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Fight Bad Cellphone Habits For Better Time Management

Fight Bad Cellphone Habits For Better Time Management

    In my recent NewHabits-NewGoals time management programs I have noticed a disturbing trend: now, there is always at least 10% of the class that is unable to comply with my request to turn off their Blackberrys or iPhones for the duration of the class.

    This needs to be put in context, however.

    None of the people sitting in my classes are emergency room surgeons, firemen or policemen. I am not delivering these programs in a war zone, during a hurricane or in the middle of a tornado.

    Yet, they find it absolutely essential to be checking their email every few minutes.

    When I ask the obvious question: “Why?” the response has always been a modified version of the following explanation given to me by a banker with a company headquartered overseas, in Canada. She once failed to respond to an email from Canada within an hour or two. She then received a call from her boss telling her that her lack of responsiveness had been noticed, and that he had been asked by someone in headquarters to intervene, and do something about the “problem.”

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    That this banker was an executive seemed not to matter. She was expected to constantly monitor her email at all times. Period. After all, hadn’t she been given a Blackberry?

    Welcome to the latest technique in micromanagement.

    For aspiring micro-managers, it’s easy: simply give the employee the gift of a Blackberry. Then, send them “important” emails at odd hours (5pm is a good choice.) When you don’t get a response within minutes, make a critical comment, and mention their need to improve their time management skills. Praise them for their responsiveness as they inevitably knuckle under in time, and thank them for becoming a good “team player.”

    For the manager, it’s a case of “mission accomplished.” The employee now understands how important it is to respond to email quickly. The desired behaviour has been put in place.

    We can thank the Blackberry for taking away the last excuse that employees had for not doing exactly what their bosses want them to do, immediately.

    However, what effect does this have on overall corporate productivity?

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    I remember a company I did business with that had a policy of not installing voicemail on their employee’s phones. (This was in the days before cell phones.) In their commitment to serve their internal and external customers, they insisted that whenever the phone rang, even for executives, that it had to be answered.

    This well-intentioned policy had the unintended consequence of pressuring employees to develop the bad habit of dropping whatever they were doing to answer the phone. Back then, they had no idea who the caller was as there was no caller-id provided. A call to a wrong number took precedence over whatever the employee was doing at the moment.

    While that ancient practice would make us smile and shake our heads, the new habit of checking and re-checking email over and over is even more destructive.

    While your phone might not ring every day, the same isn’t true for email — the norm is to receive not just one but several messages per day. An employee that must respond to email quickly must therefore check their email many, many times per day, just to make sure that something more important or more urgent hasn’t just been sent.

    To get at that item, they must read virtually all their email, just in case one of them is critical.

    The manager might think they are getting a responsive employee by giving them a Blackberry, and following the steps I described above.

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    In fact, they are turning their professional into a drone who is incapable of planning their day, and isn’t trusted to decide what to work on from one moment to the next.

    If the author of “Flow” – Mihaly Csikszentmihaly – is to believed, it takes an employee 20 minutes to get back to their most productive state after they interrupt themselves for any reason, including email.

    The professional becomes an unproductive drone.

    What drives this crazy state of affairs is a fear on the part of employees, who knuckle under a regime that they freely acknowledge is destructive because they are afraid of negative repercussions. Better for them to do the stupid thing they despise over and over again, than to be the odd one out who gets called up by their manager for having poor skills.

    Many companies who adapted electronic email devices have seen productivity drop and fear rise, as these bad habits become ubiquitous. They are beginning to ask themselves — how did we get to this place?

    A few are reversing it.

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    They are putting in place smartphone policies that limit their use to certain hours, and banning their use on vacations and public holidays. They are actually training their employees how to manage themselves in a way that expands the amount of “quality time” they spend at their desk each day, by teaching them how to get into and sustain the flow state. They are actively removing the requirement to respond to email by a given time, and are using the phone as a way to communicate emergencies, which is improving the quality of delegation, requesting and promising.

    In other words, they are actively turning the tables on bad habits that have sprung up around the latest technology, and taking charge of the fear-driven culture change that has become the norm in too many companies.

    Image: Cheo70

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    Francis Wade

    Author, Management Consultant

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    Last Updated on April 19, 2021

    The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

    The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

    Think of yourself as a cup. Each day, you wake up full. But as you go about your day—getting tasks done and interacting with people—the amount in your cup gradually gets lower. And as such, you get less and less effective at whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing. You’re running out of steam.

    The solution is obvious: if you don’t have anything left to pour out, then you need to find a way to fill yourself up again. In work terms, that means you should take a break—an essential form of revitalizing your motivation and focus.

    Taking a break may get a bad rap in hustle culture, but it’s an essential, science-based way to ensure you have the capacity to live your life the way you want to live it.

    In the 1980s, when scientists began researching burnout, they described this inner capacity as “resources.” We all need to replenish our resources to cope with stress, work effectively, and avoid burnout.[1]

    When the goal is to get things done, it may sound counterproductive to stop what you’re doing. But if you embrace the art of taking a break, you can be more efficient and effective at work.

    Here are five ways on how you can take a break and boost your productivity.

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    1. Break for the Right Amount of Time, at the Right Time

    When I started my first job out of college, I was bent on pleasing my boss as most entry-level employees do. So, every day, I punched in at 9 AM on the dot, took a 60-minute lunch break at noon, and left no earlier than 5 PM.

    As I’ve logged more hours in my career, I’ve realized the average, eight-hour workday with an hour lunch break simply isn’t realistic—especially if your goal is to put your best foot forward at work.

    That’s why popular productivity techniques like the Pomodoro advocate for the “sprint” principle. Basically, you work for a short burst, then stop for a short, five-minute break. While the Pomodoro technique is a step forward, more recent research shows a shorter burst of working followed by a longer pause from work might actually be a more effective way to get the most out of stepping away from your desk.

    The team at DeskTime analyzed more than 5 million records of how workers used their computers on the job. They found that the most productive people worked an average of 52 minutes, then took a 17-minute break afterward.[2]

    What’s so special about those numbers? Leave it to neuroscience. According to researchers, the human brain naturally works in spurts of activity that last an hour. Then, it toggles to “low-activity mode.”[3]

    Even so, keep in mind that whatever motivates you is the most effective method. It’s more about the premise—when you know you have a “finish line” approaching, you can stay focused on the task or project at hand.

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    There are many applications and tools that can help you block distracting websites and apps (such as social media) for specific periods of the day. Similarly, you can also use some mailing apps like Mailbrew to receive all the social media content or newsletters you don’t want to miss in your inbox at a time you decide.

    So, no matter how long you work, take a break when you sense you’re losing steam or getting bored with the task. Generally, a 10-15 minute break should reinvigorate you for whatever’s coming next.

    2. Get a Change of Scenery—Ideally, Outdoors

    When it comes to increasing a person’s overall mental health, there’s no better balm than nature. Research has found that simply being outside can restore a person’s mind from mental fatigue related to work or studying, ultimately contributing to improved work performance (and even improved work satisfaction).[4]

    No lush forest around? Urban nature can be just as effective to get the most out of your break-taking. Scientists Stephen R. Kellert and Edward O. Wilson, in their book The Biophilia Hypothesis, claimed that even parks, outdoor paths, and building designs that embrace “urban nature” can lend a sense of calm and inspiration, encouraging learning and alertness for workers.

    3. Move Your Body

    A change of scenery can do wonders for your attention span and ability to focus, but it’s even more beneficial if you pair it with physical movement to pump up that adrenaline of yours. Simply put, your body wasn’t designed to be seated the entire day. In fact, scientists now believe that extended periods of sitting are just as dangerous to health as smoking.[5]

    It’s not always feasible to enjoy the benefits of a 30-minute brisk walk during your workday, especially since you’ll most likely have less energy during workdays. But the good news is, for productivity purposes, you don’t have to. Researchers found that just 10 minutes of exercise can boost your memory and attention span throughout the entire day.[6]

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    So, instead of using your break to sit and read the news or scroll your social media account, get out of your chair and move your body. Take a quick walk around the block. Do some jumping jacks in your home office. Whatever you choose, you’ll likely find yourself with a sharper focus—and more drive to get things done.

    4. Connect With Another Person

    Social connection is one of the most important factors for resilience. When we’re in a relationship with other people, it’s easier to cope with stress—and in my experience, getting social can also help to improve focus after a work break.

    One of my favorite ways to break after a 30-or-so minute sprint is to hang out with my family. And once a week, I carve out time to Skype my relatives back in Turkey. It’s amazing how a bit of levity and emotional connection can rev me up for the next work sprint.

    Now that most of us are working from home, getting some face-to-face time with a loved one isn’t as hard as it once was. So, take the time to chat with your partner. Take your kids outside to run around the backyard. If you live alone, call a friend or relative. Either way, coming up for air to chat with someone who knows and cares about you will leave you feeling invigorated and inspired.

    5. Use Your Imagination

    When you’re working with your head down, your brain has an ongoing agenda: get things done, and do it well. That can be an effective method for productivity, but it only lasts so long—especially because checking things off your to-do list isn’t the only ingredient to success at work. You also need innovation.

    That’s why I prioritize a “brain break” every day. When I feel my “cup” getting empty, I usually choose another creative activity to exercise my brain, like a Crossword puzzle, Sudoku, or an unrelated, creative project in my house.

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    And when I’m really struggling to focus, I don’t do anything at all. Instead, I let my brain roam free for a bit, following my thoughts down whatever trail they lead me. As it turns out, there’s a scientific benefit to daydreaming. It reinforces creativity and helps you feel more engaged with the world, which will only benefit you in your work.[7]

    Whether you help your kids with their distance learning homework, read an inspiring book, or just sit quietly to enjoy some fresh air, your brain will benefit from an opportunity to think and feel without an agenda. And, if you’re anything like me, you might just come up with your next great idea when you aren’t even trying.

    Final Thoughts

    Most of us have to work hard for our families and ourselves. And the current world we live in demands the highest level of productivity that we can offer. However, we also have to take a break once in a while. We are humans, after all.

    Learning the art of properly taking a break will not only give you the rest you need but also increase your productivity in the long run.

    More on the Importance of Taking a Break

    Featured photo credit: Helena Lopes via unsplash.com

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