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The 5-Step Plan to Avoid Distraction and Get Things Done

The 5-Step Plan to Avoid Distraction and Get Things Done

Do you ever have enough time to fit it all in? Are you time deficient and task overloaded? If you are, don’t worry—you are not alone, and there are ways to take control of your workload and get your work done.

Disturbed Focus

One of the reasons that many people are overloaded with work is not because they have too much to do, but because we live in a world of information overload and our focus is constantly being disturbed. Have you ever sat in a coffee shop or in an airport and gotten more work done in an hour than you do in a week? Sound familiar? That’s because sometimes when we are out of our own environment we are not being disturbed by a barrage of distractions. It’s crazy to think that when undisturbed, we can achieve so much in a short space of time. Wouldn’t it be great if you could imitate that everyday?

Well the good news is you can if you choose to. You first have to identify the things that distract you, and then set about eliminating or at least reducing them from your day.

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1. Clutter

On the outside, clutter appears to be an innocent by-product from our hectic lifestyles but in fact, clutter can be guilty of a lot more than an untidy environment. Clutter affects your state of being whether you are aware of it consciously or not, by disturbing your focus and confusing your mind. The first step to having fierce focus is de-cluttering your space and your mind. Make sure you have the right storage for your stuff; the main reason for clutter is that an object that gets left lying around doesn’t have a home. Correct storage solutions will avoid this, so invest in proper storage to avoid this from happening, but only after you have de-cluttered and removed unnecessary objects from your life.

2. Get Organized

After de-cluttering, you will need to organize what is left over; this will reduce the amount of time you spend looking for things and keep you feeling calmer and in control of your duties and responsibilities. If you work with paper you will need an effective filing system: consider a filing cabinet with hanging folders and labelled manila inserts for clear and easy retrieval, and a desk stand for current folders and work in action. Alternatively, if you decide to go paperless, you will need an efficient folder structure on your PC to store your scanned documents. A program such as Evernote allows you to store your documents in Notebooks with tags.

3. Schedule

“What gets scheduled, gets done.” If you want to get something done, stick it in your diary. Once you plan something it’s difficult to avoid doing it—you may move it from one week to the next, but you will eventually have to tackle it. If you find you are still ignoring a task, ask yourself whether it’s really important. Maybe it is no longer a priority and doesn’t need to be done at all. Planning your tasks is the best way to avoid been pulled in all directions by your own distracted mind, or by others looking for your time and attention. If you have allocated an hour for a project and someone comes looking for your help, you will be more likely to tell them to call back later or to schedule a time to speak to them.

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4. Disconnect

Once you have created a clear, clutter-free, organized environment, you need to do the same with your electronics. One of the chief time thieves of our day is technology; though created to make our lives easier, it is guilty of absorbing our minutes like an hourglass pulls sand to its base. If you want to achieve great things you need to be in control and not react to every bell and whistle that comes out of your electronic devices.

What to do?

Switch off all notifications from social networks, and go to these programs only when you allocate time for them; not when someone thinks their update is more important that you getting your work done.

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Process Emails twice or three times a day—turn off notifications, and batch process them.

Send fewer emails to receive fewer. Consider using other methods of communication appropriate to the message.

Shut down the Internet and your email when you are trying to get work done. If you find this too difficult, you could use something like Leechblock, a browser Add-on that will limit your access to the Internet during specified times of the day.

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5. Get Out of the House/Office

I’m writing this while sitting in a coffee shop. I come here to write; there is no Internet connection and all I can do is write or stare out the window at the wild sea, which helps my mind to focus on what I am doing. When I work from home I get distracted easily. Leaving the house and sipping a chai while writing allows me to get so much more done than I would at home.

Awareness

The first step to improving your situation is recognizing your own distractions and working on a solution to eliminate or reduce them from your life. It’s your life, and your responsibility to make the changes necessary to help you to reduce stress and get a hell of a lot more done.

 

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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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