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Don’t Buy a Gadget, Change a Habit (or Putting the “P” in PDA Productivity)

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Don’t Buy a Gadget, Change a Habit (or Putting the “P” in PDA Productivity)

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    A few months ago as I was travelling through LaGuardia airport, I caught site of a fellow traveller with his two hands clicking away on his Blackberry. What looked a bit different was the fact that both his hands were above his head, clicking away on the keyboard as he stared upwards at the device. What was truly bizarre was the fact that he was using the urinal in the men’s room at the same time… “multi-tasking.”

    Apart from the health and hygiene considerations that make most of us cringe (I figure that his hands had to touch his PDA and some other “P’s” before leaving the men’s room,) he probably was not a surgeon saving a life or a spy planning his escape to Paris, one step ahead of the mysterious guys in black coats.

    Instead, he was probably trying to save his skin because Morrison in Finance was trying to weasel his way in with the guys in corporate, taking advantage of an absence from the office. Only a well- timed email would thwart that devious strategy.

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    In other words, there was probably no life-threatening emergency at hand, and instead, our PDA-wielding professional was doing what lots of us do — use new technology to ruin our productivity.

    In the case of multi-tasking, it’s well known that higher productivity comes at the moments when professionals are able to accomplish that elusive state of complete focus described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book Flow. According to the author, these are the times when professionals find themselves at their highest points of creativity.

    He also has found that it takes some 20 minutes to enter this focused mode, and another 20 or so minutes to re-enter it once it’s broken. The professional who checks email every 15 minutes throughout the day is never able to function at anything other than a low state. Neither is the guy who answers his cell phone whenever it rings, and continually checks it for text and voicemail messages.

    The one who spends an entire meeting checking email also does some damage, as does the person who reads their email and Tweets his buddies while you are talking with them on the phone.

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    In other words, their bad habits ruin their chances of being productive, and the latest technology only makes it easier for them to include others in the destruction.

    I worked with a telecom company once in the late 1990’s in which everyone had a cell-phone. That was not a problem by itself.

    Unfortunately, their executives developed a bad habit of answering the device whenever it rang, regardless of what else was happening around them.

    This meant that in any meeting, anyone could disappear into their cell-phones, even if they happened to be speaking. They’d simply stop in mid-sentence and answer their phone… without knowing who was calling.

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    The effect when they returned was predictable — “What was I saying again?” As a result, meetings would drag, taking twice as long as they required.

    When it comes to personal productivity, new technology is useful when it’s complemented by sound individual habits. In their absence, technology does create a few things that masquerade as higher productivity. The fact is, you’re not more productive because you can: 1. Listen to music on your iPhone instead of your iPod. 2. Take pictures of your friends with your smartphone instead of your camera 3. Read junk mail on the beach during your vacation in the Bahamas, instead of at work 4. Send email at odd moments in airport rest-rooms, under the guise of “multi-tasking”

    You might be happier in some strange way (I guess it depends on who is on the receiving end of the email sent at that odd moment) but poor habits are only made worse with the best, well- intentioned technology.

    I have a feeling that the creators of the Blackberry weren’t thinking to themselves “Let’s distract people so much, that they end up in fatal crashes that provide the punch-line for feature films.” (My apologies to you if you haven’t seen a very popular, recent flick starring Will Smith.)

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    What’s strange to me is that after spending a few hours searching, the only smartphone training I can find on the internet has to do with learning how to use advanced features such as Bluetooth.

    There is very little to help professionals to develop the habits that can take advantage of these new tools, and actually improve their productivity, rather than destroy it. They are on their own to find ways to invent time management systems that use the right blend of habits and technology that fit their individual circumstances. Checking Blackberry messages at 11pm each night might be a habit that works for you, while all it does for me is earn me the silent treatment of my spouse.

    Instead, I need to be savvy about the habit-technology blend I employ, and to understand how to craft solutions that meet my daily needs. For most of us, these include being more productive, staying out of trouble and un-learning strange habits we are starting to employ at odd moments.

    More by this author

    Francis Wade

    Author, Management Consultant

    The New Lifehacking #7 – Why You Should Be Open to New Stuff, But Wary About Using It How To Manage A Post-College Productivity Dip Why You Need to Understand and Accept Your Productive Type A Tendencies The New LifeHacking #6 – Staying Away from Harmful Gadgets The New Lifehacking #5 – Tricking Yourself into Making the Changes You Need

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    Published on September 21, 2021

    How Remote Work Affects Your Productivity And Wellbeing (Backed By Data)

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    How Remote Work Affects Your Productivity And Wellbeing (Backed By Data)

    The internet is flooded with articles about remote work and its benefits or drawbacks. But in reality, the remote work experience is so subjective that it’s impossible to draw general conclusions and issue one-size-fits-all advice about it. However, one thing that’s universal and rock-solid is data. Data-backed findings and research about remote work productivity give us a clear picture of how our workdays have changed and how work from home affects us—because data doesn’t lie.

    In this article, we’ll look at three decisive findings from a recent data study and two survey reports concerning remote work productivity and worker well-being.

    1. We Take Less Frequent Breaks

    Your home can be a peaceful or a distracting place depending on your living and family conditions. While some of us might find it hard to focus amidst the sounds of our everyday life, other people will tell you that the peace and quiet while working from home (WFH) is a major productivity booster. Then there are those who find it hard to take proper breaks at home and switch off at the end of the workday.

    But what does data say about remote work productivity? Do we work more or less in a remote setting?

    Let’s take a step back to pre-pandemic times (2014, to be exact) when a time tracking application called DeskTime discovered that 10% of most productive people work for 52 minutes and then take a break for 17 minutes.

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    Recently, the same time tracking app repeated that study to reveal working and breaking patterns during the pandemic. They found that remote work has caused an increase in time worked, with the most productive people now working for 112 minutes and breaking for 26 minutes.[1]

    Now, this may seem rather innocent at first—so what if we work for extended periods of time as long as we also take longer breaks? But let’s take a closer look at this proportion.

    While breaks have become only nine minutes longer, work sprints have more than doubled. That’s nearly two hours of work, meaning that the most hard-working people only take three to four breaks per 8-hour workday. This discovery makes us question if working from home (WFH) really is as good a thing for our well-being as we thought it was. In addition, in the WFH format, breaks are no longer a treat but rather a time to squeeze in a chore or help children with schoolwork.

    Online meetings are among the main reasons for less frequent breaks. Pre-pandemic meetings meant going to another room, stretching your legs, and giving your eyes a rest from the computer. In a remote setting, all meetings happen on screen, sometimes back-to-back, which could be one of the main factors explaining the longer work hours recorded.

    2. We Face a Higher Risk of Burnout

    At first, many were optimistic about remote work’s benefits in terms of work-life balance as we save time on commuting and have more time to spend with family—at least in theory. But for many people, this was quickly counterbalanced by a struggle to separate their work and personal lives. Buffer’s 2021 survey for the State of Remote Work report found that the biggest struggle of remote workers is not being able to unplug, with collaboration difficulties and loneliness sharing second place.[2]

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    Buffer’s respondents were also asked if they are working more or less since their shift to remote work, and 45 percent admitted to working more. Forty-two percent said they are working the same amount, while 13 percent responded that they are working less.

    Longer work hours and fewer quality breaks can dramatically affect our health, as long-term sitting and computer use can cause eye strain, mental fatigue, and other issues. These, in turn, can lead to more severe consequences, such as burnout and heart disease.

    Let’s have a closer look at the connection between burnout and remote work.

    McKinsey’s report about the Future of work states that 49% of people say they’re feeling some symptoms of burnout.[3] And that may be an understatement since employees experiencing burnout are less likely to respond to survey requests and may have even left the workforce.

    From the viewpoint of the employer, remote workers may seem like they are more productive and working longer hours. However, managers must be aware of the risks associated with increased employee anxiety. Otherwise, the productivity gains won’t be long-lasting. It’s no secret that prolonged anxiety can reduce job satisfaction, decrease work performance, and negatively affect interpersonal relationships with colleagues.[4]

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    3. Despite everything, We Love Remote Work

    An overwhelming majority—97 percent—of Buffer report’s survey respondents say they would like to continue working remotely to some extent. The two main benefits mentioned by the respondents are the ability to have a flexible schedule and the flexibility to work from anywhere.

    McKinsey’s report found that more than half of employees would like their workplace to adopt a more flexible hybrid virtual-working model, with some days of work on-premises and some days working remotely. To be more exact, more than half of employees report that they would like at least three work-from-home days a week once the pandemic is over.

    Companies will increasingly be forced to find ways to satisfy these workforce demands while implementing policies to minimize the risks associated with overworking and burnout. Smart companies will embrace this new trend and realize that adopting hybrid models can also be a win for them—for example, for accessing talent in different locations and at a lower cost.

    Remote Work: Blessing or Plight?

    Understandably, workers worldwide are tempted to keep the good work-life aspects that have come out of the pandemic—professional flexibility, fewer commutes, and extra time with family. But with the once strict boundaries between work and life fading, we must remain cautious. We try to squeeze in house chores during breaks. We do online meetings from the kitchen or the same couch we watch TV shows from, and many of us report difficulties switching off after work.

    So, how do we keep our private and professional lives from hopelessly blending together?

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    The answer is that we try to replicate the physical and virtual boundaries that come naturally in an office setting. This doesn’t only mean having a dedicated workspace but also tracking your work time and stopping when your working hours are finished. In addition, it means working breaks into your schedule because watercooler chats don’t just naturally happen at home.

    If necessary, we need to introduce new rituals that resemble a normal office day—for example, going for a walk around the block in the morning to simulate “arriving at work.” Remote work is here to stay. If we want to enjoy the advantages it offers, then we need to learn how to cope with the personal challenges that come with it.

    Learn how to stay productive while working remotely with these tips: How to Work From Home: 10 Tips to Stay Productive

    Featured photo credit: Jenny Ueberberg via unsplash.com

    Reference

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