Do you have a wandering mind? It’s probably making you unhappy.

The other day we revisited the subject of multi-tasking and I talked about a few ways I try to remain focused. Focus isn’t just important for productivity, it’s also a core competency for happiness.

Back in 2010 Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert published a scientific paper titled: A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind.

We developed a smartphone technology to sample people’s ongoing thoughts, feelings, and actions and found (i) that people are thinking about what is not happening almost as often as they are thinking about what is and (ii) found that doing so typically makes them unhappy.

Let me say that a different way: spending your life thinking about things that aren’t happening is making you unhappy. You would be happier if you focused on the here and now.

So much of the multi-tasking that we do is an attempt to switch between multiple things that aren’t happening, it’s a type of active mind-wandering. How many times do we check our social media to see if something is happening only to be reminded that nothing is happening. How many times have you refreshed your social media site only to refresh it again, and then again without even thinking. The research tells us that this is making us unhappy.

Below is Matt Killingworth talking through his work at TEDx:

Matt also talked through his findings on the TED Radio Hour in 2014.

Cognitive Biases: I'm not that biased?

Do you think you have a biases towards certain things and away from others?

I’ve been thinking a bit recently about confirmation bias, how to recognise it and how to overcome it. One of the joys of the internet is that you can always find someone to agree with you, just because they agree doesn’t make either of you right.

This week someone pointed out a scary list of over 160 different cognitive biases on Wikipedia! As with any classification process I’m sure that the list isn’t perfect but however you look at it that’s a lot of biases.

It’s interesting to think that some people will already have stopped reading because of a bias blind spot. Perhaps some of you are experiencing an empathy gap in your emotional reaction to this post.

It may be that my use of English is challenging your functional fixedness (I’m sure I’ve used some punctuation incorrectly somewhere in this post).

I’ve regularly been in situations where the curse of knowledge has made it difficult for me and another person to communicate at a level we both understood. I’m certain that I’ve been caught in the Dunning-Kruger effect but hopefully not too often. (The Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias wherein unskilled people mistakenly assess their ability to be much higher than is accurate.) How would I know if I had though?

It’s good to know that the tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon is a real thing. In my case this is particularly true for names, I can sometimes remember the first name or the surname, but rarely both.

When travelling to somewhere I’ve been to a lot I sometimes play the game of putting the satnav on just to see whether it knows better than me – who knew I was challenging my well travelled road effect.

Finally I wanted to mention the Zeigarnik effect partly because it’s such a great name but also just because I…

Creative Commons – Keeping it Open

Here in Great Britain in the 18th century there was a need to protect authors and artists, and publishers, from blatant copying of material by the new technology of the printing press. Our solution was to create a set of measures that form the basis of what we know today as copyright. Other nations followed and eventually we had a near global system of control.

Most of us see the copyright symbol – © – hundreds of times every day, it’s ubiquitous. Understanding of and regard for it is a different matter, people pay varying degrees of attention to it.

I’m comfortable with the concept of protecting people’s income for original work, but I don’t regard my writing on this blog as needing that level of protection. It doesn’t cost me very much to publish so I’m not seeking to protect a high level of investment either. Fortunately, there is an alternative to copyright.

Creative Commons Licensing

If you look to the bottom of this page you will find a section that currently looks like this:

Creative Commons License

This is the license I have chosen for these meagre ramblings. If you click on the link it will take you to a page that explains the license in a human-readable summary format. This explanation shows in broad terms what I am happy for you to do with the information you find contained within and in what context.

Copyright© is basically either all rights reserved or public domain. Creative Commons, however, comes with a set of options. In my case the options roughly translate to:

  • You are free to:
    • Share the material
    • Adapt the material
  • On the condition that:
    • You give me credit
    • It’s for non-commercial purposes
    • You share under the same license as the original if you remix, transform or build upon the material

To put it another way. I’m happy for you to use the material, to share it and even adapt it, but I don’t see why you should make money out of my efforts and hence ask you to share your work under the same licence. Also, it would be good if you gave me some form of credit for the work you have used.

Each of these options can be made either more, or less, restrictive.

I tend to think that it’s better to be open than closed and that is what Create Commons allows me to be, without giving everything away. If I was really being open I would allow Commercial work also, which is something I am thinking about, at Creative Commons they call this Free Cultural Works.

The concept of open is a powerful one and gaining traction all the time, but that’s probably best covered wider on another day.

Creative Commons is integrated into a number of other services.  If you want to search in Google, for instance, for material released under creative commons then you can do so in Advance Search. The same is true on Flickr so I also post my pictures under Creative Commons.

BYOD and Personal Knowledge Management

Not so long ago people would go to work at a set time and work exclusively on equipment and applications provided by the employer. At the end of the day they would go home and do whatever they wanted to do using their stuff. But now the line between work and life is now a complete jumble for many.

Wintry Walk on Fare Snape Fell(I am going to refer to work-and-life in this post as if they are two distinct things as a way of contrasting the challenge, but that whole concept is also going through significant disruption which I may cover at a later date)

Personal knowledge management used to be similarly straightforward with work stuff in one place, life stuff in another place. Take diaries as an example, I used to run a home diary and a work diary. If truth be known, Sue used to run my home diary and I would focus all of my energy on the work diary. This situation was only complicated when either the work requirements or the life requirements would break into one of the other’s area. School plays during the day would require a special entry in my work diary to make sure I was there. Likewise overnight business trips would need a special entry in the life diary.

This situation was never ideal, but worked quite well with few issues. One of the huge advantages of this situation was the people at my employer could see my availability and schedule meetings with me because my availability was visible to all.

In a BYOD world it would be, just about, acceptable to make both my diaries available on all my devices, but that’s not really resolving the challenge or addressing the changing culture. Running multiple diaries has never been ideal and leads to all sorts of issues when things clash.

The real requirement is for me to see a single diary, I don’t mind whether it’s made up of a number of diaries, but I need to see it as one. That diary needs to be embedded into my mobile experience so that I can use all of the functions of my mobile device. Portions of my availability need to be visible to different interested groups. I need to be able to set parameters on my availability for those groups because I don’t want a completely blended lifestyle where I’m available to everyone 24 by 7. I want event information from one group (project team) to be available to another group (family) so that sensible decisions can be made. In other words I want a completely blended diary experience which has been personalised to my requirements and way of working.

I could just opt out and run a single personal diary with no visibility to others but that would not be very helpful to people who want to schedule time with me. I used to have a boss who did that and it was impossible to schedule anything with him, particularly as the only diary that he regarded as truth was the paper one in his hands at all times.

Another alternative is to run two diaries and to copy everything from one to another. The natural choice for doing this would be to make the life diary the master and to copy everything from the work diary into it, but that just leads to another challenge, what to do about data privacy. Would my employer really want my family to have access to a report with sensitive financial information in it? A diary entry isn’t just about the scheduling information; it’s also about all of the associated content.

My purpose in this discussion is to use diary information as an example of the complications of running any form of personal knowledge management system in a world where work technology and life technology are the same, and where the separation between them is a complete jumble. The same challenges apply to to-do lists, note taking, reading lists, document stores, and all manner of personal knowledge management techniques.

These challenges are multiplied when we want others to collaborate with us in our personal knowledge management system.

We are going to see many ways of resolving these challenges that break the current paradigms and move us to a far more personal way of working. Doodle is an example of a different way of thinking about team scheduling that works across personal diaries. There are many people thinking about the to-do list and note taking most of which are being delivered as cloud services built to interact with personal applications. This continued shift to personal is going to significantly change the way that individuals and teams interact, collaborate and do work. As always the technology shift is the smaller part of a much larger cultural shift.

As a person I’m the one who is enabled and approved for access to all sorts of data. In the future I am expecting to be able to have a personal life assistant which is going to need access to all of my sources of data to enact upon them, but that’s another challenge requiring another paradigm shift.