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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.

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    Francis Wade

    Author, Management Consultant

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    Last Updated on July 27, 2020

    20 Time Management Tips to Super Boost Your Productivity

    20 Time Management Tips to Super Boost Your Productivity

    Are you usually punctual or late? Do you finish things within the time you stipulate? Do you hand in your reports/work on time? Are you able to accomplish what you want to do before deadlines? Are you a good time manager?

    If your answer is “no” to any of the questions above, that means you’re not managing your time as well as you want. Here are 20 time management tips to help you manage time better:

    1. Create a Daily Plan

    Plan your day before it unfolds. Do it in the morning or even better, the night before you sleep. The plan gives you a good overview of how the day will pan out. That way, you don’t get caught off guard. Your job for the day is to stick to the plan as best as possible.

    Here’s How to Create a To-Do List that Super Boosts Your Productivity.

    2. Peg a Time Limit to Each Task

    Be clear that you need to finish X task by 10am, Y task by 3pm, and Z item by 5:30pm. This prevents your work from dragging on and eating into time reserved for other activities.

    3. Use a Calendar

    Having a calendar is the most fundamental step to managing your daily activities. If you use outlook or lotus notes, calendar come as part of your mailing software.

    I use it. It’s even better if you can sync your calendar to your mobile phone and other hardwares you use – that way, you can access your schedule no matter where you are. Here’re the 10 Best Calendar Apps to Stay on Track .

    Find out more tips about how to use calendar for better time management here: How to Use a Calendar to Create Time and Space

    4. Use an Organizer

    An organizer helps you to be on top of everything in your life. It’s your central tool to organize information, to-do lists, projects, and other miscellaneous items.

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    These Top 15 Time Management Apps and Tools can help you organize better, pick one that fits your needs.

    5. Know Your Deadlines

    When do you need to finish your tasks? Mark the deadlines out clearly in your calendar and organizer so you know when you need to finish them.

    But make sure you don’t make these 10 Common Mistakes When Setting Deadlines.

    6. Learn to Say “No”

    Don’t take on more than you can handle. For the distractions that come in when you’re doing other things, give a firm no. Or defer it to a later period.

    Leo Babauta, the founder of Zen Habits has some great insights on how to say no: The Gentle Art of Saying No

    7. Target to Be Early

    When you target to be on time, you’ll either be on time or late. Most of the times you’ll be late. However, if you target to be early, you’ll most likely be on time.

    For appointments, strive to be early. For your deadlines, submit them earlier than required.

    Learn from these tips about how to prepare yourself to be early, instead of just in time.

    8. Time Box Your Activities

    This means restricting your work to X amount of time. Why time boxing is good for you? Here’re 10 reasons why you should start time-boxing.

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    You can also read more about how to do time boxing here: Get What Matters Done by Scheduling Time Blocks

    9. Have a Clock Visibly Placed Before You

    Sometimes we are so engrossed in our work that we lose track of time. Having a huge clock in front of you will keep you aware of the time at the moment.

    10. Set Reminders 15 Minutes Before

    Most calendars have a reminder function. If you have an important meeting to attend, set that alarm 15 minutes before.

    You can learn more about how reminders help you remember everything in this article: The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    11. Focus

    Are you multi-tasking so much that you’re just not getting anything done? If so, focus on just one key task at one time. Multitasking is bad for you.

    Close off all the applications you aren’t using. Close off the tabs in your browser that are taking away your attention. Focus solely on what you’re doing. You’ll be more efficient that way.

    Lifehack’s CEO has written a definitive guide on how to focus, learn the tips: How to Focus and Maximize Your Productivity (the Definitive Guide)

    12. Block out Distractions

    What’s distracting you in your work? Instant messages? Phone ringing? Text messages popping in?

    I hardly ever use chat nowadays. The only times when I log on is when I’m not intending to do any work. Otherwise it gets very distracting.

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    When I’m doing important work, I also switch off my phone. Calls during this time are recorded and I contact them afterward if it’s something important. This helps me concentrate better.

    Find more tips on how to minimize distractions to achieve more in How to Minimize Distraction to Get Things Done

    13. Track Your Time Spent

    When you start to track your time, you’re more aware of how you spend your time. For example, you can set a simple countdown timer to make sure that you finish a task within a period of time, say 30 minutes or 1 hour. The time pressure can push you to stay focused and work more efficiently.

    You can find more time tracking apps here and pick one that works for you.

    14. Don’t Fuss About Unimportant Details

    You’re never get everything done in exactly the way you want. Trying to do so is being ineffective.

    Trying to be perfect does you more harm than good, learn here about how perfectionism kills your productivity and how to ditch the perfectionism mindset.

    15. Prioritize

    Since you can’t do everything, learn to prioritize the important and let go of the rest.

    Apply the 80/20 principle which is a key principle in prioritization. You can also take up this technique to prioritize everything on your plate: How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

    16. Delegate

    If there are things that can be better done by others or things that are not so important, consider delegating. This takes a load off and you can focus on the important tasks.

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    When you delegate some of your work, you free up your time and achieve more. Learn about how to effectively delegate works in this guide: How to Delegate Work (the Definitive Guide for Successful Leaders)

    17. Batch Similar Tasks Together

    For related work, batch them together.

    For example, my work can be categorized into these core groups:

    1. writing (articles, my upcoming book)
    2. coaching
    3. workshop development
    4. business development
    5. administrative

    I batch all the related tasks together so there’s synergy. If I need to make calls, I allocate a time slot to make all my calls. It really streamlines the process.

    18. Eliminate Your Time Wasters

    What takes your time away your work? Facebook? Twitter? Email checking? Stop checking them so often.

    One thing you can do is make it hard to check them – remove them from your browser quick links / bookmarks and stuff them in a hard to access bookmarks folder. Replace your browser bookmarks with important work-related sites.

    While you’ll still checking FB/Twitter no doubt, you’ll find it’s a lower frequency than before.

    19. Cut off When You Need To

    The number one reason why things overrun is because you don’t cut off when you have to.

    Don’t be afraid to intercept in meetings or draw a line to cut-off. Otherwise, there’s never going to be an end and you’ll just eat into the time for later.

    20. Leave Buffer Time In-Between

    Don’t pack everything closely together. Leave a 5-10 minute buffer time in between each tasks. This helps you wrap up the previous task and start off on the next one.

    More Time Management Tips

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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