Mean Free Thinking Time

In physics, there is a concept of a “mean free path length”, system administrators know the “mean time between failures” (MTBF). The physics terms means the average length that gas atoms can move before they hit another gas atom. When there is a high density of gas atoms, this path length will be rather short. Only with sufficient dilution the length will be in order order of the container size.

The MTBF of hard drives is the time one has before a drive has to be replaced, on average. Here of course a higher MTBF is a good thing.

The way a manager and a maker work are fundamentally different (read Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule). The maker needs to have long periods of concentration in order to do his/her thing. If there are too many interruptions, the maker cannot do any sensible work.

For myself I have tried to enable myself a long “mean free thinking time”. Therefore I have disabled all the notifications that I could. So when I get a new email, nothing happens. Text messages via WhatsApp or Telegram do not cause any sound or vibration. They just sit there until I check my phone the next time.

This does not mean that I cannot check my phone every five minutes. It means that I do not get pulled out of “the zone” when I am concentrating. Sometimes several hours pass before I check any notifications again. The important bit is that I have to actively seek out the notifications.

The drawback of this is a certain delay with answers. People might expect you to answer an email message because they assume your phone would beep. To me, asynchronous media like email are meant to be answered whenever you have the time to do so. If there is an emergency, the other person would have called. And then, of course, my phone would actually ring.

I remember that when GNOME 3 Shell came out, I was really amazed by the integrated notifications and that you could quick-reply to emails and chat messages. Android now has this by default, you get notifications of everything that is installed on the phone. Back then, I wanted to have this. Today I want to be able to concentrate deeply on something. That’s why I have disabled all notifications except phone calls.

Now I find myself urged to check for notifications every couple minutes because I think that there might be some new notification to act upon. But I still prefer to decide myself when to check for notifications.