Mechanically Self-enforced Independence

Screen shot 2014-03-06 at 7.52.28 PMEnforcing independence is the topic for week two of Rhizo14 ~ an oxymoron if ever there was one. The concept was introduced with the idea of the teacher or facilitator forcing students to be independent but I am going to turn inward and talk about enforcing my own independence/productivity through a mechanical means – my timer.

I sometimes use a timer (harp tone on my iPhone) to assist me in staying on focus and being reflective (I contend that being focused and reflective naturally makes for independence). In digi-world I can easily succumb to spending copious amounts of time going from one interesting link to another on the Internet with very little pause for sense-making, creating, curating, sharing – let alone eating or sleeping! Twitter is particularly dangerous for me. I use my timer in a variety of ways and I want to make it perfectly clear that I do not always use it and I am not slavishly obedient to it.

When I do use it I will set it with the idea that I will allow myself so much time to;

  • wander aimlessly into areas of interest
  • write
  • read etc.

Then when the timer goes I consider how much, or what I have accomplished and whether or not I will continue with that particular activity. If I am using Harold Rheingold’s ‘3 goals on a Post-it note’ method I consider my three top goals for a session on the computer, write them on a Post-it note and sticking the note near the screen of my computer so that I see it continually as I work. I try to pause when the timer goes off to ask myself if I have indeed remained focused on my three goals or if I have wandered (and why?). I will check to see how much I have accomplished.

I also use the timer to give me a warning if I have to leave my session for any reason; go to work, make a meal, meet someone etc. It is very easy for me to loose track of time. By using the timer fairly often I have become better and better at both estimating the time it will take me to do certain things and I have become conscious of where I spend time. As I said above I do not always set a timer and I often override the timer – I treat it and myself to a fair amount of flexibility.

My last timer trick has become more and more significant as part of my working process and with it I am far more rigid in my adherence to the dictates of the timer. I almost always set my timer when I am doing some serious writing (longer than a comment type of writing ex. a major paper, a book chapter, an essay,  a major blog post etc.) When the timer goes off I STOP writing. It is VERY annoying because usually it goes off when I am in full swing. This is actually very important for two reasons.

  • it makes it a great deal easier to return to the work at my next session. I do not have to worry about writer’s block or procrastination. I am usually chomping at the bit to get back to work.
  • even though I physically stop the work, somewhere in the back of my brain the work continues. Often I gain substantial insight in the ‘down’ time between writing sessions, even when I am not consciously thinking about what I am writing about. I doubt this would happen very much if I had finished up and tidied up what I was working on.

A timer – one of my methods of keeping myself on track and being more conscious of how I spend my digital connect time.

I am obviously not the first nor the only one to have thought of these techniques. Check out the faceless Durr watch created by Norwegian designers, Theo Tveterås and Lars Vedeler aka Skrekkøgle and written up in Aaron Souppouris’ blog or Christian Tietze’, Short Knowledge Cycle.

About Maureen Crawford

I work as a researcher and educational consultant. My undergraduate degree is in industrial design so design thinking has long been part of my process - emergent connectivist learning resonates strongly with me.
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