Photo by Bethan.

Right now, on my computer screen, I have a little digital sticky note with two questions on it. The font is big; you can’t miss it.

Since I put that note up on my screen I have worked better, more efficiently, and more consistently. Really.

The questions are deceptively simple. Their importance might not be readily apparent. So let’s take a moment to explore why we need these two questions in the first place…

Fear May Be The Mind-Killer, But Distraction Is Pretty Shitty, Too

We live in an age of distraction. Right now, as I type this, there are icons on my computer desktop occupying my peripheral vision, my cell phone has buzzed twice to let me know someone wants to play chess, an alert just appeared notifying me that Evernote has finished syncing, and I got an email.

That’s in the last 30 Seconds.

We’ve all been conditioned to respond to these intrusions into our consciousness. Every time we receive an alert, open it up, and get some new piece of information we receive a little jolt of happiness. This conditions us to feel a powerful urge to check when that alert goes off (“There’s some new information available! About ME!”). 

Meanwhile, those little badges, beeps, and pop-up notifications ensure that, even with the sound off or while away from the device, there’s still a way for it to reach us, to tempt us.

What this means is that it becomes increasingly difficult to engage in full, unbroken focus on anything. We’re scattered, our focus diffused, partially effective on a lot of things but fully focused on nothing.

This doesn’t even count the ever-alluring call of simple time-wasting, mind-numbing internet browsing. One moment of weakness leads to an hour on Reddit, chin in hand, staring blankly at Lol-cats and Karma-whoring stabs at meme humor.

The Worst Part

But you know what the worst part is? The worst part of all these things that break into our consciousness and rob of us focus?

They’re not even fun.

Think about it: can you even really remember the last time you zoned out and just surfed the web? Did you really enjoy it? Maybe you got a few quick hits of happiness when you watched some dude fall off a horse on YouTube, but did you really have fun for more than a few seconds at a time?

If you could zoom out on yourself at that moment, what would you look like? Here’s my guess: slumped over, chin in hand, too close to the screen, eyes glossed over. Is this what fun looks like?

If we’re not getting something done – something we care about, something that gets us closer to what want to do with our lives – and we’re not having fun, then what are we doing? And why are we doing it?

The Question

Back to my computer, and the sticky note.

I fall prey to this stuff just as much as anyone, if not more. I’m pretty plugged in, what with Facebook, Twitter, Last.FM, 5 (Yes, 5) email accounts open at all times, blogs, Formspring, you name it. If I don’t find a way to control it, I’ll spend all day talking about doing things, rather than doing things.

I don’t want to comment on life. I want to live life.

This is why I look up at that sticky note, every single day, and consciously ask myself:

Am I having fun right now?

Is this what I set out to do?

That’s it.

If an action satisfies both criteria, we’re golden. I’m being effective, and I’m enjoying myself. This is the goal, the perfect state to be in – the perfect marriage of action and purpose.

If something isn’t fun, but it’s what I set out to do, we’re good. Not everything in life is pretty. Some days you’ve got to get up and milk the cow. Taking care of your responsibilities, to yourself and to others, is part of what makes a person Good.

If it’s fun, but it’s not what I set out to do – and I mean really fun, as in, enjoyable for more than a few seconds – that’s fine too. Life is meant to be enjoyed. You can’t work all the time, and we live in the Golden Age of Video Games and Television. You’re excused if you take a break.

But if something isn’t fun, and it isn’t what I set out to do – why am I doing it?

Ask yourself the question. Be honest.

It’ll take you a long way towards cutting the bullshit out of your life, and leaving more time for the things you actually care about.