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Mental Calibration: 5 Steps to Focus Better and Maintain Perspective

Mental Calibration: 5 Steps to Focus Better and Maintain Perspective

Ever feel like your neurons are stuck in a negative feedback loop? You’re obsessed with a relationship gone wrong, or stuck in an endless argument with your best friend, or you can’t stop thinking about that video game you spend too much time playing. Spiraling thoughts sap away productivity. You know you should stop, but like a bathroom scale that keeps pointing to 5 instead of 0, you can’t seem to get your thoughts in balance. Time to pull back, slow down and recalibrate your neurons. Here’s how:

1. Begin Each Day with the Things that Matter Most

Life is frantic. It’s easy to get caught up in a flurry of email, errands, hobbies and arguments… so much so that you collapse into an exhausted heap on your bed at the end of the day. Wrung out, worn out, you stare toward the ceiling as your thoughts spiral in guilty cycles. There’s so much you didn’t get done.

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It’s a common pattern, but it’s not one you have to stay trapped in. Make an effort to start each day with the things that matter most to you. You’ll still have a huge list of uncompleted tasks by nightfall, but you’ll feel better if you’re confident that what you did instead was more important.

2. Remind Yourself of Your Priorities

Doing the “things that matter most” is all well and good – but it requires actually knowing what your priorities are.

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The human brain is oddly distractible. Start playing a computer game, and within a few minutes, the scoreboard in the upper right corner becomes more important than the paperwork your boss is waiting for. Start weeding the flower beds, and that last, annoying little dandelion sprout can crowd out the needs of your family or children. Bit by bit, over days and weeks, these tiny maladjustments can add up to a severe distortion in our perceptions.

Take time each day, preferably in the morning, to remind your brain of your priorities. This may involve listening to a song by your favorite artist, reading scriptures specific to your religion, writing in a journal or pondering an inspirational quote from the previous century. Whatever helps you drag your brain back into a clear focus on your priorities – spend time doing it.

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3. Seek Opportunities for Growth

A tree that is growing will move instinctively toward the light. It will dig roots that hold it firm against storms. It will adjust to changing conditions and compensate for shifting cliff faces.

A human being who is growing can do many of the same things. Seek opportunities to improve your abilities. Take a class. Read a book. Make an effort to improve your interactions at work or at home. At all costs, resist the temptation to stagnate.

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4. Attend to the Physical

You brain is connected to the rest of your body. If you want it to function properly, you’re going to have to take care of yourself. Get enough sleep. Exercise daily. Learn which foods clear your mind, and which leave you muzzy-headed. Pay attention to your body’s response to sunlight, fresh air and freedom from constant, oppressive background noises. Everyone’s body is different, so the best way to discover what yours needs is through trial and error.

5. Surround Yourself with Focused, Confident People

We tend to become more like the people we spend time with. Seek out friendships and business contacts that build you up. Avoid social groups that make you feel uncomfortable, looked down upon or incompetent. Learn to trust your own inner compass. Cultivate the company of people who accept you for who you are and inspire you to improve.

Featured photo credit: marykbaird via morguefile.com

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The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

It’s a depressing adage we’ve all heard time and time again: An increase in technology does not necessarily translate to an increase in productivity.

Put another way by Robert Solow, a Nobel laureate in economics,

“You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”

In other words, just because our computers are getting faster, that doesn’t mean that that we will have an equivalent leap in productivity. In fact, the opposite may be true!

New York Times writer Matt Richel wrote in an article for the paper back in 2008 that stated, “Statistical and anecdotal evidence mounts that the same technology tools that have led to improvements in productivity can be counterproductive if overused.”

There’s a strange paradox when it comes to productivity. Rather than an exponential curve, our productivity will eventually reach a plateau, even with advances in technology.

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So what does that mean for our personal levels of productivity? And what does this mean for our economy as a whole? Here’s what you should know about the productivity paradox, its causes, and what possible solutions we may have to combat it.

What is the productivity paradox?

There is a discrepancy between the investment in IT growth and the national level of productivity and productive output. The term “productivity paradox” became popularized after being used in the title of a 1993 paper by MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson, a Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and the Director of the MIT Center for Digital Business.

In his paper, Brynjolfsson argued that while there doesn’t seem to be a direct, measurable correlation between improvements in IT and improvements in output, this might be more of a reflection on how productive output is measured and tracked.[1]

He wrote in his conclusion:

“Intangibles such as better responsiveness to customers and increased coordination with suppliers do not always increase the amount or even intrinsic quality of output, but they do help make sure it arrives at the right time, at the right place, with the right attributes for each customer.

Just as managers look beyond “productivity” for some of the benefits of IT, so must researchers be prepared to look beyond conventional productivity measurement techniques.”

How do we measure productivity anyway?

And this brings up a good point. How exactly is productivity measured?

In the case of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity gain is measured as the percentage change in gross domestic product per hour of labor.

But other publications such as US Today, argue that this is not the best way to track productivity, and instead use something called Total Factor Productivity (TFP). According to US Today, TFP “examines revenue per employee after subtracting productivity improvements that result from increases in capital assets, under the assumption that an investment in modern plants, equipment and technology automatically improves productivity.”[2]

In other words, this method weighs productivity changes by how much improvement there is since the last time productivity stats were gathered.

But if we can’t even agree on the best way to track productivity, then how can we know for certain if we’ve entered the productivity paradox?

Possible causes of the productivity paradox

Brynjolfsson argued that there are four probable causes for the paradox:

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  • Mis-measurement – The gains are real but our current measures miss them.
  • Redistribution – There are private gains, but they come at the expense of other firms and individuals, leaving little net gain.
  • Time lags – The gains take a long time to show up.
  • Mismanagement – There are no gains because of the unusual difficulties in managing IT or information itself.

There seems to be some evidence to support the mis-measurement theory as shown above. Another promising candidate is the time lag, which is supported by the work of Paul David, an economist at Oxford University.

According to an article in The Economist, his research has shown that productivity growth did not accelerate until 40 years after the introduction of electric power in the early 1880s.[3] This was partly because it took until 1920 for at least half of American industrial machinery to be powered by electricity.”

Therefore, he argues, we won’t see major leaps in productivity until both the US and major global powers have all reached at least a 50% penetration rate for computer use. The US only hit that mark a decade ago, and many other countries are far behind that level of growth.

The paradox and the recession

The productivity paradox has another effect on the recession economy. According to Neil Irwin,[4]

“Sky-high productivity has meant that business output has barely declined, making it less necessary to hire back laid-off workers…businesses are producing only 3 percent fewer goods and services than they were at the end of 2007, yet Americans are working nearly 10 percent fewer hours because of a mix of layoffs and cutbacks in the workweek.”

This means that more and more companies are trying to do less with more, and that means squeezing two or three people’s worth of work from a single employee in some cases.

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According to Irwin, “workers, frightened for their job security, squeezed more productivity out of every hour [in 2010].”

Looking forward

A recent article on Slate puts it all into perspective with one succinct observation:

“Perhaps the Internet is just not as revolutionary as we think it is. Sure, people might derive endless pleasure from it—its tendency to improve people’s quality of life is undeniable. And sure, it might have revolutionized how we find, buy, and sell goods and services. But that still does not necessarily mean it is as transformative of an economy as, say, railroads were.”

Still, Brynjolfsson argues that mismeasurement of productivity can really skew the results of people studying the paradox, perhaps more than any other factor.

“Because you and I stopped buying CDs, the music industry has shrunk, according to revenues and GDP. But we’re not listening to less music. There’s more music consumed than before.

On paper, the way GDP is calculated, the music industry is disappearing, but in reality it’s not disappearing. It is disappearing in revenue. It is not disappearing in terms of what you should care about, which is music.”

Perhaps the paradox isn’t a death sentence for our productivity after all. Only time (and perhaps improved measuring techniques) will tell.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

Reference

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