You know that sensation you feel that stops you from what you’re doing and entices you to check your email, or your social media feeds, or whatever has a call on you? Todd Henry calls it ‘the ping’.
Todd’s definition of the ping has been really useful for me. When he described it as a philosophy, it struck a chord: “Something out there is more important than whatever is right here”.
People say that if you call out and name a problem, you begin to weaken its hold on you. I think by recognising this impulse and actually labeling it, you’re in a much better position to get on top of it.
Hello Ping, we see who you are now, and soon, we’ll have you on the run!
It’s getting more difficult though. The connectivity revolution has meant that we can access pretty much anything in the world at any time from an electronic device that sits on our lap or in our hand. As we are fortunate to live in a truly wonderful world, it makes perfect sense that at any time, there’s something going on ‘out there’ that’s as least as interesting as we’ve got going on here, with the possible exception of when we are talking about ourselves!
Research is now revealing that the lure of email, social media etc. is as, if not more, addictive as the kind of drugs that have ruined lives for centuries. Why wouldn’t we be attracted to the unlimited excitement and fascination that awaits us in the big bad (online) world?
This is a problem, and one we need to tackle. Fast.
Back to Todd’s definition: he doesn’t use the word interesting or fascinating or entertaining. He uses the word important. And that’s good news. I’m not sure we can compete and win on grounds of fascination or entertainment but we can certainly decide for ourselves what’s more important. And this means we can own this problem, and take responsibility for it.
I’ve battled with the ping for a few years. I find some days I have him under control, other days I find him over-powering. But here’s something that I find works well for me. I’m going to call it ‘The Pause’. (why not name it and capitalize it, makes it seem very authoritative. Thanks Julien Smith, and others!)
I’ve noticed that when the ping hits and we stop what we’re doing to explore something else, it’s rarely a one-step process. Let me explain that by reminding you of your days of studying in a library. One minute you’re reading your book or scribbling on a page, then something distracts you, you look up and the spell is broken. It’s a one-step thing. You’re working, you look up, now you’re not working.
With electronic devices it tends to be a two or three step process. You stop what you’re doing, you click on something new, you wait for it to launch, then you’re off on another path. Sometimes you have to complete another step, press another button, enter a password etc. This is actually great because it creates some space for The Pause. And what is The Pause? It’s that moment when you realise when you’ve been pinged and you hold back before you commit to the distracting activity.
At first, it can be difficult to always do the right thing when you notice The Pause. You’ll probably find you’ll proceed to checking your email or Twitter or the news or whatever it is. But over time, you’ll begin to notice that you always have a Pause. And some of the time, you can actually back away from what you were going to do and go back to your work. The more you do this, the more strength you will build (some call this discipline or willpower) and you will be more likely to feel The Pause and then go back to work.
Environment matters a lot too. The more distractions that are within eyeshot, the worse the ping will be. All forms of reminders or alerts, apart from those which signal an appointment, are bad news. They are the highest form of the ping. As far as I know, it’s possible to disable all of these alerts. If they’re pinging you, get rid of them.
I’m learning a lot by working with a couple of our Smarter Egg circles on this topic. This stuff sounds so easy but it trips most of us up, most of the time.
(Image credit to Claudia Regina via Flickr)