when the ability to concentrate and focus was exercised regularly. Today technology insidiously usurps these valuable skills. If your attention span is dwindling, a recent article on offers these valuable tips on training your brain to focus:

  1. Get more sleep.
  2. Write down what is distracting you.
  3. Turn off digital distractions.
  4. Commit to what you’re doing.
  5. Practice.
  6. Integrate “distraction” breaks (Moran, 2017).

3. Overcome your desire for distraction.

Clifford Nass, Professor of Communication at Stanford University, conducted research on human behavior in the digital age. Cal Newport summarized Nass’ findings this way: “Once your brain has become accustomed to on-demand distraction … it’s hard to shake the addiction even when you want to concentrate” (Newport, 2016, p. 158-159).

A recent article in Entrepreneur magazine provides seven strategies for overcoming our desire for distractions. It’s helpful to build habits that help you stay focused. “The most productive people in the world get one thing done at a time” (Patel, 2018).

  1. Put yourself in distraction-free mode.
  2. Set three main objectives every day.
  3. Give yourself a shorter time frame.
  4. Monitor your mind wandering.
  5. Train your brain by making a game out of it.
  6. Take on more challenging work.
  7. Break the cycle of stress and distraction (Patel, 2018).

Don’t forget that “distracted” has become our default mode. It’s just so easy to log in to Facebook and fill the empty spaces of our time. Catch up with friends and family. See who’s debating whom in our charged political environment. Watch a few cute animal videos. It’s a great way to take us away from our daily drudgery, but it can be dangerous.

What we fail to realize in our day-to-day existence is how much time we spend feeding our impatience instead of feeding our mind. Remember, tempis fugit (time flies).

until nxt time …


Moran, G. (2017, January 10). The 6-step process to train your brain to focus. Fast Company. Retrieved from

Newport, C. (2016). Deep Work: Rules for focused success in a distracted world. New York, NY: Grand Central Publishing.

Patel, D. (2018, December 12). 7 proven strategies for overcoming distractions. Entrepreneur. Retrieved from

Stanford Graduate School of Business. (2011, May 31). Chamath Palihapitiya, Founder and CEO Social Capital, on money as an instrument of change. Retrieved from

Thompson, C. (2017, November 15). This Magazine → Social media is keeping us stuck in the moment. Retrieved from

Wang, A. (2017, December 12). Former Facebook VP says social media is destroying society with ‘dopamine-driven feedback loops.’ The Washington Post. Retrieved from


I am old enough to remember life without cell phones. When I was a new driver, I remember pushing my broken-down car off the road and trying to find a phone booth so I could call for help. Today, it’s hard to imagine any parent sending their newly-licensed driver out without the assurance of a cellphone (no walk to the nearest phone booth necessary).

And speaking of phone booths, when’s the last time you saw one?

Technologies from my childhood, such as boomboxes, walkmans, and traditional watches are quickly going by the wayside. In an excerpt from his book Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life, Adam Greenfield reminds us that “ … many of the things … once relied upon to manage everyday life … have by now been subsumed by a single object, the mobile phone” (2017).

“The global trend towards dematerialization is unmistakable” (Greenfield, 2017).

Our phones have become an extension of our body. They are the ever-present tool that helps us navigate our highly-networked world. But let’s take a moment to contemplate what our smartphones provide – or fail to provide – in our lives.

The Good.

Personally, I like to use my phone to look things up. It’s like having an encyclopedia and a dictionary in my pocket. And how about using Google maps for directions? That’s definitely good. Good when you’re walking and good when you’re driving. No need for a separate GPS in your car. So convenient.

And let’s not forget safety. Today parents use their smartphone apps to track their children – constantly monitoring their whereabouts; not only in the interest of their child’s safety but also for their piece of mind. And that’s definitely good. Or is it?

What about privacy?

The Bad.

“The share of Americans that own smartphones is now 77%, up from just 35% … in 2011”; but if you own a smartphone you have given up a significant amount of privacy (Pew Research Center, 2018) .

“If the smartphone is becoming a de facto necessity, it is at the same time impossible to use the device as intended without, in turn, surrendering data to it and the network beyond” (Greenfield, 2017).

Your smartphone is capable of reporting almost everything you do; but remember, the phone itself is not the culprit. The “overwhelming balance of its functionality must be downloaded … in the form of ‘apps’ ”. When you download an app you basically agree to “let your personal information be collected and sold to the highest bidder” (“Tracking devices,” 2019, para. 2). Your privacy has been monetized and is disappearing, just like phone booths (Greenfield, 2017) .

We want to think our personal information is private, but it’s not. Technology has evolved but our privacy has devolved; and basically, we’re blinded by our addiction.

“We’ve made this argument before and expect that many people will ignore it rather than give up access to the apps that help them work out more efficiently, find driving shortcuts or simply occupy themselves during quiet times. It’s a bad trade-off” (“Tracking devices,” 2019, para. 11).

So is your smartphone a convenient tool or a necessity? What price are you willing to pay to use it? Is it good, bad or … ?

You decide.

until nxt time …


Greenfield, A. (2018, January 8). A sociology of the smartphone. Longreads. Retrieved from

“Mobile fact sheet.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (February 5, 2018). Retrieved from

Tracking devices: Your smartphone is watching you — and reporting everything you do. (2019, January 4). Keene Sentinel. Retrieved from


Data is the beginning of a story. Stefanie Posavec came to that conclusion after participating in a year-long experiment. For 52 weeks, Stefanie and her counterpart Giorgia Lupi tracked their personal data around a shared topic. At the end of every week, Stephanie and Giorgia each created a hand-drawn representation of the data on a postcard and sent it across the Atlantic to each other; Stephanie lived in London while Giorgia lived in New York. Their goal was to get to know each other through the experiment they called “Dear Data” (Somerset House, 2016).

Like Stefanie and Giorgia, I also decided to conduct an experiment using my personal data; but it only lasted for five days and centered around how I use my cell phone. I purchased my phone seven months ago and although I am very happy with my choice, I often find myself getting frustrated with it. At the onset I hoped this examination would, at the very least, help me get better acquainted with my constant companion.

In his book Deep Work, Cal Newport said: “your world is the outcome of what you pay attention to” (2016, p. 79). By paying close attention to how I use my phone I became better-equipped to use it wisely. I also developed higher respect for the power it wields over my attention.

Here’s how I collected my data.

I carried a small notebook with me, recording anything I might have felt or observed each time I used my phone. At the end of each day, I used the notebook and my phone logs to enter my activity into a spreadsheet. Seven categories were used:

  1. Taking an incoming call
  2. Making an outgoing call
  3. Viewing a text
  4. Sending a text
  5. Checking e-mail
  6. Looking up information
  7. Checking Facebook

Before we get into the results, there’s something you should know about me. My friends will testify to the fact that I carp about texting frequently. When a text notification arrives, it’s very common to hear me utter “go away.”

Accordingly, I took the time to adjust my notification settings prior to the start of my experiment. And as naïve as I know I can be, I could not believe the number of apps I have. There were 68, and most of them were set to ON (by default no doubt). I happily turned all the notifications off with the exception of four: e-mail, messages, voicemail, and banking.

Ironically, I received an e-mail notification about a new posting from TechRepublic right in the middle of my collection week (Wednesday, to be exact). It was titled Top 5 ways to avoid notification stress, and it contained a great observation by the author. “Notifications are akin to somebody interrupting you to give you a cookie—it’s annoying and rewarding at the same time. Wiping them all out and starting fresh is a great way to get past that” (Merritt, 2019).

And so, without further ado, here’s a day by day summary of my phone usage.

MONDAY (A regular work day at the office)

I am not in the habit of using my phone before bedtime but I do keep it next to the bed overnight. I usually check my phone when I wake up, but in the spirit of trying to be mindful and getting off to a good start I resisted the urge.

I checked the phone for the first time at 8:07 AM for any last-minute text cancellations from my carpool. Only one notification, which read “1 apps are using battery.” My phone doesn’t have the best grammar skills but I appreciated the good news. Normally my phone is filled with more notifications than it can show on one screen.

My decision to adjust my notification settings was already paying off. I quickly came to the conclusion that if I was to learn nothing else from this experiment, at least I experienced two things: a better night’s sleep (the phone was wonderfully silent all night long) and longer battery life.

As Mondays usually are, it was a busy day and I only used my phone 13 times. Topping the chart was receiving/viewing texts (30.77%), followed by looking up information (23.08%), while checking e-mail landed in third place (15.38%). The four remaining categories tied for fourth place. All in all, a light day for the phone.

TUESDAY (Another regular work day)

Not much different than Monday. Two more instances of phone usage brought the total times I used it to 15. Receiving/viewing texts was again number one (33.33%), but sending texts (previously in fourth place) moved up to second place (26.67%). Checking e-mail remained in third place (13.33%). Another four-way tie for the remaining categories.

WEDNESDAY (1/2 day at work)

After a half day at work I headed to visit my daughter, who lives a fairly short train ride away. This deviation from the normal workday caused a surprisingly low uptick in usage – only 21 instances. Looking up information came in at the number one spot (23.81%), sending texts and incoming phone calls tied for second (each 19.05%), with outgoing phone calls in third place (14.29%). My daughter knows my preferred communication type is a phone call and the stats for the day definitely bear this out.

THURSDAY (Touring day)

Now the numbers go way up, which didn’t surprise me. I used my phone 33 times, mostly for texting. Outgoing texts came in at 27.27% and incoming at 18.18%. There was a tie for third place between checking e-mail (work, of course) and looking up information.

FRIDAY (Headed home)

This turned out to be the day I used my phone the most. I had expected to be back at work but things turned out differently than I had planned. Over the course of the day I used my phone 52 times, with incoming texts taking first place with a whopping 44.23%! Outgoing texts were a far second at 17.31% and outgoing phone calls a close third (15.38%).


The numbers are definitive. Despite my affinity for phone calls, texts are clearly the winner here. I cannot dispute the convenience and efficiency of using texts for short communications.

On Saturday I completed a short online questionnaire called the NPM-Q which measures nomophobia (the fear of being without one’s cell phone). My score was 64, meaning I am moderately nomophobic. This would have been more of a surprise to me had I taken the quiz prior to my data collection exercise, as the data shows I’m clearly more attached than I thought. I encourage you to take the quiz to see where you fall on the spectrum (Yildirim & Correia, 2015) .

Other observations:

  • I feel the desire to check my phone when I finish a short task at work.
  • I check my phone more when I am NOT at work.
  • I enjoy the convenience of checking my e-mail on the phone, although the desire to check work e-mail when I am out of the office may require a bit more attention on my part.
  • I use my phone as a reference device often, even when given the choice of another type of hardware such as a desktop.
  • I almost always forget to unmute my phone after an event (clearly not an extreme nomophobic).
  • Group texts are equally wonderful and aggravating when received at the wrong time.

Things the phone is definitely good for that I didn’t actively think about before the exercise:

  • Notifications of online order shipments and deliveries
  • Travel aid when out of town
  • Using text messaging to let people in your party know your location in a crowd


I have a love-hate relationship with my constant companion. Our relationship is complicated, and I am guilty of not taking the time to understand her better. I also believe that I can be happier when we have some healthy time away from each other.

Behavioral Science writer Winifred Gallagher found a correlation between attention and happiness. She said, “skillful management of attention is the sine qua non of the good life and the key to improving virtually every aspect of your experience” (Newport, 2016, p.77).

Be mindful and manage your attention.

Stefanie and Giorgia’s experiment in data visualization resulted in the realization that “data is the beginning of the story, not the end, and should be seen as a starting point for questioning and understanding the world around us instead of seeing it as the definitive answer to all of our questions” (Somerset House, 2016).

My conclusion? How much time I spend with my companion and what we do together is up to me. Like any good relationship, the experience can make me happy but it’s not responsible for my happiness.

Now I just have to convince Siri.

until nxt time …


Merritt, T. (2019, February 6). Top 5 ways to avoid notification stress. TechRepublic. Retrieved from

Newport, C. (2016). Deep Work: Rules for focused success in a distracted world. New York, NY: Grand Central Publishing.

Somerset House. (2016, March 3). Big Bang Data: Dear Data. Retrieved from

Yildirim, C. & Correia, A. (2015). Exploring the dimensions of nomophobia: Development and validation of a self-reported questionnaire. Computers in Human Behavior, 49, 130-137. Retrieved from


This week I have read so many articles on the dangers of digital technology that I feel like my head is going to explode. I also added a couple of articles about time management for good measure.

Don’t get me wrong; this is good stuff. But when you boil it all down, what steps can we take to manage our time so that we can (1) perform fulfilling work and (2) have enough of the downtime necessary for our overall good physical and mental health?

Anyone? Anyone?

Unlike the Economics teacher in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, no one has a perfect set of answers. Time management is a lot like diets; what works for you may not work well for me.

I tried some new time management techniques with my team at work, and they seemed to be somewhat helpful for everyone. For me, not so much. My to-do list is still long and my distractions are still, well, distracting.

But there’s hope.

During my (exhausting) research this week, I stumbled upon a book titled Crash Course in Time Management for Library Staff by Brenda Hough. Now I’m definitely not a librarian, but what the heck, a librarian really has to manage a lot of stuff — so I took a look.

Now I admit I didn’t read all 99 pages, but I did skim what I could see online and I found a statement that intrigued me.

“Effective time management is not about being a faster machine. Rather, it is about feeling less stress and greater satisfaction with work and life after work with friends and family” (Hough, 2018).

Here’s something Brenda has helped me realize. 

I most probably won’t get through my to-do list on most days, but that doesn’t mean I have poor time management skills. Priorities can change by the minute, so the ability to be flexible is essential. Helping someone work through a rough spot or answering a question when they just can’t seem to find an answer is rewarding. Distractions, particularly those from people, can actually be a stress reducer. And they definitely bring me satisfaction.

I’ll continue to work on my time management skills, but I’ll also add “helping people out when necessary” to my to-do list. Daily.

Thanks Brenda.

until nxt time …

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels


Hough, B. (2018). Crash course in time management for library staff. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

pmw8000. (2011, December 29). “Anyone, anyone” teacher from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off [YouTube]. Retrieved from


Around the time I was in high school, my two older brothers and their significant others provided me with nieces and nephews. I loved being an aunt, and have many fond memories of the times I got to spend with them. And now, all these years later, I am enjoying the privilege of being a great aunt to their children.

During a recent visit, one of my great nephews told me he was afraid of a picture I had hanging on my wall. Immediately, I recalled a story that has helped me face my fears and decided I would share it with him and his brother.

In the wild, hunting to eat is a necessity. Smaller animals, like antelopes, are the primary source of food for lions. When lions hunt they work in concert with each other. When an antelope approaches, the older and weaker lion roars, causing the antelope to turn and run in the opposite direction. What the antelope fails to realize, however, is that younger and stronger lions lay waiting in the opposite direction. The antelope would have had a better chance of survival if he had faced his fear and had the courage to “run to the roar.”

Despite my attempts to try to dissuade my nephew from his fear of the picture, he continued to bring it up.

Later that day I suggested we watch a movie, and it happens to be one of my favorites. James and the Giant Peach is a movie that was released when my daughter was a child. It’s the story of a young boy who learns to confront his fear, which manifests itself in the form of a rhinoceros.

When you’re a child, sometimes things are scary. Come to think of it, things can be scary when you’re grown up too.

One of the scary things for me is the long-term effect of how dependent I have become on technology. The separation anxiety I feel when I inadvertently leave my phone behind is a concern. Not to mention how devastating it feels when the network goes down at work or even at home. I feel the need to be connected.

When my daughter was born, the internet was still in its infancy. By the time she was in high school, it quickly became the source of great concern to many parents. Would increased screen time eat away at our children’s study time? Would our children be able to control their desire to spend inordinate amounts of time on Facebook?

Today, more than ever, we are choosing to ignore the addictive nature of the media that inhabits the phone we all carry around in our pockets.

In a recent article from The Guardian, Paul Lewis gives details of six former Silicon Valley employees of Google, Twitter, and Facebook who are shining a light on the addictive nature of our phones, social media, and the internet (2017).

One of those six is James Williams, an ex-Google strategist. In a TEDx talk Williams said: “This seems to be a crisis of design ethics; a crisis of self- regulation.” We need to “start asserting and defending our freedom of attention” (TEDx talks, 2017).

Tristan Harris, former Design Ethicist at Google and founder of the Time Well Spent movement urges us to realize that technology is not neutral. It is driven by advertising, and the advertisers’ goal is “getting attention at all costs” (Cooper, 2017).

In a recent 60 Minutes episode, Anderson Cooper interviews Mr. Harris, who warns that Silicon Valley is “engineering your phone, apps and social media to get you hooked” (Cooper, 2017).

Anderson Cooper: You call this a “race to the bottom of the brain stem. It’s a race to the most primitive emotion we have? Fear, anxiety, loneliness, all these things?

Tristan Harris: Absolutely. And that’s again because in the race for attention I have to do whatever works.

So what exactly does the brain stem do?

“It controls breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure. Furthermore, it controls almost all other physiological process(es) and involuntary activities without which you wouldn’t be able to survive” (Mindvalley, 2019).

“The closer the tech companies can get you to fear, anxiety, and loneliness, the closer they are to winning the race for your frequent attention” (Tabaka, 2017).

If you spend any time at all with the articles or information I have included in this blog, I’m sure you’ll feel the same sense of fear I experienced while reading them. Like the antelope (and my great nephew), there’s a big piece of me that wants to turn and run away.

While he was at Google, Harris wrote a 144-page presentation titled “A Call to Minimize Distraction & Respect Users’ Attention.” It’s a wake-up call imploring us to recognize how apps and emails are “destroying our kids’ ability to focus.” Most importantly he observes that “humans make different decisions when we pause and consider, vs. when we react immediately” (Harris, 2013).

So instead of running away, I am choosing to do what James Williams suggests. I am choosing to assert and defend my freedom of attention.

I choose to pause and consider the importance of my precious time and how I spend it. To control the itch to constantly check for that latest e-mail, see what’s happening on Facebook, or check who has updated their Instagram post today.

I won’t abandon my digital presence, but I will run toward the roar knowing what lurks in the shadows behind me.

I will channel my attention so that I can produce “deep work” instead of chasing fleeting messages that don’t mean much in the big scheme of things.

I choose to spend more time with people rather than machines. People like my nieces and nephews. Children like my great nieces and nephews.

Children are wonderful beings. They see the world with new eyes, and there is wisdom wrapped up in the gentle way they view the world.

When my great nephews left, I wasn’t sure they got the message I was trying to send. But later that day I received a text from their dad. It was a video of my great nephew telling me to “Run to the Rhino.” He embraced both messages … the story about the lions, and the movie about James facing his fear. He made the connection. With four simple words, my nephew became a messenger with me as his sole listener. And now, I am sharing his important message with you. Run to the Rhino!

until nxt time …


Cooper, A. (2017). Brain Hacking [Television series episode]. In Bast, A., Campanile, G. (Producers), 60 Minutes. Retrieved from

Foer, F. (2017, September 8). Perspective | How Silicon Valley is erasing your individuality. The Washington Post. Retrieved from

Harris, T. (2013). A call to minimize distraction & respect users’ attention. [Powerpoint presentation]. Retrieved from:

Lewis, P. (2017, October 6). “Our minds can be hijacked”: the tech insiders who fear a smartphone dystopia. The Guardian. Retrieved from

Mindvalley. (2018, December 22). Everything you need to know about brain stem function. [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Tabaka, M. (2017, April 12) Brain Hacking: The possible cause behind your smartphone separation anxiety. Retrieved from

TEDx Talks. (2017, September 12). Stand out of our light | James Williams | TEDxAthens. [Video file]. Retrieved from


My mother always said “A busy life is a happy life.” Her motivation to keep me busy was three-fold (with an emphasis on number three):

  1. Exposure to a variety of extracurricular activities allows a child to find something they’re passionate about.
  2. This exposure helps your child become well-rounded.
  3. Busyness keeps your child from “getting into trouble.”

Worthy goals, indeed. For those of you who were raised with this model, do you truly find happiness in your “busy-ness?”

Socrates said “Beware the barrenness of a busy life.”

Look up the word barrenness and you’ll find an intriguing entry.

The quality of yielding nothing of value.

I am struck by the similarity between the word “barrenness” and the phrase “shallow work” (defined by Cal Newport in his book Deep Work).

shallow work
Noncognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend to not create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate.

Yielding “nothing of value” is the prime characteristic of barrenness. Can we make the logical connection between these two definitions to conclude that shallow work can produce barrenness? And if we do, should we go one step further and adjust Socrates’ quote to read “Beware the shallow work of a busy life?”

It’s possible that my mom’s well-intentioned parenting model — one shared by a great number of Americans — could, in fact, result in a child who is poorly equipped to do “deep work.”

deep work
Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.

I admit it; I enjoy being busy. But I think I need to redefine busy. Busy should include longer stretches of time doing things like reading books that will challenge me to think more deeply.

For me, the adage “happiness is fleeting” applies. Being busy can make me superficially happy, but I’m seeking the profound feeling that comes from going deep. And yes, I’m diving in.

until nxt time …


Newport, C. (2016). Deep Work: Rules for focused success in a distracted world. New York, NY: Grand Central Publishing.


In a scene from the movie The Social Network, Jesse Eisenberg says something the real Mark Zuckerberg may or may not have actually uttered. It’s delivered right after he looks out a window, distracted by the fact that it has just started raining (Movieclips, 2011). 

A deposing lawyer asks “Mr. Zuckerberg, do I have your full attention?”

“No” he answers.

The lawyer replies “Do you think I deserve it? Do you think I deserve your full attention?”

“You have part of my attention. You have the minimum amount.”

We have become a society that is unwilling to pay attention for any great period of time. Everyone is looking for the shortest way to do everything; get to the point and make it quick. But truly, we pay for our haste in missed opportunities.

A recent post from Azeria Labs poses the all-important question “Why is it, that although we have access to all the resources we need for developing a new skill, we fail to do so, even if we have the time or could rearrange our schedule to make time for it? Perhaps we have forgotten that the distractions we face on a daily basis prevent us from performing to the best of our abilities” (Markstedter, 2017)

Have I captured your attention yet? 

Here are three things you can do to help grow your attention span and use your existing skill set to maximize your natural talents.


Our lack of attention affects the way we read and learn. In The Shrinking Reader Attention Span, Anne Janzer shares that “All of us are skimming through online sites and articles, multi-tasking across devices, leaving browser tabs open, and probably doing less focused work than we remember doing in the past” (2018).

So what’s the big deal? Doesn’t the fact that we read at all count for something, even if it’s on a screen? In his opinion article titled I Have Forgotten how to Read (Harris, 2018) Michael Harris claims that “when we read in the disjointed, goal-oriented way that online life encourages – we stop exercising our attention.”

So start a training program — with books!

What we read matters, so whether it’s on a screen or printed on a page, it’s a good idea to read more books because READING A BOOK DEMANDS YOUR ATTENTION (just in case you’re skimming). It you don’t like it after 50 pages, stop reading (see #7 in the list below).

Have you begun to skim yet?


The good news is that the amount of reading choices available through various flavors of media has motivated many people to read more than they ever have before. But how much of what you read do you remember? Generally, we read more but retain less because how you read matters.

In the Farnam Street blog entitled How to Remember What You Read (Parrish, 2017), Shane Parrish outlines seven practical steps you can follow that will enable you to become an “active” reader.

  1. Take Notes
  2. Stay Focused
  3. Mark Up the Book
  4. Stop and Build a Vivid Mental Picture
  5. Make Mental Links
  6. Keep Mental Models in Mind
  7. Put It Down If You Get Bored 

Not sure you’ll do all seven? Too much work? This next recommendation, also by Mr. Parrish, can make a HUGE difference. 

“Upon completing a book, grab the nearest (willing) person and tell them about what you have learned. You’ll have to remove or explain the jargon, describe why this information has meaning, and walk them through the author’s logic. It sounds simple. After you try it the first time, you’ll realize it’s not easy.” (Parrish, 2017)

Be an active reader.

If you’ve made it this far, don’t worry; this is the last one. Most people can only remember three things.
(Clark, 2018)


Eric Schmidt, the former chief executive of Google said “I still believe that sitting down and reading a book is the best way to really learn something.”  

Number one distraction? Of course it’s your phone. How many times a day do you check it? According to Deloitte’s 2018 Global Mobile Consumer Survey: U.S. edition, fifty-two. When you really think about it, how do you accomplish anything else?

Having Your Smartphone Nearby Takes a Toll on Your Thinking (Duke, Ward, Gneezy, Bos, 2018) details a study that measured cognitive capacity when participants were asked to perform a complex cognitive task in three scenarios: 

  1. While they had their smartphone with them, 
  2. put away, 
  3. or in another room.

It’s not a big surprise that people performed the worst when their phones were nearby. Even if they set the phone to silent and it was face down. 

According to Cal Newport in the book Deep Work, “network tools distract us from work that requires unbroken concentration and simultaneously degrades our capacity to remain focused” (2016).

Network tools?  They’re things like e-mail, text messaging, and social media. Admit it, they can be addicting.

Summary? Don’t let technology control you. Increase the amount of quality reading you do. 

This is the beginning of a new exercise. 

Choose a good book, carve out some time and put your phone on silent. Better yet, try turning it off for dedicated periods of time and exercise your attention span by reading more. 


You made it to the end. Well done.

until nxt time …


Clark, B. (2015, September 10). How to use the ‘rule of three’ to create engaging content [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Deloitte. (2018). Global mobile consumer survey: US edition. Retrieved from

Duke, K., Ward, A., Gneezy, A., & Bos, M. (2018, March 20). Having your smartphone nearby takes a toll on your thinking. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from

Harris, M. (2018, February 9). I have forgotten how to read. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from

Janzer, A. (2018, June 12). The shrinking reader attention span [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Markstedter, M. (2017) The importance of deep work & the 30-hour method for learning a new skill. Retrieved from

Movieclips. (2011, May 31). The Social Network #10 Movie CLIP – Your Full Attention (2010) HD . Retrieved from

Newport, C. (2016). Deep Work: Rules for focused success in a distracted world. New York, NY: Grand Central Publishing.

Parrish, S. (2017, October 23). How to remember what you read [Blog post]. Retrieved from