Advertising
Advertising

The Internet and Productivity: A Love/Hate Relationship

The Internet and Productivity: A Love/Hate Relationship

    As hundreds to thousands of American websites go “dark” to protest the current SOPA and PIPA proposals that are in front of their government leaders, they have found that they aren’t alone in this plight. Around the world many other websites from many other countries are uniting with their American Internet colleagues, truly demonstrating that the web is indeed “worldwide” and assembling the largest online protest in history.

    While Lifehack.org hasn’t gone this route today, I’m going to take a look at what the Internet has done (and not done) for those who have wanted to get more productivity out of themselves and their coworkers. Whether you’re looking for solutions to bottlenecks in your workload, want to communicate better with your teammates or simply want to shape your life so that you can live it to its fullest, the Internet has played a part. I’m not saying it’s always been an ally – because for many of us it hasn’t – but I am saying it has played a part. The Internet and productivity have a love/hate relationship, and it’s important to understand that proposed legislation like SOPA (which appears to have been killed) and PIPA will have a real impact on both sides of the equation.

    Why Productivity Loves the Internet

    I could very easily drive off course here and discuss why I love that productivity loves the Internet, but I’ll do my best to avoid that.

    Advertising

    The ability to use comprehensive web apps – whether it be Asana or Flow – or a secondary web app like Dropbox to sync up your tasks and projects, the Internet has made it so much easier for so many people to get things done. You’d be hard-pressed to see iOS and Android devices that could sync as well as they do if the Internet didn’t exist in its current form. In addition, websites such as Lifehack.org would have a much tougher time getting the message out if there was no Internet – because the only way they could exist is in print form. And while productivity sites are pretty popular in the online world, they can’t stand on their own in the offline one.

    Without the Internet there would be far fewer resources for people to look to should they want to improve their productivity. As for collaboration tools, they would be a distant memory (or a figment of the imagination) if it weren’t for this “series of tubes” – as one of the US lawmakers described the base technology you’re using to read this piece right now.

    Think about it: Without the Internet, productivity tools would be far less advanced than they are today.

    That said, some people may not think that’s necessarily a bad thing…

    Advertising

    Why Productivity Hates the Internet

    When we had electronic organizers and paper planners to help us get stuff done, that’s exactly what they were for. They didn’t check email, they didn’t play games, and they didn’t do Twitter or Facebook.

    But the Internet does all of those things…and more.

    The best part about the Internet when it comes to productivity is also its worst. It can help or hurt you, depending on what you, as the end user, does with it.

    The distractions that come with being able to access anything, anytime has done as much to harm the productivity of many as it has done to enhance it for others. But like those who choose paper over digital despite having the option to go with the latter, users have the same type of choice when it comes to using the Internet. You can use it responsibly or you can just use it. You just need to be prepared for the consequences either way.

    Advertising

    What do I mean by that?

    Should you put all of “your productivity eggs in the Internet basket” and it goes down – either in error or on purpose – you had best be ready to deal with what you had on your plate regardless. The thing about analog tools is that you have control over them from beginning to end. How you choose to implement them, what ones you use, what happens to them before and afterward – that’s all on you.

    But with a web app or a software solution that works by connecting to the Internet in some fashion, you’re giving up some form of control. Even if it is a small amount, like syncing, it can be a vital amount. Losing all of what you’ve stored online because of a glitch (or perhaps a server being shut down due to violating the terms set out in a country’s laws) isn’t exactly something you’re ready for. But you might be wise to do so.

    Your Internet. Your Productivity.

    Today is a great to sit down and figure out whether or not you really value the Internet and productivity as a union or if you don’t. You’re not going to be able to remove the internet from the process entirely – email is on the Internet, after all – but you can lessen your reliance on it.

    Advertising

    But do you really want to? Or do you really not want to have a choice in the matter?

    The Internet is a valuable resource that the world needs. It serves to connect us and can make what used to be impossible possible. Productivity types like myself (and likely yourself) have tools and tactics we employ every day that involve using it. Many people nowadays make their living on it. Many of those using it don’t understand all of it, and that’s fine. The problem lies when those that don’t can control its future.

    The only person that should be able to split up the Internet and productivity is you. Don’t let anyone take that choice away from you, no matter how tough that choice may be.

    Editor’s Note: If you want to learn more about SOPA and PIPA, head over to Stop American Censorship.

    (Photo credit: Road Signs Showing the Way to Hate and Love via Shutterstock)

    More by this author

    Mike Vardy

    A productivity specialist who shows you how to define your day, funnel your focus, and make every moment matter.

    Get What Matters Done by Scheduling Time Blocks What Everyone Is Wrong About Achieving Inbox Zero 4 Simple Steps to Brain Dump for a Smarter Brain Why Is Productivity Important? 10 Reasons to Become More Productive How to Use a Calendar to Create Time and Space

    Trending in Lifehack

    1 A Review of “The Art of Learning” 2 The Lifehack Show Episode 11: Mindfulness and the Authentic Self 3 What Everyone Is Wrong About Achieving Inbox Zero 4 How to Plan Your Life Goals and Actually Achieve Them in 7 Simple Steps 5 Forget Learning How to Multitask: Boost Productivity 10X More with Focus

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising
    Advertising

    Last Updated on November 14, 2019

    A Review of “The Art of Learning”

    A Review of “The Art of Learning”

    Review of Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance.  New York: Free Press, 2007.

      Josh Waitzkin has led a full life as a chess master and international martial arts champion, and as of this writing he isn’t yet 35.  The Art of Learning chronicles his journey from chess prodigy (and the subject of the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer) to world championship Tai Chi Chuan with important lessons identified and explained along the way.  Marketing expert Seth Godin has written and said that one should resolve to change three things as a result of reading a business book; the reader will find many lessons in Waitzkin’s volume.  Waitzkin has a list of principles that appear throughout the book, but it isn’t always clear exactly what the principles are and how they tie together.  This doesn’t really hurt the book’s readability, though, and it is at best a minor inconvenience.  There are many lessons for the educator or leader, and as one who teaches college, was president of the chess club in middle school, and who started studying martial arts about two years ago, I found the book engaging, edifying, and instructive.

      Waitzkin’s chess career began among the hustlers of New York’s Washington Square, and he learned how to concentrate among the noise and distractions this brings. This experience taught him the ins and outs of aggressive chess-playing as well as the importance of endurance from the cagey players with whom he interacted.  He was discovered in Washington Square by chess teacher Bruce Pandolfini, who became his first coach and developed him from a prodigious talent into one of the best young players in the world.

      Advertising

      The book presents Waitzkin’s life as a study in contrasts; perhaps this is intentional given Waitzkin’s admitted fascination with eastern philosophy.  Among the most useful lessons concern the aggression of the park chess players and young prodigies who brought their queens into the action early or who set elaborate traps and then pounced on opponents’ mistakes.  These are excellent ways to rapidly dispatch weaker players, but it does not build endurance or skill.  He contrasts these approaches with the attention to detail that leads to genuine mastery over the long run.

      According to Waitzkin, an unfortunate reality in chess and martial arts—and perhaps by extension in education—is that people learn many superficial and sometimes impressive tricks and techniques without developing a subtle, nuanced command of the fundamental principles.  Tricks and traps can impress (or vanquish) the credulous, but they are of limited usefulness against someone who really knows what he or she is doing. Strategies that rely on quick checkmates are likely to falter against players who can deflect attacks and get one into a long middle-game.  Smashing inferior players with four-move checkmates is superficially satisfying, but it does little to better one’s game.

      He offers one child as an anecdote who won many games against inferior opposition but who refused to embrace real challenges, settling for a long string of victories over clearly inferior players (pp. 36-37).  This reminds me of advice I got from a friend recently: always try to make sure you’re the dumbest person in the room so that you’re always learning.  Many of us, though, draw our self-worth from being big fish in small ponds.

      Waitzkin’s discussions cast chess as an intellectual boxing match, and they are particularly apt given his discussion of martial arts later in the book.  Those familiar with boxing will remember Muhammad Ali’s strategy against George Foreman in the 1970s: Foreman was a heavy hitter, but he had never been in a long bout before.  Ali won with his “rope-a-dope” strategy, patiently absorbing Foreman’s blows and waiting for Foreman to exhaust himself.  His lesson from chess is apt (p. 34-36) as he discusses promising young players who focused more intensely on winning fast rather than developing their games.

      Advertising

      Waitzkin builds on these stories and contributes to our understanding of learning in chapter two by discussing the “entity” and “incremental” approaches to learning. Entity theorists believe things are innate; thus, one can play chess or do karate or be an economist because he or she was born to do so.  Therefore, failure is deeply personal.  By contrast, “incremental theorists” view losses as opportunities: “step by step, incrementally, the novice can become the master” (p. 30).  They rise to the occasion when presented with difficult material because their approach is oriented toward mastering something over time.  Entity theorists collapse under pressure.  Waitzkin contrasts his approach, in which he spent a lot of time dealing with end-game strategies
      where both players had very few pieces.  By contrast, he said that many young students begin by learning a wide array of opening variations.  This damaged their games over the long run: “(m)any very talented kids expected to win without much resistance.  When the game was a struggle, they were emotionally unprepared.”  For some of us, pressure becomes a source of paralysis and mistakes are the beginning of a downward spiral (pp. 60, 62).  As Waitzkin argues, however, a different approach is necessary if we are to reach our full potential.

      A fatal flaw of the shock-and-awe, blitzkrieg approach to chess, martial arts, and ultimately anything that has to be learned is that everything can be learned by rote.  Waitzkin derides martial arts practitioners who become “form collectors with fancy kicks and twirls that have absolutely no martial value” (p. 117).  One might say the same thing about problem sets.  This is not to gainsay fundamentals—Waitzkin’s focus in Tai Chi was “to refine certain fundamental principles” (p. 117)—but there is a profound difference between technical proficiency and true understanding.  Knowing the moves is one thing, but knowing how to determine what to do next is quite another.  Waitzkin’s intense focus on refined fundamentals and processes meant that he remained strong in later round while his opponents withered.  His approach to martial arts is summarized in this passage (p. 123):

      “I had condensed my body mechanics into a potent state, while most of my opponents had large, elegant, and relatively impractical repertoires.  The fact is that when there is intense competition, those who succeed have slightly more honed skills than the rest.  It is rarely a mysterious technique that drives us to the top, but rather a profound mastery of what may well be a basic skill set.  Depth beats breadth any day of the week, because it opens a channel for the intangible, unconscious, creative components of our hidden potential.”

      This is about much more than smelling blood in the water.  In chapter 14, he discusses “the illusion of the mystical,” whereby something is so clearly internalized that almost imperceptibly small movements are incredibly powerful as embodied in this quote from Wu Yu-hsiang, writing in the nineteenth century: “If the opponent does not move, then I do not move.  At the opponent’s slightest move, I move first.”  A learning-centered view of intelligence means associating effort with success through a process of instruction and encouragement (p. 32).  In other words, genetics and raw talent can only get you so far before hard work has to pick up the slack (p. 37).

      Advertising

      Another useful lesson concerns the use of adversity (cf. pp. 132-33).  Waitzkin suggests using a problem in one area to adapt and strengthen other areas.  I have a personal example to back this up.  I will always regret quitting basketball in high school.  I remember my sophomore year—my last year playing—I broke my thumb and, instead of focusing on cardiovascular conditioning and other aspects of my game (such as working with my left hand), I waited to recover before I got back to work.

      Waitzkin offers another useful chapter entitled “slowing down time” in which he discusses ways to sharpen and harness intuition.  He discusses the process of “chunking,” which is compartmentalizing problems into progressively larger problems until one does a complex set of calculations tacitly, without having to think about it.  His technical example from chess is particularly instructive in the footnote on page 143.  A chess grandmaster has internalized much about pieces and scenarios; the grandmaster can process a much greater amount of information with less effort than an expert.  Mastery is the process of turning the articulated into the intuitive.

      There is much that will be familiar to people who read books like this, such as the need to pace oneself, to set clearly defined goals, the need to relax, techniques for “getting in the zone,” and so forth.  The anecdotes illustrate his points beautifully.  Over the course of the book, he lays out his methodology for “getting in the zone,” another concept that people in performance-based occupations will find useful.  He calls it “the soft zone” (chapter three), and it consists of being flexible, malleable, and able to adapt to circumstances.  Martial artists and devotees of David Allen’s Getting Things Done might recognize this as having a “mind like water.”  He contrasts this to “the hard zone,” which “demands a cooperative world for you to function.  Like a dry twig, you are brittle, ready to snap under pressure” (p. 54).  “The Soft Zone is resilient, like a flexible blade of grass that can move with and survive hurricane-force winds” (p. 54).

      Another illustration refers to “making sandals” if one is confronted with a journeyacross a field of thorns (p. 55).  Neither bases “success on a submissive world or overpowering force, but on intelligent preparation and cultivated resilience” (p. 55). Much here will be familiar to creative people:  you’re trying to think, but that one song by that one band keeps blasting away in your head.  Waitzkin’s “only option was to become at peace with the noise” (p. 56).  In the language of economics, the constraints are given; we don’t get to choose them.

      Advertising

      This is explored in greater detail in chapter 16.  He discusses the top performers, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, and others who do not obsess over the last failure and who know how to relax when they need to (p. 179).  The experience of NFL quarterback Jim Harbaugh is also useful as “the more he could let things go” while the defense was on the field, “the sharper he was in the next drive” (p. 179).  Waitzkin discusses further things he learned while experimenting in human performance, particularly with respect to “cardiovascular interval training,” which “can have a profound effect on your ability to quickly release tension and recover from mental exhaustion” (p. 181).  It is that last concept—to “recover from mental exhaustion”—that is likely what most academics need help with.

      There is much here about pushing boundaries; however, one must earn the right to do so: as Waitzkin writes, “Jackson Pollock could draw like a camera, but instead he chose to splatter paint in a wild manner that pulsed with emotion”  (p. 85).  This is another good lesson for academics, managers, and educators.  Waitzken emphasizes close attention to detail when receiving instruction, particularly from his Tai Chi instructor William C.C. Chen.  Tai Chi is not about offering resistance or force, but about the ability “to blend with (an opponent’s) energy, yield to it, and overcome with softness” (p. 103).

      The book is littered with stories of people who didn’t reach their potential because they didn’t seize opportunities to improve or because they refused to adapt to conditions.  This lesson is emphasized in chapter 17, where he discusses “making sandals” when confronted with a thorny path, such as an underhanded competitor.  The book offers several principles by which we can become better educators, scholars, and managers.  Celebrating outcomes should be secondary to celebrating the processes that produced those outcomes (pp. 45-47).  There is also a study in contrasts beginning on page 185, and it is something I have struggled to learn.  Waitzkin points to himself at tournaments being able to relax between matches while some of his opponents were pressured to analyze their games in between.  This leads to extreme mental fatigue: “this tendency of competitors to exhaust themselves between rounds of tournaments is surprisingly widespread and very self-destructive” (p. 186).

      The Art of Learning has much to teach us regardless of our field.  I found it particularly relevant given my chosen profession and my decision to start studying martial arts when I started teaching.  The insights are numerous and applicable, and the fact that Waitzkin has used the principles he now teaches to become a world-class competitor in two very demanding competitive enterprises makes it that much easier to read.  I recommend this book to anyone in a position of leadership or in a position that requires extensive learning and adaptation.  That is to say, I recommend this book to everyone.

      More About Learning

      Featured photo credit: Jazmin Quaynor via unsplash.com

      Read Next