A Blog by Jonathan Low


Feb 1, 2017

Using Technology We Already Own To Increase Productivity

Praising or blaming technology for productivity performance may be beside the point. Since much of our behavior is habitual, changing the way we routinely use tech may deliver better results. JL

R.L. Adams reports in Forbes:

Since 2007, the dawn of modern-day smartphones, productivity has been on a sharp decline. The technology available to help us be more productive also lends itself to distractions. Our habits comprise 45% of our daily behavior, it's easy to allow unproductive actions to become habitual over time. But is this the fault of technology or are we inclined to get distracted?  If you're serious about increasing your productivity, you have to change things up.
Technology surrounds us. It pervades nearly every tangible object used in our day-to-day lives. We have smartphones that can access the world's annals of information. We have smart homes that automate heating and cooling, lighting and sound, and even our gardening and security. From self-driving cars to automated-brewing coffee machines and everything in between, we've seen a perversion of smart technologies invade our workplaces and homes, but it hasn't helped to increase our productivity.
The truth? We still fail in the productivity department. Our attention waxes and wanes, moving in one direction, then the next. The technology available to help us be more productive also lends itself to life's distractions. That short 3-minute viral video clip on Facebook that everyone is watching, or that adorable cat video on YouTube that people are talking about, or the latest smartphone game that we're so enthralled in all help to lend itself to our distraction-filled, oftentimes non-productive lives.
We aren't more productive thanks to tech; we're far more distracted. But is this the fault of technology or are we inherently more inclined to get distracted for one reason or another? Is this some kind of increasing trend or is there a way to buck this status quo of declining productivity thanks to the technological invasion that's only growing in its reach?
Certainly, there are ways to increase our productivity. In fact, we can increase our productivity using tech we already own with a few simple tips and techniques.
Technology isn't the only culprit here. When we're unproductive in our day-to-day lives, there's often another source to the issue. When we face distractions due to social media updates or smartphone games, there's another cause that's deep-rooted. You see, much of what we do on a daily basis is governed by our habits. And since our habits comprise 45% of our daily behavior, it's easy to allow unproductive actions to become habitual over time.
However, there are productivity hacks that we can implement by using technology that we already own. This doesn't involve purchasing a special device that will allow you to increase your productivity; this involves leveraging what you already own to improve your productivity while possibly also eliminating some poor tech habits at the same time. It won't happen overnight because nothing worthwhile ever does. But it will happen over time as long as you're consistent.
Increasing Your Productivity Using Technology
In the mid-90's, back during the rise of new technologies such as email and teleconferencing (and prior to the rise of smartphones), productivity had actually increased. However, since 2007, productivity has been on a sharp decline, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While new technologies have helped a small select group get more done in less time, on the whole, it's had a severe impact on the general public's ability to stay productive.
The indication of a sharp decline in productivity since 2007, which marked the dawn of modern-day smartphones, should come as no surprise to anyone. Everyone with a smartphone knows just how easy it is to get distracted by playing a game, browsing through social media, or searching the web. It's become such a problem that we use our phones for approach-avoidance looking down instead of at people and around our environments.
Still, there are ways to increase productivity using the same tech that we already own. Although smartphones might be at the root of a decline in productivity, they can also be used as a source for increasing our productivity. It just requires a little bit of attention and organization. When we're clear about what we want, and take the effort to get organized, it's easier to increase our productivity, and in turn, achieve our goals.
#1 -- Eliminating Procrastination
The biggest problem with the rise of smartphone technologies and the resultant heap of apps that help to supposedly improve our lives, is our tendency to procrastinate. We put things off for tomorrow that can be done today. While procrastination might be a bad habit that virtually all people have, it's likely grown exponentially thanks to the ever-presence of tech in our hands, in our homes and at our jobs.
However, there is one way that we can use that same tech to help eliminate procrastination, and in turn to increase our productivity. I call it the 15-minute rule. All you need is the timer on your smartphone, tablet or any other device within your reach. Launch the timer and set the clock for 15 minutes. Select the one thing that you've been putting off for the longest and decide to just devote 15 minutes to it. That's it. Just 15 minutes.
Why 15 minutes? What you'll come to find is that an object in motion stays in motion, so to speak. When you do something, even when it's for a short period, you build momentum. And, the biggest problem with procrastination is getting over the hump of the ability to act. When you promise yourself to do something too small to fail at, you're more likely to follow through. And, what you'll notice is that after the 15 minutes are up, you'll want to continue.
Even if you don't continue after 15 minutes, you at least broke the cycle of inaction. While this won't increase your productivity overnight, if you commit to the 15-minute rule each and every day, doing one task you've been putting off the longest in descending order, for at least 15 minutes, you'll build momentum. Over time, you'll find yourself paying more attention to these items. This has been my biggest weapon in tackling procrastination in every area of my life.
#2 -- Take Timed Breaks
Stress, burnout and anxiety are common in the workplace. Often, we feel like we're stretched too thin. Usually, we're not thinking about ways we can increase our productivity; we're just thinking about ways we can keep our heads above water without drowning in a sea of endless tasks and never-ending deadlines. But there's a way to extricate yourself from the onset of temporary insanity that tends to plague us all.
Numerous studies have been conducted on taking timed breaks from work in order to increase productivity. The truth is that we all tend to lose focus after a while of strenuous effort towards one specific task. Not only is it difficult to focus after a while, but it's also difficult to think creatively after endless hours of trying to work towards an intended goal. The cure? Take timed breaks from work every hour in order to increase your productivity.
The question then remains, how often should you take breaks for and for how long? Well, that's where the jury is still out. Several conflicting studies propose different guidelines for optimal work-break performance. One recent study conducted through a time-tracking and productivity app called DeskTime discovered that the optimal work-break performance was 52 minutes of intense focus and 17 minutes of break time.
This is somewhat similar to the Pomodoro Method of taking timed breaks, which calls for doing four intervals of 25 minutes of work and 5 minutes of break time with the fifth interval at 25 minutes of work and 15 minutes of break time. This adds a layer of complexity to the work-break performance cycle, which can be simplified by using the 52-17 method. All you need to do is set to set multiple alarms to signal the break start-time and end-time on your phone or any other device.
#3 -- Set Daily Goals
We all have long-term goals that we're working towards. Whether they're big or small, the goals keep us moving in the right direction in life. However, something that we often fail to do is to set daily goals. Without setting daily goals, it's easy to lose sight of the bigger picture and far easier to get distracted. When that happens, we don't increase our productivity; we watch as dwindles and fades.
The best way to do this? Launch your notepad on your smartphone or any other device. You can even do this on Google Docs or create a text document and save it to Dropbox so you can access it from your phone. Every single morning, before you do anything else, set your daily goals. This provides clarity and instills a sense of purpose while also helping you to limit your distractions.
But this only works if you actually write out the daily goals. It doesn't work if you keep them solely in your mind. You have to know the target, and by writing it out digitally somewhere you can reference back to, it helps to ingrain the task in your subconscious mind, allowing you to increase your productivity by keeping it embedded in your thoughts This isn't difficult to do. It just takes focus and practice.
If you forget to set daily goals, create another alarm on your smartphone. Alarms are a great way to remind yourself of things until the behavior becomes habitual. Even if it seems strange in the beginning to have so many alarms, it helps to program that behavior in the neural pathways of our mind. Eventually, you won't need them anymore. Reference back to those daily goals when you find yourself getting distracted throughout the day as a way of reminding yourself about what needs to be done.
#4 -- Limit Social Media Activity
The average worker spends far too much time on social media. In fact, for some, it can even be considered an addiction. And, according to one study, 18% of people can't go but a few hours without checking social media and 61% need to check it daily. It's also been found that 60 to 80% of Americans have admitted that they only go online to be entertained, and not to help do things that are necessary or that would enhance their productivity.
While some studies have suggested that social media actually improves productivity, the general consensus of studies have pointed directly to the opposite. If social media has plagued you and helped to decrease your productivity, then why not go without it for a brief period? Eliminate all social media apps on your phone and sign out of all your social media accounts on your web browser at work and at home.
Conduct an experiment. Do this for 7 days and watch just how much your productivity increases as a result.  You don't need to deactivate your accounts; all you need to do is limit your activity. Sign out and remove the apps. That's all it takes. What you'll come to find is that not only does this increase your productivity, but it also helps to give you some peace of mind without having to worry about what's going on with other people all the time.
#5 -- Watch and Listen to Inspirational Material
While much of our smartphone and web-browsing activity is used to waste time, there are things that we can do with existing technology to help improve our lives and increase our productivity. By getting motivated and inspired, we can help to avoid our loss of focus, build clarity and push us towards our goals. We can do this by watching inspirational videos on YouTube, watching TED Talks, or even listening to audiobooks.
The problem with much of our activity online is that it's become habitual over time. We're used to clicking on the same sites and apps, and doing the same things over and over again. We live much of our lives in repeat. If you're serious about increasing your productivity, you have to change things up. Delete apps, sign out of accounts, and replace them with bookmarks to sites and material that will help to inspire and motivate you to do things.
It all boils down to how much we want something. If we want to increase our productivity and achieve our long-term goals, we have to pay attention to the small things that we do on a daily basis, but also have to work to instill a sense deep-rooted desire to keep pushing forward, even past failure. Technology can either help to hinder us from our goals or help to push us there. It all depends on where we put our focus.
Find a source of inspiration and motivation that you can tap into on a daily basis and use all the tech devices around you to do it. From your smartphone to your laptop and tablet, along with everything in between, configure your devices to help support you rather than to hold you back. Without making a conscious effort towards change, and doing a little bit each day towards the realization of our goals, increasing our productivity will seem down right impossible


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