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A New Productivity for the Smartphone Era

A New Productivity for the Smartphone Era

    About a year ago, I published a question in a Blackberry forum asking how the devices had helped to make professionals more productive.

    The responses I received were typified by the one that I remember the most: “I am more productive because I can check my email on  the train to and from work.”

    This seemed like a reasonable response at the time. As a person who gets a bit nervous when I have nothing productive to do, I could relate.  While I don’t take the train, the value of converting “down time” to productive time is a pretty attractive one.

    And apparently, I’m not alone.

    A recent  survey of 1 million users in 34 countries showed that 62% believed that their work productivity was “much better” due to new technology.  75%  consider the opportunity provided by devices such as smartphones and laptops to remain in constant contact with work as a positive development.

    Apparently, “productivity” has been redefined.

    According to our new definition, productivity has something to do with two things: converting “down time” to work time, and  being able to  “stay in touch” with what’s happening at work at all times.  This  kind of commitment used to be associated with  “Type A” executives, but nowadays anyone with the right tools can join in the fun.

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    “Fun” might be a strong word, but many of us like to find new ways  to be effective, and like to feel as if we’re getting better at  managing our time.

    However, what’s actually happening in the life of many  professionals is not amusing at all.  Their companies  have taken the opportunity given them by technology and the recession to convince employees to spend more  “down time” doing work.  At the same time, they send a subtle message that  “staying in touch” with work also means being available 24 hours  a day for 52 weeks of the year.

    Converting “Down Time” Nowadays, it seems, everyone with a smartphone has gotten into the habit of continuously trying to convert “down time” into useful, work time.  Here are some everyday examples of ways in which many professionals are converting their “down time.”

    • – a manager driving on the highway at 70 m.p.h. sends a text to his team  (while spilling hot coffee into his lap)
    • – an engineer in a meeting that’s going slowly, checks her email and replies (missing two action items assigned to her)
    • – an accountant watching his child play baseball on Saturday morning closes a deal in the fourth inning via cellphone (and lies to his  son about seeing him make his first catch ever)
    • – a supervisor attending 3 days of personal productivity training is unable to leave her smartphone untouched for more than 15 minutes (and later complains that  the trainer was ineffective)
    • – a consultant speaking to a client on the phone remembers that  he should have sent an urgent message to a colleague, and quietly does so (even as the client notes the sudden lapse in attention and interprets it as a lack of interest in continuing the relationship)
    • – a hard driving attorney once again takes his smartphone to the  urinal where he can multi-task (… and is noticed by his boss’ husband who happened to borrow his smartphone just five minutes earlier)
    • – a family cheers in unison when executive-Mom forgets her  smartphone at home 5 hours into the annual vacation (and falls into  despair when FedEx delivers it the next day)

    I recently asked a client: “How did your big presentation to the executive team go?”  She responded: “OK… but the CEO spent the entire hour on his (expletive)  Blackberry.”

    This was bad news for my client, whose project was now being viewed by the CEO as another chunk of his “down time.”

    If these are all examples of attempts to convert “down time” into useful time, take note of the way in which “down time” has been expanded.  This  is more than filling in the time that would be spent sitting on a train.  The habit has invaded every nook and cranny of our lives, sparing no-one, and costing us dearly.

    At this point, many of you reading are probably shaking your heads at  some of the poor etiquette on display.  I did the same, until I began to think of the mindset of the employees involved.

    All the habits listed above were developed by professionals who  were well intended — they were trying to boost their productivity by converting “down time” into something of value. Unfortunately,  once we humans are hooked on a habit, it’s hard to stop, and  we end up employing it inappropriately, much to the annoyance of others in our lives.  In that moment, the fun has disappeared and the habit has become an empty, automatic practice that does more harm than good.

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    The worse part is that in many companies, executives are leading  the way by example, as they are often the first users of these devices and the employees most likely to squeeze work into every available minute of their lives.

    They are also the ones who are unwilling to sever the connection between themselves and their colleagues, even for a few hours  each day.

    Staying in Touch With Work A friend of mine once told me the story of a manager of  rambunctious employee who was essential to the organization, but  frequently complained and threatened to leave.  In the space of a few months, he got married, bought a house and had a baby.

    After these happy events, his manager passed my friend in the hall on hearing the latest it of happy news and whispered conspiratorially: “I have him  now!”  In other words, with his new family and financial obligations,  the rambunctious employee was unlikely to raise more trouble, and  would probably settle into a comfortable routine of corporate  service with a steady eye on his pension, benefits and 401(k).

    The point of the story?  There are executives and managers who are blithely offering the gift of smartphones to their employees, and  in some companies it’s seen as a reward, and a status symbol.

    What many of them know, however, is that when an employee accepts the device, they are likely to join the group of the always-reachable, and engage in many of the behaviors that their higher-ups are practicing,  such as: – sending and receiving messages at 2:30 am – using weekends, vacations and holidays to conduct company business – implicitly agreeing to respond to all messages within a short time-frame – interrupting ANY activity to “find out what my boss wants”

    (If the stories told on YouTube and on blogs are true, then  _anything_ can be interrupted nowadays by smartphone use!)

    To put it in more Machiavellian terms, companies have found a way to take time and attention that employees used  to spend on their own, with their families and with their friends, and convert it to company time.  It starts with the gift of a  smartphone.

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    While I truly doubt that there is some master plan, don’t doubt for a minute that a manager doesn’t know the difference between her employees who are always-reachable from those who aren’t. Companies can make big gains in productivity by simply giving away smartphones to their employees, while ignoring the added stress that gets created.

    There are some companies that are noticing what is happening, however.

    Enlightened companies take a page out of the medical profession, which has long realized that it’s important to maintain  some kind of boundaries in their professionals’ lives.  Companies can put in place policies that clearly delineate  time spent “at work,” “on call” and “away from work.”   They recognize that these are three distinct modes that must be  enforced if employees are expected to function at their best.

    Most employees, however, find themselves in un-enlightened companies and  must make their own way, starting with 3 steps they must take.

    Their first step is to identify the unproductive habits in their time management system.  They can do the kind of analysis I describe on my website (www.2time-sys.com) to find the strong and weak spots.

    The second step is to create an improvement plan that outlines the habits to be changed, along with some target dates. This gives  them some realistic goals to heard towards.

    The third step requires them to create an environment to make the habit changes easier to effect.  Unfortunately, most  habits do not change easily or quickly, and the right blend of supports can make all the difference.

    Employees who have begun this personal journey need to make  a plan to enlighten the executive team.  Most smartphone use started with the CEO and her direct reports, and they are the ones who, in  all likelihood, introduced, for example, a culture of 24 hour  availability to the organization.

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    In an effort like this, employees need allies at all levels to  help demonstrate that bad habits  developed in the executive suite can wreak havoc when rolled out to an entire company.  (There  is a growing body of data available that can be used in this effort.)  In an intervention, executives can be asked to imagine an  all-company meeting in which half the attendees spend most of the  meeting on their smartphones, lost in cyber-space.  (Some would  simply argue that they are following the fine example of their CEO!)

    If the executive team can be convinced that these behaviors  are destructive, then the company can move to specify some  specific changes.

    For example, the US Federal Government has banned the use of  cell-phones by its employees while they are driving and conducting government business.  In part, that’s because of obvious safety reasons.

    From a productivity stand-point, however, it makes perfect sense. Other policies can be introduced to limit the use of smartphones and laptops during off hours, for starters.  (In some companies, turning off all messaging devices between 12:00 am and 6:00 am would be a major step.)

    Each company needs to look at its culture, as well as its  strategy, and phase in these changes in a way that makes sense. They need to allow for the fact that habit change takes time, and  that a new culture could not be born in an instant.

    The single employee who decides to change their company has a very difficult task on her hands, however, as she realizes that smartphones have done more to change company culture in the past few years than any vision statement or 2 day retreat.  She needs to appreciate that  some executives may decide that they like the way things are going, and don’t want to change a thing.   Those companies who take this route probably won’t see any  immediate fallout as employees cling to their jobs for fear of losing them, but they’ll  pay later.  At some point in the future, productivity will be impacted on a large scale, as employees burn themselves out and the bottom  line suffers.

    It’s much better to make the small, enlightened changes now, than  to wait until the cost is higher and the effort required seems to  be impossible to garner.

    All it takes to get started is one or two employees who are willing  to redefine what productivity means for themselves and their  companies, in favour of long-term results that are sustainable.

    More by this author

    Francis Wade

    Author, Management Consultant

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    Last Updated on September 28, 2020

    How To Study Effectively: 7 Simple Tips

    How To Study Effectively: 7 Simple Tips

    The brain is a tangled web of information. We don’t remember single facts, but instead we interlink everything by association. Anytime we experience a new event, our brains tie the sights, smells, sounds and our own impressions together into a new relationship.

    Our brain remembers things by repetition, association, visual imagery, and all five senses. By knowing a bit about how the brain works, we can become better learners, absorbing new information faster than ever.

    Here are some study tips to help get you started:

    1. Use Flashcards

    Our brains create engrained memories through repetition. The more times we hear, see, or repeat something to ourselves, the more likely we are to remember it.

    Flashcards can help you learn new subjects quickly and efficiently. Flashcards allow you to study anywhere at any time. Their portable nature lends them to quick study sessions on the bus, in traffic, at lunch, or in the doctor’s office. You can always whip out your flashcards for a quick 2 to 3 minute study session.

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    To create effective flashcards, you need to put one point on each flashcard. Don’t load up the entire card with information. That’s just overload. Instead, you should dedicate one concept to each card.

    One of the best ways to make flashcards is to put 1 question on the front and one answer on the back. This way, you can repeatedly quiz yourself into you have mastered any topic of your choice.

    Commit to reading through your flash cards at least 3 times a day and you will be amazed at how quickly you pick up new information.

    As Tony Robbins says,

    “Repetition is the mother of skill”.

    2. Create the Right Environment

    Often times, where you study can be just as important as how you study. For an optimum learning environment, you’ll want to find a nice spot that is fairly peaceful. Some people can’t stand a deafening silence, but you certainly don’t want to study near constant distractions.

    Find a spot that you can call your own, with plenty of room to spread out your stuff. Go there each time you study and you will find yourself adapting to a productive study schedule. When you study in the same place each time, you become more productive in that spot because you associate it with studying.

    3. Use Acronyms to Remember Information

    In your quest for knowledge, you may have once heard of an odd term called “mnemonics”. However, even if you haven’t heard of this word, you have certainly heard of its many applications. One of the most popular mnemonic examples is “Every Good Boy Does Fine”. This is an acronym used to help musicians and students to remember the notes on a treble clef stave.

    An acronym is simply an abbreviation formed using the intial letters of a word. These types of memory aids can help you to learn large quantities of information in a short period of time.

    4. Listen to Music

    Research has long shown that certain types of music help you to recall information. Information learned while listening to a particular song can often be remembered simply by “playing” the songs mentally in your head.

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    5. Rewrite Your Notes

    This can be done by hand or on the computer. However, you should keep in mind that writing by hand can often stimulate more neural activity than when writing on the computer.

    Everyone should study their notes at home but often times, simply re-reading them is too passive. Re-reading your notes can cause you to become disengaged and distracted.

    To get the most out of your study time, make sure that it is active. Rewriting your notes turns a passive study time into an active and engaging learning tool. You can begin using this technique by buying two notebooks for each of your classes. Dedicate one of the notebooks for making notes during each class. Dedicate the other notebook to rewriting your notes outside of class.

    6. Engage Your Emotions

    Emotions play a very important part in your memory. Think about it. The last time you went to a party, which people did you remember? The lady who made you laugh, the man who hurt your feelings, and the kid who went screaming through the halls are the ones you will remember. They are the ones who had an emotional impact.

    Fortunately, you can use the power of emotion in your own study sessions. Enhance your memory by using your five senses. Don’t just memorize facts. Don’t just see and hear the words in your mind. Create a vivid visual picture of what you are trying to learn.

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    For example, if you are trying to learn the many parts of a human cell, begin physically rotating the cell in your minds eye. Imagine what each part might feel like. Begin to take the cell apart piece by piece and then reconstruct it. Paint the human cell with vivid colors. Enlarge the cell in your mind’s eye so that it is now six feet tall and putting on your own personal comedy show. This visual and emotional mind play will help deeply encode information into your memory.

    7. Make Associations

    One of the best ways to learn new things is to relate what you want to learn with something you already know. This is known as association, and it is the mental glue that drives your brain.

    Have you ever listened to a song and been flooded by memories that were connected to it? Have you ever seen an old friend that triggered memories from childhood? This is the power of association.

    To maximize our mental powers, we must constantly be looking for ways to relate new information with old ideas and concepts that we are already familiar with.

    You can do this with the use of mindmapping. A mind map is used to diagram words, pictures, thoughts, and ideas into a an interconnected web of information. This simple practice will help you to connect everything you learn into a global network of knowledge that can be pulled from at any moment.

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    Learn more about mindmapping here: How to Mind Map to Visualize Your Thoughts (With Mind Map Examples)

    Featured photo credit: Alissa De Leva via unsplash.com

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