Not too long ago, I listened to an episode of the NPR podcast TED Radio Hour about the subject happiness. The show basically compiles several TED talks in order to provide several ‘expert’ perspectives on a given subject. Several of the speakers talked about living in the moment and not getting wrapped up in the chaos that is life in 21st century America. Although some speakers wreaked of nostalgia of ‘the good old days’, the episode still made me consider whether or not I am actually present in my everyday life, whether I pay attention to and appreciate my surroundings and my internal states of being or whether I am simply on autopilot, completing tasks without thinking about them to work towards a vague goal set by somebody else. This idea of being ‘present’ in my own life has stuck with me for several months now. I was actually shocked that I had to go so far in the archives to find this episode because its ideas resonate with me as if I had listened to it last month. When I saw that I would be measuring some aspect of my daily life, this idea of ‘presentness’ immediately came to mind.

I took several measures throughout the week in an effort to measure several specifics that I consider to contribute to ‘presentness’. Here are the questions I asked and the data I sought to answer them:

 

How much time do I spend on my phone?

Each night before I went to sleep I recorded the number of minutes that I spent on my phone. I also recorded the number of minutes spent on my phone in the three categories I know I used the most: games, social media, and podcasts.

 

When I am supposed to be focused on essential tasks, how often does my phone distract me?

I decided to count work, studying, and class as essential activities because they are three things that I do almost every day that I really should be focused on. I recorded the number of times that I picked up my phone for something that is not relevant to the task at hand during each of these tasks as well as the number of minutes I was doing the task overall in order to calculate the number of times I checked my phone/hour.

 

How aware am I of my surroundings?

I recorded the number of ‘oopsies’ I made every day, which included walking into things, knocking things over, stubbing my toe, dropping things, etc. I also recorded the time at which my ‘oopsies’ occurred and a brief description of what I did.

 

How focused is my mind on any given task in a day? How purposeful do I consider my daily tasks?

At regular intervals throughout the day, I asked myself these questions and record my response in terms of a scale from 1-5 (1=wandering mind/unsure of purpose, 3=some wandering/some clarity of purpose, 5=complete concentration/conviction of purpose).

 

 

Here’s what I found:

Some of this data was more accurate than others. I diligently recorded every single time I picked up my phone during an ‘essential task’, for example, but I know that I probably did several things that should have been recorded as ‘oopsies’, but then I forgot to do so because such things are so commonplace for me. I also noticed some bias in myself when recording some of the data. For instance, I think that I probably would have checked my phone more often had I not been so conscious of the fact that I was recording this data.

To be completely honest, I’m not sure that I discovered how present I am in my daily life. I have no data to compare my findings to such as other weeks of my life or data of my peers’ weeks. This data is more of a snapshot of my week without giving any context to what ‘presentness’ would be. Nonetheless, I found this assignment fascinating because I was able to become more aware of my own awareness, which has made me consider certain habits (playing so much Candy Crush, namely) in the context of whether or not they contribute to my life in any way.

Here are some of the graphics I made in order to analyze my data:

These are the most commonly appearing words in my descriptions of my ‘oopsies’. I notice several food-related words, which leads me to believe that I am not necessarily paying attention to my surroundings while eating. I also know that I am not very attentive when I’m scanning in huge stacks of books (I work at a library, so I do that a lot), so it is unsurprising to see words like ‘book’ and ‘scanned’ in this word bubble.

 

This graphic depicts the amount of time I spent on my phone doing specific activities in two distinct measures: minutes spent on certain types of apps/daily & average # checks/hour. The two variables seem to correlate closely, with Wednesday being a notable exception. It is interesting that my social media use was minimal at the beginning of the week and eventually faded away entirely. My game use was similarly minimal at the beginning of the week, but skyrocketed after Wednesday.

 

I hardly ever check my phone during class, while I check my phone about twice an hour while at work and studying. I am surprised to see the similarity between my work & study rates because I often feel as though I am very focused while studying, yet highly distracted while at work. I hypothesize that sometimes I am often extremely focused while studying, checking my phone minimally, but that sometimes I am also highly distracted, checking my phone often. This data would average out to a moderate level of distraction while studying similar to that while at work.

 

I thought there might be a correlation between the number of times that I check my phone in a day and the number of times I would commit an ‘oopsie’. Turns out there’s not.

 

There does not appear to be a huge variation between my self-ratings (on a scale of 1-5) of focus and those of purpose at any given time in a day. They each averaged out to be ±0.5 from each other at each interval. It is interesting to note that my sense of purpose drops almost a whole point by 10pm. I would assume that this is because I save my least appealing homework for this time and I would often rather be at home by this time of day, even though I never am.

 

My sense of purpose and of being focused seem to rise and fall together throughout the week. They seem to be at their highest on Monday & Sunday, dipping down significantly on Thursday and Friday. Whereas my focus is relatively stable and within the range of one point, my sense of purpose changes more drastically on a day-to-day basis.

Featured image created using Flickr-user John Bennett’s Check-out !

Post Author: Katie

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