Tools or toys? Technology's blurred lines can undermine productivity
Computers and smartphones are fantastic tools, but they are also compelling toys.
And that's a real problem.
Computers and smartphones can either enhance or reduce productivity. It all depends how you use them.
The Internet makes research easy and enables quick and inexpensive communication.
Once upon a time, there were no search engines or mobile phones. Email didn't exist.
People spent hours in libraries and archives, hunting elusive information. They had to use payphones to keep in touch while travelling. And they sent documents via fax machines.
But the tools that eliminated these problems have also created big distractions.
The computers we use for work are also used for socializing and entertainment.
Interruptions make it hard to get into flow. Even worse, brief interruptions can trigger long periods of distraction. Social media, computer games and web browsing can swallow hours of your time.
Awareness, attention and hard work. Plus choosing the right tools.
The effort is worth it. You'll gain productivity, job satisfaction and a sense of purpose and achievement.
Attention is a scarce resource
Directing your attention wisely can generate considerable satisfaction.
But big corporations have invested billions to capture and monetize your attention. Their products and services are addictive; use them sparingly.
You must be alert to this problem. It's a huge threat to productivity.
Effort delivers productivity and fulfilment
Meaningful work and creation require focused activity.
You are a worker; a craftsman; a creator. You yearn to create valuable things.
Passivity doesn't produce satisfaction. Hours of viewing clickbait and social media leave you empty and dissatisfied.
Online games are less passive, but no more productive. Save them for your free time.
We procrastinate and give in to distractions because our work is demanding.
Yet the challenges are what make the work meaningful and rewarding.
Fortunately, we can reduce distraction. And we can make it easier to commit to challenging work.
Lock the Toybox
To be productive, we must be alert and draw some bright lines during working hours.
At work, we must treat computers as tools, not toys.
Cut out clickbait and games. Limit social media to work-related accounts.
To optimize productivity, we must:
- shut out these distractions
- enable access to useful task management, teamwork and productivity apps
- add well designed features that enhance motivation and focus.
The first step is reducing distractions from your iPhone or Android.
During work hours, turn off all alerts, except text messages and phone calls. Then put the phone somewhere you can't reach without leaving your work station.
The second step is blocking distractions, while still enabling access to your best productivity apps.
Focus for Productivity
I developed Focus to boost the productivity of people working on Mac computers.
Focus shuts out social media and distracting websites.
It can be very selective. For example, you can block all of Facebook, except for your business page. Or block all of Reddit, except a couple of useful subreddits.
Focus can block browsers, games and distracting games. But it can still allow access to your to-do list, project management and productivity apps.
You can use Focus to block specific websites. Or you can use the allowed sites (whitelist) feature. This enables access to a few sites while blocking the rest of the Internet.
I block most websites and most apps. But I usually allow access to Trello, Google Drive, Google Docs, Evernote, Todoist, Zapier and Dropbox.
Depending on the project and the client, Slack and Gmail might be either on my blacklist or on my whitelist.
You can also use Slack to let team members know you are unavailable because you're working in Focus mode. This blog post explains how you can set this up.
Use Advanced Productivity Tools
Once you've blocked distractions, you can take your productivity to another level.
The next step is using special productivity tools to optimize your work environment.
Focus includes features designed to enhance your motivation, set schedules and track productivity.
Sometimes you need a burst of inspiration for an extra surge of energy or to get back on track n.
Focus comes with dozens of inspiring quotes. You can also personalize it by adding your own favorite sayings.
Focus helps you build good habits by making it easy to set-up daily, weekly or weekend schedules.
It also offers a pomodoro timer. This lets you break work into defined blocks to improve focus and flow. The default setting for Pomodoro is 25 minutes, but you can customize.
Sometimes you must rest, check in on team members, or check other projects. Use Focus to schedule breaks.
Using these features consistently helps develop structure, discipline and self-control.
Monitoring your productivity can help ensure that you're on course.
The Statistics feature tracks daily, weekly, monthly and yearly Focus sessions.
This lets you see at a glance when you've been productive.
Maximize Your Time on Tools
I enjoy social media, web surfing and online games.
But I know that when I put more into my work, I get more out of it.
When I'm working, I make sure I'm on the tools and the toybox is firmly locked.
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