Douglas Rushkoff examines how we are using digital devices to manage our lives, and how something designed to give us more time can, in fact, give us less.
In the 1950s, the researchers William Dement and Nathaniel Kleitman discovered that we sleep in cycles of roughly 90 minutes, moving from light to deep sleep and back out again. They named this pattern the Basic-Rest Activity Cycle or BRAC. A decade later, Professor Kleitman discovered that this cycle recapitulates itself during our waking lives.
The difference is that during the day we move from a state of alertness progressively into physiological fatigue approximately every 90 minutes. Our bodies regularly tell us to take a break, but we often override these signals and instead stoke ourselves up with caffeine, sugar and our own emergency reserves — the stress hormones adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol. Working in 90-minute intervals turns out to be a prescription for maximizing productivity. Professor K. Anders Ericsson and his colleagues at Florida State University have studied elite performers, including musicians, athletes, actors and chess players. In each of these fields, Dr. Ericsson found that the best performers typically practice in uninterrupted sessions that last no more than 90 minutes. They begin in the morning, take a break between sessions, and rarely work for more than four and a half hours in any given day.
Relax! You’ll Be More Productive
Comedian and author Baratunde Thurston walks us through his own journey from lone standup comic to Director of Digital at The Onion. He shares his insights for pushing projects to completion and the lessons he learned while working with skeptical teammates. The key, he says, is to not confuse using tools with creativity.
Ogami notebooks are created in Milan, Italy, using a revolutionary process that produces paper entirely from limestone and ecological resins, creating a durable but smooth surface that makes writing on it a unique experience. “The pen floats across the paper.” This innovative process produces paper that is whiter, lighter, softer, and silkier, yet tear-resistant, and more durable than traditional paper. Unlike paper, Repap is waterproof and can be erased cleanly for re-use. A perfect ecologically sound (Americans still use about 71 million tons of paper per year — only 63 percent of which is ever recycled) companion to apps. like Evernote. (via.)
In an era of mobile devices, instant connectivity, and automated mailing lists and notifications, it is all too easy for people to contact us. As a consequence, we live our lives just trying to keep our heads above water. Our ability to prioritize and control our focus is crippled by an unyielding flow of incoming communication: email, texts, tweets, facebook messages, phone calls, and so on (and on).
A great reminder from Scott Belsky. Read more.
It’s discouraging to put in a busy day only to realize that despite the time and effort you haven’t really accomplished much at all. Between email, IM, the phone, noise and quick questions it seems your time can easily be spent dealing and recovering from interruptions.
Interruptions tend to make your work day much longer than necessary.
I find that I am at my happiest and most productive when I am working in the “flow”, perhaps more commonly referred to as “in the zone” or “in the groove”. “Flow” is a mental state in which a person is fully immersed in the completion of an activity. It’s a state of deep concentration. It typically takes about 15 minutes of uninterrupted study to get into a state of “flow”, and the constant interruptions and distractions of a typical office environment will force you out of “flow” and make productivity difficult to achieve
When you work in a number of different environments like I do — home office, work, café, airport — it can add further to the challenge of avoiding interuptions. Here a number things I do to help avoid this productivity killer.
1) Turn off all notifications. Auditory and visual signals from IM, email, twitter clients and your mobile phone are all designed to grab your attention in order to inform. Turning this signal to silent or completely turning them off is perhaps the most obvious first step in creating an environment free from distraction. Some of my colleagues simply display a status of ‘busy’ but that is seldom enough, as people will contact you regardless of what your status message displays.
2) Set up office hours. We need to eventually respond to messages received so set-up specific times to reply, perhaps as part of your normal work cycle, or schedule a period where distractions are less of a liability. I work in 45-50 minute cycles and use that 5-10 minute off period to reply to IM, twitter or text messages. I respond to email in the morning, at lunch and prior to days end. I worked with an engineer who had a public policy of no interruptions in the morning. The mornings were his time to get things done, the afternoons were for communication. It worked well.
3) Face away from people. This isn’t as much a concern if you work in a home office or a cubicle farm, but if I am working in a public area, like a café, I find myself constantly being distracted by people and their gestures. If you love watching people like I do taking the simple step to position yourself facing away from people can do wonders. If it’s not possible to find a seat facing away from the movement of people I’ll start reading a book, something to revert my attention inwards and away from the environment around me.
4) Wear earplugs. I live and work in the noisiest place on earth. Music through headphones can sometimes work depending on the task I am trying to accomplish but if the music is good I start to focus more on the music than the work. Earplugs work best for me.
5) I avoid my office desk. Your desk phone, your colleague’s desk phone, the loud colleague who seems to shout when talking, the walk-bys asking for help, and on and on, all these compete for your attention. With iPads, netbooks and laptops there are few reasons to be glued to your desk. When I worked in a noisy office environment I got permission to escape to the library where I was far more productive. As long as I showed an increase in productivity it was of little concern to my supervisor where I got work done during certain times of the day. Find a quiet place to work free of distraction and watch your productivity soar.
It’s amazing what you can accomplish in a couple of hours when you eliminate interruptions thereby creating the right conditions for getting in the flow.
Some further reading:
Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
Outliers: The Story of Success
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
Happiness and the Art of Innovation
Eight Components of Enjoyment
Goof off at work, read a book, ignore e-mail
Most of us do not welcome change easily but we will benefit greatly from becoming willing to develop new habits to overcome procrastination. Below are just a few ideas to help with this challenge.
Excerpted favourites from their short list:
1. Remember that it is motivation that gets you started and habits that
keep you going. Resolve to get started.
2. Put your professional and personal goals in writing. Prioritize them.
3. Write out a plan for yourself and make a realistic schedule.
Another in a long list of productivity enhancements I have tried, MailTags actually worked by allowing me to connect Apple Mail to iCal, something that Apple should have done in the first place. I haven’t tried this latest release as I am still using Tiger but I haven’t found Apple mail to be fast enough for robust email management anyway. Gmail is far faster. Your mileage may vary.
Indev’s MailTags 2.2 is a plug-in for Apple Mail that enables metadata tagging of email. This release adds compatibility with Leopard’s Mail 3.0 (including tagging of notes and RSS items) and also introduces a modular architecture for future enhancements.
Multitasking messes with the brain in several ways. At the most basic level, the mental balancing acts that it requires—the constant switching and pivoting—energize regions of the brain that specialize in visual processing and physical coordination and simultaneously appear to shortchange some of the higher areas related to memory and learning. We concentrate on the act of concentration at the expense of whatever it is that we’re supposed to be concentrating on.
Interesting topic as to what exactly do we need smaller computing devices for (beyond the obvious cool factor). I see it as being able to receive and transmit data in a way that closely resembles what we can do now in the office. Others see as allowing you to have the ability to work in any place at any time.
… as a web worker – someone actually trying to get work done on the web – I’m torn by these devices. On the one hand, the promise of increasing portability of computing is great; it opens up the possibility of being able to do my job more places than ever before, without carting around a backpack full of equipment and searching for power outlets and network drops. But on the other, these devices just don’t cut the mustard for me …
You’re an on-the-go worker, and the one thing you always carry with you? Your trusty laptop, of course. Sure, you’ve reached a point where you’re pretty good at getting things done away from your desk, but you still haven’t reached laptop zen—that point at which your laptop does gymnastics for you and is a seamless extension of your productivity. Today we’re taking a look at some of the best laptop hacks for notebook enthusiasts, from getting internet access anywhere and keeping your files in sync to adding an anti-theft layer of security to your laptop.
As we rob the night of sleep hours to get more things done, we are depriving our body of much needed time for it to repair and rejuvenate itself. Sleep is what we need to stay alert and focused on the day’s activities.
Exhaustion, fatigue and lack of physical energy are common sleep deprivation symptoms. Exhaustion and fatigue affect our emotional moods, causing pessimism, sadness, stress and anger. The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) has suggested that social problems such as road rage may be caused, in part, by a national epidemic of sleepiness.