I’ve been listening to the audiobook The Productivity Project by Chris Bailey for the past week or so. I usually listen while I’m getting ready in the mornings or while I’m on the back of a Go-Jek on my way to school or the gym. I’m about halfway through now, and I’m really getting into it. The author chronicles the lessons he learned in a year-long project on productivity, where he shares the various strategies that worked for him. Along the way he shares research on productivity as well as challenges for the reader (or listener, in my case) to try out.
Today I was able to listen for a much longer time than usual, as I got a much-needed mani/pedi after school. With my hands tied up, it was the perfect time to soak in more learning. The chapter that really hit home for me and made me think a lot was about time vs. attention. He shared that in the knowledge economy, we no longer need to manage our time, rather we need to manage our attention. Most jobs now aren’t the clock-in/clock-out, do-your-job-and-leave type jobs. Mine certainly isn’t. We are working outside of working hours more often and many people have the opportunity to plan their work around their own schedule (sadly, not us in education, but that’s another story). Because of this, we don’t need to manage our time as much. It no longer matters whether we work 50 hours or 20 hours, as long as we accomplish what we need to do.
This is where the managing of attention comes into play. According to his research, people are off-task almost 50% of the time, mostly due to interruptions from notifications and the habits we have of constantly checking email (the average is 50 times a day!), social media, or instant messaging services. The constant ding and pop-up draw our attention away from the task at hand, even if for a brief moment, but it takes us up to 30 minutes to refocus after an interruption occurs, meaning we are losing valuable time productively working on our tasks.
Bailey claims that if we can manage our attention, we can get more done. I have to say, I agree with him. One way he combats the constant barrage of interruptions is to simply turn off all notifications on his phone, tablet, and laptop. Everything from texts, Facebook, Instagram, email, What’s App, and all other notification-giving apps are turned off. He says this allows him to intentionally focus on his tasks. The only way he’s interrupted is when someone physically comes up to him or calls him on the phone, which he says rarely happens. About once an hour, or whenever he checks his phone for the time, he’ll scan his notifications to see if there’s anything urgent to respond to, and if not, he gets back to work. According to him, this focus on his attention has increased his productivity significantly.
As I listened, I found myself nodding along, realizing that this happens to me all too often. The constant ding of a What’s App message on my phone or the pop-up and ding of a new email on my laptop fight for my attention, taking my focus away from the tasks I’m working on or the people with whom I’m working. It’s so frustrating! But I feel like that’s the job I signed up for, right? A school administrator needs to be accessible, doesn’t she?
In this chapter, the challenge was to turn off all notifications for a week and track how productive you are. The whole ride home, I kept thinking…Can I really do that? How will my staff be impacted by me taking a step back? What would happen if I wasn’t available all the time? I don’t know the answers to those questions, but I think I’d like to try it out for a week and see what happens. I’ve already made the conscious choice to not have my work email come to my phone. After living and breathing work in my previous two admin posts, I knew that to have any sort of balance, I had to draw a line in the sand, and work email on my phone was that line. But with the prevalence of What’s App, particularly in Indonesia, I find that the social communication app is often used for work-related queries, thus putting me in a dilemma again.
With my energy and thoughts concentrated on how I can focus more and get more done, I’ve noticed that I am much less able to focus on tasks than I used to be. The lure of the internet, constant connection, and being ‘busy’ and multi-tasking play a major role in my lack of focus and attention. I’m working on finding ways to intentionally focus and accomplish more, hence me listening to this audiobook. I’m going to try out the challenge and see how it goes. Afterward, I’ll reflect and see how much of a difference it made and whether it’s something I can continue long-term. If you have any suggestions for things that have worked for you, let me know. I’d love to hear them!
Click here for Chris Bailey’s website, A Life of Productivity, to learn more!