Weeknotes #9,894: We need to disconnect to make sense of all this

I gave an internal presentation this week on distraction, overload and how we need a better balance of wired and unwired time. Because very little at the Guardian is internal any more (we are all mutualised, after all) I'm going to share it.

Less a presentation and more a collection of thoughts and observations, this is about a kind of digital crisis I find myself in. That's partly down to the pressures of the job, commuting and being mother to a little fellow, which puts more pressure on my time and my (already admittedly unrealistic) personal expectations of how much work I could and should be producing.

I've written before about trying to shift away from that world of frenetic, short-form blogging to more in-depth, feature-style posts. Breaking off from our playground of distracting techness is part of that. My posts about email are part of that too - it is a medium designed by accident which was never intended to be used this way. Can't we do something better, something bespoke?

Lastly, I've been delighted and inspired by Hamlet's Blackberry, William Powers' yet-to-be-released-in-the-UK book on Digital Maximalism, the condition under which we all live.

So here's my ten points for thinking about changing the way we work, or Digital Maximalism. If the presentation seem a little cryptic, see the notes below...

(This is a Prezi, so click on the options menu on the bottom right - More/Autoplay)

To elaborate:

1 Motherhood
: Changes your world view, rather. I no longer have the option of staying on for a few hours to make up for fiddling with stuff or being distracted, so I have a renewed interest in working efficiently.

(Yes, I know the video of the little fellow is sideways, but it was late...)

2 Distraction: Powers' quote from Hamlet's Blackberry says it all. At what expense is our perpetual connectedness, our constant communication? Powers argues that the effect of all that connectedness is a lack of depth, an unfulfilling restlessness and neglect of our more meaningful inner lives.

3 Email: It's one of the biggest time sinks of our working day. I argued that email's legacy of letterwriting is the curse here, burdening us with the expectations of etiquette that it is rude not to reply, that we must use greetings and signatures. Couldn't we learn from the efficiencies of Twitter here?

Liberate yourself with three-sentence emails, I suggested, scrap the greetings and signatures and only reply to emails you can reply positively to. If it's a meeting you can't make or a pitch you can't follow up, don't reply.

I had an idea for visual email; I'm not proposing a business but just trying to put ideas out there that might germinate elsewhere, perhaps. (Extremely accurate mock-up of visual email here, ahem.)

4 Twitter: We know how powerful and invaluable it is - and I'd be the last person to renounce it - but it also epitomises the digitalia that overwhelms us. Technology is at an exciting and explosive point right now but it is also very unsophisticated. The next phase is to get better at developing these technologies to work better for us and to discipline ourselves a little better. Do you think we could check Twitter once an hour instead? Would it still work that way?

5 Blogging: I talked about the shift in understanding of what blogging format and culture means. Gawker has moved to a more refined vision of reverse chronological format on its front page, but we, as publishers, still have far to go on confidently exploring and exploiting the medium.

6 iPad: Rupert Murdoch is wrong. He might love the walled-gardenness of the iPad but as a heavy, commuting user, I think it is far from perfect. The screen is delicious and video, photos and light surfing are good (until you come across something built in Flash), but writing anything of any depth is torturous and the cursor is infuriating. Efficiency has a lot to do with decent interface; iPad has a very long way to go. Don't ditch the laptop just yet.

7 Voicemail
: Radio 4's brilliant Down the Line once had a sketch about a professor of philosophy who couldn't get to grips with recording his own voicemail greeting. "Hello - this is the professor of philosophy at... well, it's not actually the professor of philosophy - it's a voicemail message... BEEP." I like wittily efficient voicemail messages. Mine says don't leave a message. Not so witty, but it's good to filter down the amount of stuff you have to process.

8 Integration: There's still plenty more to do in working out how newsrooms efficiently produce platform-specific content for both digital and print. I say 'platform specific' because I think there's a recognition that platform neutral very often doesn't work. Specialisms are good. Feature writers should write features. Podcasters should do podcasts. Web news hacks should write news for the web. Why not be specialised - and efficient - in what we all do best?

9 Remote working: Before I went on maternity leave, I thought homeworking was a great idea. After nine months at home I was climbing the walls - there's no substitute for getting out. We need to tackle an implicit culture of presenteeism. The technology offers us the opportunity to work from anywhere, but we need to maximise that by taking our work to places that will inspire us, give us space and bring new and exciting connections.

10 IT
: Every corporate environment imposes stifling restrictions like firewalls, blocks on downloads and locked down machines that can't be customised. There are practical reasons for those from the point of view of systems administrators, but that all has an impact. Less control over our machines makes them less personal and less customisable; the latter is an important part of becoming familiar and confident in using a machine. and making it intuitive for how we work. Do what the internet does - do whatever you can to route around the blockade!

Thanks to those thoughtful commenters lakey, jonvaughan, Abetts and thelondonphoto, on last week's post about encouraging innovation.
And to Louis Ravenet at 2 Paper Dolls for posting his thoughts on encouraging innovation, which is about being brave enough to break things:

"Start-ups: The ultimate outsiders looking to bring down antiquated, broken processes through their love of the blank slate. A blank slate for them is liberating, in fact, it's often all they have: the ultimate freedom of having little or nothing to lose. Start-ups are addicted to the nagging, 'What if…' It's the question that gets them up in the morning and, likely, keeps them up all night."

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