The personal computer and smart phone promised to set us free from meaningless, repetitive tasks and generate free time to be our best, creative selves—oh yeah, and offer a paperless office. Sadly, the latest research in this domain demonstrates this promise was hollow. Our technology is pilfering time, and we are less creatively productive than we used to be. Fortunately, we can recapture our time and work more efficiently if we adapt our work habits and use the internet as a lever rather than an obstacle.
First, we must identify the problem that online time is causing, and it can be reduced to one word: distraction. To be effective, we must focus singularly on a task for a sustained period of time. Multitasking, seen by some as a virtue, is simply the enemy of excellence and productivity. Once your mind is distracted from the focus subject to another item, it takes over 20 minutes before your mind is fully re-engaged. When you tell yourself it will only take a minute to reply to an e-mail, you are losing over 20 minutes of your laser focus. Do this several times a day, and your productivity and intensity plummets. The following three tips can help you enhance your productivity and creative expression.
1) Shut off notifications. All of them. Unless you are an OBGYN waiting to deliver someone’s baby, everything can wait. Studies show that receiving notifications, even without looking at the underlying messages, splits your attention and reduces cognitive efficiency. Noises are the worst, but even seeing the little “1” for a newly landed text message chips away at your concentration. Notifications are like super-addictive crack for your brain. Kill them all without mercy. Turn them off on your laptop and place your phone in airplane mode.
2) Stay away from the internet, social media in particular. Everyone grossly underestimates the time spent on social media/the internet when we break away from a task. We start off with the perfectly good intention of spending a short period of time researching the effective range of a .460 Weatherby round or what our strange symptoms mean, and half an hour later we are engrossed by the latest analysis about the Game of Thrones finale. Your productivity leeches away. Try using an app that stops you from using internet or time-intensive applications while you are working. Freedom and Focus are apps that work well across platforms and offer ways to enhance and measure your productivity. Make productivity a game, increasing your uninterrupted writing/work time by a small amount every day. This will eventually add up to significant progress without much pain.
3) Streamline your e-mails. As one profound efficiency expert likes to say “e-mails are a ‘to do’ list that somebody else creates for you.” E-mails are rarely helpful in getting things done. If you don’t tame these beasts, they will overrun your day. One of the most powerful ways of mastering e-mails is to create a number of mail boxes and file each e-mail in folders related to various subjects, or from various sources, directly in specific mail folders. For example, you may want specific mail folders for family members, businesses, subscriptions, your fans or whomever. This allows you to find and read messages without having to scan a number of extraneous ads and e-mails. Also consider setting e-mails to digest mode to help save time.
Beyond such practical tips, defending your productivity from technological (and other) time thieves is a matter of attitude. Be possessive and fierce when defending your creative time against all enemies. Be prepared to risk annoying some people, as that is what it will take. Train your colleagues, friends, and family not to expect instant responses and to respect your creative pursuits as serious work time. Learn to say “no” more often than you do now. Your future self will be immensely grateful to your present self for doing so.
And don’t get me started on the paperless office.
If you have any productivity tips that work well, please share them in the comments section below. We all need to stand together to Save Our Sanity!
What a timely blog! (Especially since I've just started the next book and need to up my offline game.) I've done a few of those things, but I'm still guilty of pausing in my work in progress, then out of habit clicking my Freedom app to see how much time is left before I can fall into the social media time suck. (Thank goodness for Freedom!) But even when that program's engaged, I find myself checking email, or the day's headlines. They're all time sucks. It's amazing how much of this stuff is addicted. I saw another study about brains and how they're essentially rewired due to the digital age. We're being trained to think in short bursts, turning attention deficit due to our need to feed the dopamine center by checking the internet.
I've actually battled this myself, hence the Freedom app on my computer, which I've found only works when you turn it on! 😉 But I suspect most of us are battling this. The evidence is in how many people are looking at their phones, especially when sitting in groups that should be socializing with each other, not their devices. My daughter calls this phenomenon "nocialization" (not sure if she heard that somewhere, but it fits).
What a timely post! We all are "victims" (when we "allow" ourselves to be) of internet distractions. Now that I'm working on another novel, I put my iPhone on silent mode, shut off emails and close the door to my office (OK, I open it to take the dogs out several times a day!) And when our kids are around, of course the rule is: no iPhones at meal time + encouragement to leave the devices here, go outside, and enjoy "real life" when you can! Thanks for the great reminder, K.J. …. Karna Bodman
Excellent post!! Distraction is the enemy of all, and especially writers!!! And especially writers like me who enjoy having written much more than actually writing. Or—agony!—rewriting.
You are so right about turning off notifications, KJ! That's huge! My biggest tip is to walk away from my office and work somewhere else. Somehow that gives me some peace from all of the extraneous stuff that calls to me to do, do, do!
It's hard to unplug, especially when more and more family communication happens through text and/or emails. Step away and who knows what you'll miss. BUT, step away and who knows what you'll find. It's a fascinating world out there.