Back in July, I explained my idea of an “Attention Diet,” — a regimented limitation of information to improve mental health and productivity. When I posted it, I announced my plan to implement the attention diet into my own life and invited readers to do the same and report back their results. Well, it’s been three months. How did things go?

1. Like a nutritional diet, the attention diet is not an all-or-nothing affair. You will have moments where you cave to your impulses, where you will “cheat” and binge on Instagram, moments where you will completely fail to uphold the standards you set for yourself.

And like nutritional dieting, you have to be able to let this go and not beat yourself up about it.

I had to learn when and how to let myself go a bit. When was it okay to go down a youtube rabbit hole? When was it okay to spend an hour texting with a friend I hadn’t talked to in ages? When was it okay to abandon all previous plans to melt into my couch playing video games for four hours?

One thing I’ve long argued is that achieving results is not the point of having goals. The point of having goals is that it gets you off your ass and doing something. Whether you actually nail the goal or not is secondary. Similarly, I think most of the usefulness of diets is not that you do a complete 180 in your lifestyle and never touch that piece of cake again. The benefit of diets (nutrition or attention) is that you become conscious of your habits and decision-making. It’s not that eating cake is wrong. It’s that eating cake without the awareness of how and why you’re eating the cake is wrong. Similarly, it’s not that spending an hour on YouTube or Twitter is wrong. It’s the lack of awareness of how you’re using that hour that is wrong.

2. Probably the most consistent challenge I heard from readers when implementing the attention diet was simply how bored they got the first couple weeks. Without the usual buffet of available distractions, they suddenly found themselves with hours upon hours of time to just sit and, well, sit. A couple people even complained that, without social media or email, they finished their work too fast, leaving themselves half a day of work to just sit around and do nothing! Talk about good problems.

I think there’s an adjustment period with the attention diet where you lose the hours of distraction but haven’t yet filled those same hours with some more productive activity. It’s like a nutritional diet: the first week or two is the hardest. It’s when you experience the most hunger and cravings.

For me, I filled the extra time with reading, mostly. I’ve also been spending more time with my wife, which she’s obviously been happy about. I don’t struggle with the boredom as much anymore, but it definitely took about a month or so to fill the space with something better.

3. My biggest challenge was a bit unique. I started the attention diet a mere 10 days before heading out on a grueling 3.5 week tour across Australia and the UK. As a result, I found myself spending dozens of hours in airports, on trains, in airplanes, and alone in hotel rooms, desperately fighting off jet lag.

And what’s the best way to occupy yourself when you’re exhausted, brain dead, and sitting in an airport terminal for three hours? That’s right, garbage attention time! Twitter, YouTube, Twitch, Facebook, rinse and repeat.

At the beginning of that leg of the tour, I was pretty good at maintaining the diet. I enforced a strict reading regime (minimum two hours per day) and always tried to get at least an hour of writing in no matter where I was or what I was doing. But even then, I found myself with entire days in transit and nothing to do, no one to talk to. So out came the YouTube videos, the Twitch streams, and Twitter feeds. By the second week, I gave up and just let it happen.

It was a nice lesson, though. It showed me that there is a time and place for distraction. Whereas 90% of the time I’m distracting myself at home from things I would rather not be distracted from, there is a 10% of the time where I actually need a good distraction in my life for a couple hours. And when those times arise, I shouldn’t be afraid to indulge them.

4. But let’s talk benefits. Because, despite some of the challenges and lessons learned, I have found the benefits of the attention diet to be huge, and in some cases, different than I expected.

Since I’ve been back home and settled, I have been an absolute beast in terms of productivity. Granted, I’ve also improved some other habits this year (less drinking, better sleep, etc.), but my attention diet is in full swing and I haven’t really had any issues with it the past 4-6 weeks, I’d say.

  • I switched back to Focus from Cold Turkey (I found Cold Turkey too easy to get around). I give myself 30 minutes of break time on my computer each day.
  • I put my phone charger on the other side of the room from my computer, so it’s possible to get if I need it, but it’s also not in front of me all day. This has helped a lot.
  • All notifications on the computer are off. No Slack, no email, nothing.
  • Closed door policy. Everyone has been told that if the door is closed, do not come in unless it’s important. If it’s unimportant, send me a text or email.

This has started to feel normal and I love it. I’ve managed to turn my office into a sacred space where there’s no bullshit, just writing and business. And that’s the way it should be!

5. Another beneficial result is that I find myself not getting sucked in social media/news media drama. Part of this was unfollowing so many people/accounts (also unsubscribing to all mainstream news sites). But I think a lot of it is also just not feeling as tied in to the day-to-day ups and downs anymore. I’ll go days without hearing about the latest stupid thing Trump did, or the latest “woke” outrage. And by the time I do see it, I find it hard to care. After all, so much of my day is spent focusing on things I can affect and change, why get worked up about these things I can’t?

6. If you read research about habits, you’ll often see people talk about how healthy habits have a bit of a domino effect. When you sleep better, you’re better able to make smart choices in what you eat. And when you eat better, you feel good enough to start exercising. And when you exercise, you suddenly want to fuck 24/7. And when you’re fucking 24/7, well, that’s exactly where you want to be.

For some reason, it didn’t occur to me that my attention habits would tie into my more general lifestyle habits, but they have. I’ve been trying to lose weight all year and since implementing the attention diet, I’ve lost more weight in these three months than I did the previous six. I’ve cut way back on drinking for the first time in my life. And since getting back from my vacation, I’ve been waking up around 6AM each day (something I *never* thought I would ever do.)

That’s not to say all of that is due to the attention diet. But I imagine it is having an influence. There seems to be a cascade effect going on. A few readers reported the same thing as well–that the extra boost of productivity and freedom from distraction gave them more energy to start working out again or read more books. One reader said that she read more books in July than the entire previous year combined! That’s the sort of shit that makes me smile in the morning.

Ultimately, despite a few hiccups, I’m very pleased with the concept and implementation of the Attention Diet. And I plan on continuing to recommend it to people.

Readers have overall been pleased with a few minor exceptions. Some people literally work on social media or in journalism and have to be plugged in 24/7. Others have to be glued to their email for work. These are special cases but I think the same principles apply: find the usage that is enhancing your life and moving you towards your goals and the usage that is distracting you from your goals and harming your life. Then get strict about rooting out the latter and steadfast about maximizing the former.

And what about you? Please let me know how your attention diets are going. You can contact me here. This is something I’d like to continue to develop and help people with going forward.