“Working in a state of semi-distraction is potentially devastating to your performance,” says Georgetown University Professor Cal Newport.
The main cause of this semi-distracted modus operandi is the way we manage e-mails, texts, mobile or more accurately how they manage us in a sales environment! Reacting to the constant ping of incoming e-mails, texts and social media messaging puts us into this semi-distracted and multitasking state.
On July 2014, McKinsey Global Institute reported on, “the social economy,” the average knowledge worker now spends 31% of his or her time answering incoming e-mails. To back this up a report, by global computer and telecommunications research company The Radicati Group, predicted that the average number of emails that the average worker will need to manage will rise to 140 each by 2018. The 2014-2018 Email Statistics Report finds many of you might well be managing many more already!
Contention: The off button is the most under-utilised but potentially most productive feature on most devices. All mobile phones have an off button. All Laptops and Tablets allow us to turn off the WiFi. So why are we so reluctant to use them? This blog explains the ‘why’ and offers some tools to help improve our personal effectiveness.
There is a dichotomy in play: I will argue that utilising the off button allows us to do ‘deep work’. In his book of the same name Cal Newport defines deep work as the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It’s a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time. Deep work will make you better at what you do and provide the sense of true fulfilment that comes from craftsmanship. In short, deep work is like a super power in our increasingly competitive twenty-first century economy. And yet, most people have lost the ability to go deep—spending their days instead in a frantic blur of e-mail and social media, not realising there is a better way.
Being ‘always on’ is reducing our effectiveness and quality of life. Here is the dichotomy: There is a propensity for us to get our self worth out of the busyness of our lives. Just look at the language we use: Would you ask a friend or work colleague that you haven’t seen in a while if he or she is being effective? No, you ask them if they are busy, as if busy is always a good thing. This manifests itself in work life in a way that often the always-on business culture gets in the way of the very productivity it seeks.
However, as individuals within this context we can be responsible for working on aspects we can control and influence.
If you want to move from busy to effective here are a number of tools, (all aspects you can control or influence), under the umbrella of a Plan–Do-Review process to time management.
Have a weekly 30 min meeting with yourself. (This is where you plan deep work.) No one else is invited. Take the meeting off site. Make it at the same venue at the same time (when and whenever possible). I would recommend Friday morning first thing.
Start by breaking down your job into sub roles; an example in a sales role could be:
• New Business Developer (pipeline development)
• Account Manager (managing existing clients)
• E mail and messaging manager
Then ask yourself what is the one thing that I can plan deep work in for this week that, (if I do it well) will have the greatest impact on my personal effectiveness in this role. Then block the time into your schedule. Do NOT put this on a to do list. To do lists do not work for deep work as the scheduled event has the propensity to move from one day’s to do list to the the next without changing much. The important (deep work) is often usurped by the urgent, irrespective of how important the urgent is!
Turn off your mobile or use airplane mode. Ensure that incoming e-mail alerts are turned off. (Mobile and e-mail alerts activate dopamine, a neurotransmitter in our brain. This is the same system that is affected by class A drugs such as Cocaine. (This is why the incoming alerts are almost impossible to ignore!)
Use something called the Pomodoro technique. Set a timer for 45 mins and then execute the task or activity you had planned without distraction. You are then executing deep work. (If necessary book a meeting room as part of the planning process for this task). After the timer has gone off give yourself a 10-15 min break. Then repeat the whole process until the time allocated to the deep work has been completed. During the break do not be tempted to go into e-mails. Manage incoming e-mails as a planned task in its own right using this technique.
Become a coach to yourself by asking yourself these six self-critical questions when reviewing the week just gone.
What worked well?
What didn’t work so well?
What should I do less of?
What should I do more of?
What should I stop doing?
What should I start doing?
In addition, find yourself an accountability coach, somebody who will be a critical friend and, as the name suggests hold you accountable for executing against your plans. Writing a brief report to them using the six questions above is a good way of doing this.
Be ruthless with your own time. This means knowing what you need to say no to. Peter Drucker the management guru spoke of this when he said, ‘There is nothing so useless as doing something effectively and efficiently when it should not be done at all’. This in turn can mean having some courageous conversations with friends’ colleagues and bosses. But to use the much-used Einstein quote “doing the same thing and expecting different results is the definition of insanity!”