Have you ever wondered how productivity levels have changed in the past two decades?
After scouring the internet for answers and finding nothing reputable, I decided to ask around. I spent a few hours each week bending ears and combing brains between mouthfuls of coffee and .22 clips with my colleagues. The answers I got didn’t surprise me, but they didn’t do much for my nagging doubts either.
My colleagues seemed to agree that productivity is on the rise, and why wouldn’t it be in a world where everything else seems to be increasing? Trucks are bigger, athletes are faster, and capital-T “Technology” is spitting out solutions to previously unsolvable problems at an alarming rate. When you consider this evolutionary trend, then factor in the bevy of pro-efficiency office gadgets and Apps being produced each year, it’s hard to imagine anything but a rise in productivity.
So why do I have my doubts?
Well, if everything is increasing, it means that there’s a growing number of distractions, too. You needn’t look much further than everyday internet addictions to see what I mean. There’s a growing body of literature studying their prevalence and effects: some researchers believe that Millennials are actually less fluent in body language than their parents because they spend so much time online sharing, liking, and poking. If internet distractions are causing regressions with something as basic as body language, then who’s to say the same won’t happen to our focus in the workplace?
Even strong people with disciplined, athletic backgrounds wilt in the face of the disorienting gauntlet that is everyday life in the Information Age. It’s exactly why I dedicated an entire chapter to removing distractions in The Entrepreneurial Evolution; today, there’s something shiny everywhere you look. When you leave home with your Smartphone, you’re welcoming a battle of wills that lasts all day. You have to wrest your focus away from clickbait headlines and social notifications from the moment you start your morning commute; I’m positive at least one reader has been cut off by a driver who was too busy scrolling through their Facebook feed to mind their two-tonne truck’s position.
The internet is a double-edged sword in most work environments. Most office employees need it to do their jobs, but it’s also a procrastinator’s playground.
Of course, the internet is a tool whose effectiveness depends on the person using it. You can use a hammer to build a house, or to crack yourself in the head. The following productivity tips are meant to keep your office’s online activity in line with the former rather than the latter.
There is nothing more telling of a scatterbrain than a smattering of fifty unrelated tabs being open at once. Beyond crippling your computer’s processing power, this kind of web behaviour precludes real task-oriented focus. You spend your time cycling through tabs for updates rather than diving into any actual work.
Limiting yourself to 3 tabs allows you to multitask while pages load, without sending you off the rails. When you’re trying to decide which tabs you’re going to have open, review your web history. This will tell you which websites you spend most of your time on, and it won’t take long to see the red flags. For real power-drives, I recommend avoiding not only social media sites, but your email inbox as well.
It can be hard to stay engaged for marathon work periods. Approach your work as a series of short sprints with 100% focus, rather than an 8-hour grind. This will give you more opportunities to stretch your legs, too.
Even limiting yourself to 15-minute spurts can fail to do the trick. Sometimes, your ADD just kicks in, and you end up on Twitter or Instagram. But if you refuse to save your passwords, you give yourself another opportunity to exercise some self-discipline. Flitting over to a social platform and seeing a log-in screen will give you a second to ask yourself if this is really where you want to be right now. It stops you from being instantly sucked into compelling news stories, tech reviews, or social gossip when your willpower wavers.
Parkinson’s Law says that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” If you set aside 8 hours for a simple task, you’ll find a way to spend 8 hours doing it. This trap is especially easy to fall into online. While writing this very blog post, I got sidetracked looking up scholarly articles on the effects of social media. I was stuck in a time-sink browsing through journals, so I told myself I had to finish up in the next 30 minutes. And I did.
Giving deadlines teeth isn’t hard when you’re the boss. If you’re managing people, make sure to give them a reasonable block of time for each online task. Hearing it from their boss will keep them working at a good pace, but be sure not to underestimate, or you may end up with stressed staff and rushed, low-quality work.
But what do you do when you’re a freelancer or self-employed individual? If you need to give your deadline some real authority, try unplugging your laptop and telling yourself that you need to finish before the battery runs dry. You could also try setting up to work in a cafe or library, then holding yourself to their business hours. These little mental tricks will pay dividends for your online productivity.
Alright, you’ve read enough productivity tips. Time to be productive. Set your timer, unplug your laptop, close this tab, and get to work.