“Stay nimble by trying these [AI] things yourself. I think everyone needs 10-20 hours minimum. Just start doing it.” – Ethan Mollick, Professor at Wharton
Like most people, I have a mixture of excitement and anxiety about AI. If I am being honest, I also feel a little threatened by it. I’ve spent the majority of my life practicing how to be creative and express ideas. If there is anything I am good at, it is this. It’s a source of pride and meaning in my life. What AI is demonstrating it can do so far challenges that.
This feeling has so far interfered with my natural desire to start “doing it”.
And yet rationally speaking, I know that the only path forward is to engage with AI. This is not a technology revolution any of us can afford to sit out.
To help me manage my own impulses and do that, I use Focusable. Here’s how.
I set some daily reminders to tinker with AI using Focusable’s routine tools. I don’t naturally find myself wanting to use AI, so for now I need to plan for it. In some ways, this is similar to what Ethan Mollick is doing by requiring his class to use AI in their work.
When I get the notification I click on it to open Focusable. I set up my phone next to my computer so that I see it at the same time as I do my work. It’s kind of like a second screen for managing my attention in parallel to my work.
I typically will swipe over to do a Recharge exercise to get my energy up. It’s hard to make time to just tinker around other daily priorities. I typically need a little extra energy to give it my full attention. So I might do a Power Blink exercise or Chair Squats to do that, then I swipe to start the Pulse timer. I take one deep breath, try to let distractions fade and get started.
I find tinkering with AI particularly hard to sustain. The error rate can be quite high and the emotional reactions I have to it can be pretty strong. I don’t think I could do it for 45 minutes straight like other focused work right now.
To help deal with this, I adjust the Pulse timer default to 10 minutes instead of the usual 5 with the idea that I am using it as the finish line to my tinkering instead of an intermediate goal.
Then I just open ChatGPT, MidJourney, Stable Diffusion or whatever tool I am interested in trying next and I do things. Sometimes I don’t have a goal in mind and I’ll just play. Other times I have a goal in mind – an image for a blog post, an article I want to start writing – and I’ll try to see if I can get it to help me in one way or another.
As is becoming well known, the art of using AI is in the prompting – at least for now. So I concentrate on how to evolve my prompting methods based on what it does in response. I try to pay as close attention to AI’s output as possible and build upon it with my next prompt – optimizing, clarifying and refining as I go.
During that tinkering, I have all sorts of reactions and impulses. It doesn’t give me what I want, so I want to give up. It makes me anxious about what it produces, and my motivation shuts down. It gets boring or repetitive, and it feels like I am wasting time. It surprises and delights me, and that satiates me. The visible reminder of the Pulse timer on my phone and the 10 minute finish line keeps me pushing forward. I need that visual reminder to sustain my attention.
When I get the notification that 10 minutes has passed, I might go a bit longer or stop depending upon my feelings. If I have any fresh insights from what I discovered, I’ll swipe over and record something to remember it with. I’ve typically kept these recordings to myself, but I could easily see creating a Focusable group to share the insights with others in my company as a way of building collective AI skills. Then I click done and resume my more pressing activities.
Here’s a recent Focusable activity from my AI tinkering. I was using ChatGPT to help me sharpen an argument on the role of focus in self-regulation. After some prodding, it gave me a great insight on how to break down interventions and therapies through the lens of what they demand of your attention.
Outside of the total amount of time I am spending and maybe my levels of natural enthusiasm, I suspect this process of tinkering is no different than what other early adopters of AI are doing. It’s no different than what Ethan Mollick is doing to innovate his courses with AI. It’s no different than what Brian Roemmele is doing to push the boundaries of prompting. It’s no different than what Wrigley Mckay is doing to push the boundaries of what you can automate with AI. And it’s no different than what leading educators like Greg Kulowiec and Matt Miller are doing to demonstrate how teachers and students can use these tools.
I wouldn’t say I’ve found a huge personal value in AI so far. It hasn’t changed my work very much yet. But I know that I can’t lose my focus from that feeling. I need to keep my regular routine of tinkering going because AI will continue to evolve rapidly. And when I do find that thing it does well for me, I am confident I will know – because the time I spend will get easier, longer and more enjoyable.
Challenging myself to get past my superficial reactions and productively struggle with AI like this helps me to better understand the transformations ahead. I also find it’s a good way to manage the anxiety that we are all getting from time to time. And it primes me to be adaptable as I discover the ways that it brings me value.
Perhaps this method can help you do the same.