The working day of the average office staff consists of one big chat and social media session with brief interruptions of actual work. If that sounds like you, let me tell you one thing: “you’re doomed.” You’re also bringing down your colleagues, family, and community with yourself.
In my previous post, I explained how technology is ruining our cognitive capabilities such as a healthy attention span, through an endless cycle of fight or flight responses and instant rewards. The destruction of our mental capabilities affects our individual and collective experience. This post will be about how to deal with the effects of the technology in our individual experience. I will address the second part, our experience with others, in a separate blog post.
Eliminate Distractions with Micro-Challenges
I’m using a variant of the Pomodoro technique to deal with the distractions in my professional and private life and to improve my time management skills. This variant involves an A5 notepad and a pen. It’s meant to improve my awareness and focus. I have a separate notepad for work and for home.
My goal is to improve my time management by improving it in different segments of my daily life. For example, the time that passes from waking up until getting ready for work. As you may know, if you don’t watch out, that time might take hours, especially if you’re self-employed and working from home.
Let’s say my morning routine consists of getting out of the bed, bathroom visit, taking a shower, eating a breakfast, and getting dressed up. Sounds simple, right? But we all know that waking up and getting out of the bed is not the same thing, especially when there is a smartphone next to your bed. Preparing and eating a breakfast can also take much longer than necessary, if you are surfing the Internet at the same time.
To avoid all the unnecessary delays, I set a time limit to complete my morning routine. It shouldn’t take me more than an hour from waking up until being ready for work. So, when I wake up, the first thing I write down is the time that I woke up, the target time to complete the routine, and the steps that I need to do. Then, it is a race against time to complete the morning routine within the set time. Now, I have created something more interesting than all the distractions that the technology provides me.
At the end of the morning routine, I make a quick evaluation. How long did it take me to get ready? More than an hour? Why? Did I waste time? If so, I better watch out tomorrow not to repeat that mistake again. Did I do my best and still not hit the target time? Then maybe my estimation wasn’t correct to start with. So, I better give myself more time tomorrow. Did it take me less than an hour, but I was still able to waste time on Facebook? Then I better give myself 15 minutes less to complete my morning routine tomorrow.
Once a certain timing is established for a routine, there’s no need to evaluate that part of the day and we can simply use the same timing every day. After a while, it becomes a habit and we complete our morning routine within the determined time.
Morning routine is just an example. Not every part of our day has an established routine. We also have non-repeating tasks. For example, I have completed my morning routine and now I’m in front of my computer with a fresh brewed coffee. Now my goal is to write this blog post. Normally, I don’t set a time goal to finish my blog posts, because this is a rather pleasant activity for me. But I have a rule to not surf the Internet for distraction until I complete my blog post. However, it is allowed to do some small research such as looking up for the synonyms of a word that I want to use.
Setting tiny goals throughout the day and trying to beat the time to complete them is a great motivator. It is more exciting than the instant rewards that tech gives me. Using a physical notepad and pen makes it more real. It becomes a game that I enjoy playing. It is fun and has great benefits as well. As a result, I save at least one hour from mindless tech use. What can I do with that extra time? I can go to gym. I can go out with my friends. I can read a book. All of which is more beneficial and more fun than looking at a phone screen.
The method I described above helps you develop an optimization mindset. Now, as you go throughout your day, you look for time, attention, and energy leaks. When you find them, you eliminate them. If you look carefully, there are a lot of leaks throughout your day.
You even improve your productivity by using better tools. For example, I’m using LibreOffice when typing this blog post. It is suggesting me words as I type them. If the suggestion is correct, I just hit enter instead of writing the rest of the word.
When you eliminate distractions from your daily life, you not only improve your time management skills, you also improve your cognitive skills. You will be amazed with the quality of ideas, solutions, and insights you come up with, when you stay focused on a single problem at hand, for a prolonged period of time. The benefits of the latter one is at least ten times greater than the extra hour you win per day. Luckily, the method described above helps you with both. So, give it a try and let me know how it works for you. Let me also know, if you have other techniques to eliminate distraction from your life and to improve your time management skills.