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Time and Procrastination: Using Technology To Become Efficient With Your Time

Time and Procrastination: Using Technology To Become Efficient With Your Time

Ever since I started school I have had to battle my procrastination. Sometimes it almost feels like a disease; one that is treatable at times, but just seems to never go away. Because of my bad procrastination, I adopted systems like GTD,  a calendar and scheduled and time-blocked everything,  reminders of important tasks and due dates “dinging” from everywhere. What I found is that unless I am on top of my game and choosing to “be productive”, I easily fall back into the pit of procrastination, where time is never “of the essence”.

Objective and subjective time

I’ve read quite a few books and essays on the psychological effects and reasons of procrastination. Something interesting that has stuck with me is in the book Procrastination by Jane B. Burka (not an affiliate link) having to do with the way that “procrastinators” perceive and interact with time. According to Burka there are two ways that we deal with and understand time: objectively and subjectively. Objective time is “measured by clock and calendar” and is predictable where as subjective time is measured by our own personal understanding and is outside of clock time.

As you can see, if your personal subjective time isn’t lining up with the world’s objective time you can have some serious issues, especially since your boss, your professors, and your spouse tend to base everything off of objective time.

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I have this problem with objective time and after reading through Procrastination I decided to break myself of it by employing some different techniques when it came to my “time management skills” or lack thereof.

Track, track, track

    Some bright person once said, “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” and that holds completely true with managing your time. The first thing that I had to do to understand how I use my time was track almost everything. For instance, I found myself being late in the mornings for work and always blamed it on something external; like the winter weather, traffic, how long it took to get gas in the morning etc. It wasn’t until I started tracking how long it actually took me to take a shower and get out of the house did I understand that I needed to get up about 20 minutes earlier. It sounds stupid, I know, but to someone who thinks they understand time and where it goes, it takes the detail of tracking the real world to understand it.

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    You can track your time many different ways but some of the best apps that I have found for Android and iPhone are great when you are on the run and need to get a quick statistic to use for planning. There are a ton of options on both platforms but in the free category I would go with Eternity Time Lite and aTimeLogger for iPhone and Time Recording – Timesheet App and Track Task Time for Android. All of these offer the user the ability to track multiple activities, create their own categories, and gives them reports and statistics they can use to help understand just where there time goes.

    You can also track your time use on your PC or Mac with RescueTime. RescueTime basically tracks what applications you are spending your time with and can give you a realistic view of where your computer time is going.

    Starting now and time blocking

    One of the most elusive ways that procrastinators abuse time and do not sync their subjective time with objective time is underestimating how long a task will take to complete. I’ve been told my many former and current software project managers that when they ask a software developer how long it will take to get something done they usually multiply their answer by two or three to set realistic expectations. Many of us are confident (sometimes overconfident) and do not set realistic time constants on ourselves.

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      This is where starting a task or project immediately and then time blocking the rest of it is a great way to balance time. The idea is simple, when given a task or project to complete,  jump in and start working on it for at least 25 minutes. This allows you to understand how big the task or project is which allows you to make realistic predictions of how long it will take to complete. This is syncing your subjective time with objective time. After this you can time block the project.

      Time blocking, the idea of blocking out a certain amount of time on your calendar for a task or project, has been around forever and works well if you have a realistic view of how long something will take to complete. After starting your task or project, take out your favorite calendar app and start “blocking” out time in your schedule to complete the task. Usually, if I think something is going to take 2 hours to complete, I block out about 2.5 total hours. This gives me some starting and stopping leeway. I also suggest only blocking out 50 minutes at a time to prevent burning yourself out. It seems that 50 minutes of work and 10 minutes of rest/play when you are in a working period is ideal.

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      When it comes to generic timers for PC or Mac I highly recommend FocusBooster. It’s an Adobe Air application that lends itself to the Pomodoro technique of task timing, but you can use it for setting your working time on a task or project. For calendaring, I have to admit that I solely use Google Calendar for all my calendaring needs as it is everywhere I go and I can sync it to just about any device I want to. That isn’t to say there aren’t a bunch of good calendaring options out there, it’s just that Google Calendar has met all of my needs thus far.

      Conclusion

      Having an understanding of how to sync your subjective time and the world’s objective time can save you a ton of pain in your personal and professional life. But, if you are anything like me you will need a some help along the way to understand where the objective time goes. Hopefully if you understand the difference between your “inner clock” and the real world, track how long it takes you to accomplish tasks, and think more realistically about how long it take to accomplish something and schedule accordingly, you can say goodbye to procrastinating your time away.

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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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