Sparrow for iPhone was released last week and many are calling it a revolution for email. I’ve been a Sparrow for Mac user for a long time and believe that, along with the new iOS version of the application, it is a fresh approach to the unavoidable reality facing many of us who deal with massive quantities of email.
While praise for the app is echoing throughout the web, many are also lamenting the app’s lack of push notifications. Because of App Store limitations, Sparrow will not ping your phone when a new message arrives. Instead, upon opening the app it retrieves new messages via IMAP protocol. This is apparently a deal breaker for a large population of the iPhone community.
Push notifications were not included in v1.0 because it was not technically possible to do in a secure manner. They will no doubt be coming in a future update, however, for now I am excited Sparrow has developed such an innovative, beautiful and intuitive application that also reinforces my digital consumption practice. What is a deal-breaker for some has become a deal-sealer for me.
While it fits with the theme, this post isn’t about email. It’s not about an iOS app. It’s about more than that. This post is about my personal pursuit of right attention.
I wrote a few weeks ago about being on an information diet and I’m happy to report the experiment is going very well. I haven’t looked back. The diet has forced me to think quite deeply about the buddhist concept of right attention and how it relates to my daily workflows, in addition to my ongoing pursuit of digital purpose.
By making conscious decisions to regulate incoming information, I’ve purposefully placed a higher personal premium on the information I choose to seek out and consume.
Push notifications are a great example. I’ve shut them down entirely across all my devices. Through limiting the pings and bleeps on my phone and work station, I’ve removed a persistent layer of distraction. This has allowed me to spend more time creating with purpose, rather than being drawn away with every new message in my inbox or reply on Twitter.
In addition to turning off notifications, what are some other simple things people can do to ensure they are operating with a digital purpose? Well, I don’t know about most people, but these are a few things I’ve done that help reinforce my pursuit of right attention and, in turn, make a positive impact on my digital life:
1) ELIMINATE REACTIVE BEHAVIOR.
Reactive behavior is the enemy of right attention. If you’re reacting to information being hurled your way, you are not operating with purpose. Instead, you are dodging bullets. It is impossible to be productive when you’re just trying to survive, so eradicate survival mode from your operation. There is no such thing as defensive productivity.
2) UNTETHER FROM ALL INBOXES.
The honest truth: Most email and social networking messages can wait. Even though my professional life revolves around email, the vast majority of it is low priority, meaning no immediate action is required. In most cases I should reply within a few hours, but there is no need to stop what I’m doing and reply at this moment.
We all know emergencies happen and matters requiring immediate attention pop up. If my proverbial house were to be on fire, please don’t email me. Call me. IM me. Shout at me. Use a method of communication that demands my attention.
3) QUICKLY IDENTIFY THE INFORMATION THAT DESERVE ATTENTION. THEN APPLY IT.
I’m still working on this, and probably will be for a long time. The key to establishing a proactive workflow is the rapid identification of things that require attention. Decisions should be made quickly and fluidly. Get the thing out of an inbox and onto a task list. This has been easier said than done for me, but it is an evolving process and I think I’m getting better at making these quick determinations.
4) BECOME OKAY WITH SAYING, “NO.”
Patrick Rhone, a writer whom I respect very much, believes saying “no” is actually saying “yes” to other things. Building upon that concept, I think you first must become okay with the fact you are saying “no” in the first place. I don’t like disappointing people, but I also realize I am not able to please everyone. I’ve recently started saying no (politely, of course) to projects and opportunities that might not be the best focus of my right attention. It’s taken some getting used to, but I feel more free to focus on the things that completely align with my personal mission.
5) CREATE SOMETHING YOU’RE PROUD OF THAT’S JUST FOR YOU. DO IT EVERY DAY.
Now that I’ve made some room for applying my right attention to things that matter, it’s time to start creating with vigor. I’ve pushed myself over the past few weeks to create something – anything – I’m proud of at least once per day. In my case, creations have ranged from finished essays to the beginnings of a new song to a new flowerbed in my back yard. Some of these things I’ve shared, some I haven’t. And that’s totally cool because I didn’t make them for anyone but myself.
I don’t claim to have all the answers or priority access to the magic path that leads to complete mindfulness. On the contrary. If you have a workflow that honors your right attention, I’d love to hear about it. Feel free to share in the comments.