We live in an increasingly connected, ever smarter world. Technology has promised us to increase our productivity, but it has robbed us of concentration. Continuous notifications and distractions compete for our attention, and lead us to waste precious time.
This article explains how to regain control of our attention, return to being masters of our time, and finally be free to focus on what matters, increasing our productivity.
A new approach to productivity
What does it mean to live – and work – in the full “economy of distraction”? It means being inundated with information, tools, stimuli of all kinds. If a few years ago technology seemed to promise help to work less and better, today we have verified that it is an illusion.
Most of us find ourselves having to manage multiple jobs simultaneously, having to devote our attention to a myriad of things, without really being able to concentrate. And this happens both in the office and at home: thanks to new technologies, work never leaves us.
All this, instead of helping us to work better, has transformed us into work machines, unable to stop, convinced that slowing down means decreasing our productivity, which seems to be the ultimate goal of everything we do. But have we ever wondered what productivity is?
Come to think of it, we have a concept related to the industrial era, during which the goal was to produce more, faster. Today, on the contrary, we know that working harder does not mean increasing productivity proportionally, and we know the side effects of the fast pace: tiredness and stress grow until exhaustion.
Our automatic response is to adopt systems and tools capable of optimizing what we do, in order to have free time which we however fill up with other work, returning to the initial problem.
The goal of this method is to achieve more by working less. The program is divided into three basic steps, each of which includes three actions.
The first step is to stop
Action 1: decide what you want
If we don’t know what our goal is, how can we hope to achieve it? Traditionally, productivity is associated with efficiency and success. Technology allows us to communicate in real time, from anywhere in the world and in any situation. But instead of making us work better, it only seems to make us work more. Even more relevant, the concept of success. If we have not increased our efficiency, can we at least say that we have achieved greater success?
To know this we must have a clear idea of what it represents for us. These first two points, however, are not enough, we must consider one even more relevant: freedom. True efficiency can set us free, capable of following what is really important to us. We can define it like this:
- freedom to concentrate, or the possibility of dedicating one’s attention to the work we are doing, free from distractions and interruptions;
- freedom to be present, that is, the opportunity to fully enjoy your free time, dedicating full attention to our loved ones and our interests;
- freedom to be spontaneous, without having to plan every single moment of our life;
- freedom to do nothing. Too often we consider uninterrupted work as a virtue. We admire those who manage to work 18 hours a day. On the contrary, it has value to stop us, to let our body and our mind simply rest.
Action 2: evaluate the road
Once we know where we want to go, it’s time to figure out exactly where we are now. Only in this way will we be able to trace the way forward. We will use a tool called “The compass of freedom”, which will help us evaluate all the activities and tasks that we want based on two criteria: passion and competence.
Using these two elements, we can divide our tasks into four areas:
- the “tran tran” area. Here fall all those activities that not only do not interest us, but in which we are not particularly good. Our efficiency here is at a minimum. These are the activities that we usually try to avoid by delegating them to automated systems or to other people;
- the area of disinterest. Here are the activities in which we are competent, but which bore us. Just like in the case of tran-tran, these activities should be avoided. Being good at something does not mean having to dedicate our time to it;
- the area of distraction. Things are starting to get nice. Here we include all those activities that bring us joy, but in which we are not necessarily very skilled and which we should recognize as a waste of resources;
- the area of desire. Here we have, finally, the intersection between passion and skill. These are activities that not only bring us pleasure, but in which we are good, often more than others. When we manage to work in this area, our productivity reaches its maximum potential.
There is also a fifth zone, which we will call zone X, where we put all the activities that are not included in the others: here are the things that we are learning, or to which we are passionate about, and that will move – hopefully – in the area of desire.
Action 3: restore energy to your mind and body
Machines have constant productivity, men do not. Our levels of energy, attention, creativity and productivity vary over the same day, as well as from day to day. This is part of human nature, planning one’s working life as if it were not so, can produce catastrophic results.
The time we have available is a fixed and limited resource, our energy is not. We don’t have a constant and continuous flow of energy, so working harder isn’t the solution to a drop in productivity. What we need to do is understand how our energy changes to use it in our favor.
There are seven things that can recharge us:
1. Sleep . There are many ways to improve sleep quality, without necessarily resorting to pharmacological solutions. Each of us has our own needs, which we must absolutely not overlook. Often, giving us an afternoon nap can have miraculous effects, as many celebrities, from Kennedy to Edison, knew well;
2. Eat . The primary source of energy is food. Following a diet suited to our lifestyle, avoiding junk food, is essential for our body to be able to withstand not only daily challenges, but also the unexpected. The meal can also be a moment of relaxation and socialization. We do not sacrifice a lunch sitting at the table for a sandwich on the fly, the time we believe we are earning is only an illusion;
3. Make movement . Many think they don’t have enough energy to move, a paradox, because moving is a great way to stimulate our body to be more energetic. A run in the morning, or a break to go to the gym, are almost foolproof methods of increasing our energy levels;
4. Socialize. We are social animals, those around us have the power to increase or decrease our energy. It is important to remember that many of the best interactions take place when we socialize between tasks, perhaps having a coffee or taking a walk in the company;
5. Playing. There will always be problems to solve, documents to read, meetings to plan. The moment of the game is the one in which we dedicate ourselves to an end in itself leisure, moments without goals or deadlines, during which we let the mind and body follow their own rhythm. We try to include spaces like these in our calendar, where we dedicate ourselves to ourselves;
6. Think. Read, meditate, pray. All these activities serve to give rest to our mind, which needs it as much as the body. It is easy to overlook this aspect of life, but we must find the time to devote to our mind, to nourish it and allow it to remain young and strong;
7. Disconnect the plug. In an interconnected world, constantly surrounded by notifications, messages, phone calls, we must learn to disconnect. If we decide that evenings and weekends are moments to dedicate to ourselves and our family, then we pull the plug. We make the effort not to do even one thing that “only takes 5 minutes”. When the plug is unplugged, the job has to wait.
The second step is to cut
After understanding what is our goal and what are the steps to follow to achieve it, the time comes to eliminate all those activities that do not bring us pleasure and that keep us away from achieving our goals.
Action 1: eliminate, train your “no” muscle
The society in which we live leads us to think that “no” is a word to never say. We are taught that every project, every collaboration, every opportunity must be exploited, otherwise we risk being cut off. What we don’t realize, however, is that for every “yes” we pronounce, for every task we accept, we implicitly say “no” to something different. Preparing a meeting on the weekend means giving up a day with our children.
We learn to recognize the cost of our “yes”, to evaluate what they force us to give up. This can give us the inner strength and courage to finally say “no”. Eliminating those activities that we have framed as “tran-tran” or without interest allows us to use time and energy in productive or extra-working activities.
An excellent strategy is to create to-do lists. Just like the ubiquitous To Do List , the former contain those activities that we absolutely must not do.
For many of us, saying “no” is difficult, so here are some tips: