If you wonder where your day’s gone, there’s a good possibility you’ve spent the majority of it chasing things that don’t matter.
It’s obvious the overwhelming impact connectivity has had on us: shorter attention spans, longer workdays and constant distraction. In just recent years, advancements in technology have provided a pervasive amount of information, as well as a plethora of products and media in which we consume content: articles and blogs, email on any device, tablets and mobile notifications, Flipboard, Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Evernote, Dribbble…This barely scrapes the surface of an endless list of devices and digital platforms pulling for our attention every single day.
My days are filled with urges to inspect and participate in a multitude of things — scrolling my endless Twitter feed, finding the right music on Rdio, scanning news headlines, checking text messages, or being pulled into irrelevant meetings. It can make my day arduous. The truth is — I’m distracted. We’re all distracted.
Over time, I realized I wasn’t fully absorbing the majority of my experiences. I’d have moments where I couldn’t remember what news I read, or hadn’t read, what I’d heard or hadn’t heard; I was only remembering fragments. In turn, switching your focus constantly affects memory, quality of work, and more importantly, your overall performance. Studies show that continual multitasking can actually cause you to be 40% less productive.
Last year, I caught a powerful talk by Brad Frost, “Death to Bullshit.” Brad highlighted a ton of statistics related to content creation, but one really resonated with me: 90% of data ever created has been created in just the past two years, and this trend is predicted to continue: The Internet of Things will mushroom by 2025. It’s no wonder that we find ourselves interested in anything and everything.
Uninterrupted involvement in our daily experiences will lead to more understanding and appreciation. Being successful at anything requires focus. Comprehending and absorbing novel ideas requires more than discipline and self-control; it requires a plan. Taking a pragmatic approach, here are a few things I strive to do on a daily basis to not only complete more tasks, but bring order out of chaos, and focus on what matters.
Understand your Strengths and Weaknesses
Self-realization can be somewhat nebulous and hard for some people to grasp. Don’t get me wrong, introspection is a lifelong journey and elusive repetitive process. Taking an honest approach to knowing yourself — your personality, character, skillset, work ethic, strengths and weaknesses, and goals will allow you to better plan outcomes and mitigate known distractions.
For example, if you want to learn new software, this will require an exploratory phase. Knowing when you’re most attentive, setting aside a distraction-free hour everyday and investing that time in yourself is a smart approach. Put on headphones, turn off notifications, close email, close your web browser, set the iPhone to silent, do whatever it is you need to do to remove interruptions. Take time to discover your own plan and give it a try — consistency and perseverance is key.
Take Advantage of your Mornings
There’s all kinds of articles written with an emphasis on tackling larger, more energy-taxing tasks in the morning. Your brain is fresh, you have more physical vitality— take on the tasks that matter the most to you. Here’s my approach to mornings:
- I’ll start by checking emails to make sure nothing important has come up. More than likely, my team may need quick answers to help remove any roadblocks.
- After emails, I’ll devote 30 minutes to an hour to reading something that inspires me — this is important, as it sets the context for the rest of my day. This is when I do a lot of my sharing and tweeting.
- Looking at my weekly to-do list, I’ll focus on my most important tasks. My to-do lists are prioritized in Evernote ahead of time each week. Again, without distraction, I aim to give full effort to a single task for a full 1.5 hours, take a 15-minute break, and go back to it until another break around lunch.
Like most of us, my energy tends to fade as the day progresses. Devoting full-energy during the morning hours ensures I’m giving higher priority tasks the attention they deserve. I’ll continue after lunch, but I’ll also break away to check email, discuss topics with my team, critique designs and UX flows, and check-in with designers. If it works out, I’ll also try to schedule meetings post-lunch to accommodate my schedule.
Learn to say “No”
As important as it is to focus on what you should be working on, it’s of equal importance to focus on what you should NOT be working on. Being more efficient is not the only remedy to feeling overwhelmed, saying no and being selective is a huge part of the equation. Assuming you have a set list of goals, if you’re about to take on any new task that will get in the way of you completing your goals, you should consider saying, “No.” It’s that simple, but often times, attractive opportunities arise that may require your skill and expertise. Usually, it feels impolite to reject such opportunities. But let’s be honest, if you don’t have the availability to execute a project to the best of your abilities, it’s better off for everyone involved that you just say no. Set your boundaries, say no…but do it nicely.
Assuming you have a set list of goals, if you’re about to take on any new task that will get in the way of you completing your goals, you should consider saying, “No.”
Get Back to the Basics
Most of our fast-paced work days require technology, it’s essential for what we do. But, it’s also important to break away and not fully rely on it. It’s easy to grab your laptop and type up notes during a meeting, bring your cell phone or tablet along with you. Ask yourself: Do you really want to be the person glued to your retina display, typing away, browsing, or involved in other conversations during a meeting? I have been this person; I implore you, put it away and get involved in the conversation.
Knowing I’m easily distracted by web browsers and Skype chats, I’ll force myself to bring along my Moleskine, or any personal notebook, as much as possible. I prevent my mind from wandering by taking notes with pen and paper, doodling concepts for better understanding, and focusing on what the speaker is saying. I’ll also think about potential questions I can be asking. Most days, I’m caught in a balancing act, especially during remote meetings. But it’s imperative to give topics your full attention. As Don Norman says, “ask stupid questions,” or you could be attempting to solve problems about which you know nothing.
For designers, it’s just as easy to jump in to Photoshop too soon. Without proper exploration, you could be missing out on discovering and weighing invaluable perspective. Try taking initiative by sharing more ideas, asking more questions, collaborating face-to-face with people, thinking deeply, and freshening up on your sketching skills. Do more design critiques in person instead of sending out your designs via email. Further, take more walks outside the office, shoot indoor basketball, play a game of cornhole — this will inevitably lead to better conversations, comradery, and an improved attitude. I guarantee the feedback you give and receive will impact your overall work quality.
Think More, Multi-task Less
It’s easy to get burned out with too many distractions, especially if you’re plugged in to devices all day. Using introspection, set a plan to shut off the world from time to time. Think more, and multi-task less. Remember to take initiative and get more face-time with your friends and colleagues. If all else fails, keep one important thing in mind: focus on what matters, to you.
Image credit: mayeesherr