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How I use screens

3 min read

Hey, it's an iMac

Nathan Schneider writes about how he uses screens:

The underlying idea for me is that I like to keep a clear desk. In my office, for instance, I keep the desk where I meet with students empty, except for a few intentional symbolic objects on the side. I do this to express to students that they have my complete attention—and to help me give that attention. During the meeting, we might put things on the desk as we discuss them. But at the end, I make sure those things are gone so the desk is clear for the next student.

I aspire to this but fall short.

There are some things here that I do practice:

  • I close my tabs: not just at the end of the day, but several times during it. I don’t like having a bunch of open tabs that begin to feel like an inbox.
  • I try to get to inbox zero (in my work email) every day.
  • Nathan doesn’t mention this, but I regularly clear my feed reader, so that I’m starting from fresh and don’t feel like I have an endless backlog of posts to read.
  • I use virtual desktops with a single task per desktop, usually in full-screen mode.
  • Notifications for almost everything are off 24/7.
  • I like to shut down my computer for the night.

While I have an external monitor on my desk, I’ve realized that it’s far too big for my needs. It’s great for video calls — which is, for better or worse, how I spend a lot of my workday — but lousy for actually getting work done. There’s something about the overwhelm of it, as if I’m trying to write on an IMAX. I’ve long favored 13” laptops (although my main personal computer is a Mac Mini these days), and there’s something about the small screen that I find helps me to focus. Maybe it’s just habit.

I do take my phone to bed (it charges with my watch on a wireless pad on my nightstand) and I should find a better place for it. I theoretically need an alarm clock to replace it, but the truth is that these days I have a human alarm clock who wakes me up far earlier than my phone ever does. And he always reaches for my phone, which I don’t think is particularly healthy. So perhaps I should just bite the bullet and charge my devices in my office overnight. The only thing that really gives me pause about changing — and this is silly — is that I’ve been loving playing Connections, Wordle, and the Daily Mini in bed before I go to sleep. But, come on, better sleep hygiene is worth it.

I appreciated Nathan’s list; lots to think about. What’s your routine?

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