Updated: May 4, 2020
Significant attention is paid to organizational productivity with numerous measures and continuous improvement initiatives.
What about your own personal productivity? How you measure your productivity? How effective you are? What approaches, and strategies are employed? Not just work related, but how effective are you at managing your time and achieving both personal and professional goals? What is your quality of life?
It is quoted that life grants us a fixed number of seconds each day. In a banking analogy, you get a fixed number of seconds deposited to your account. Any excess will not be carried over to the next day. Do we know how effectively we are in utilizing those seconds? In the business world, productivity is categorized and measured extensively. Most projects are selected and evaluated based on their return on investment. Are we measuring the return on the investment of our time? Are we investing our time in the best areas and what is the definition of a good day?
I recently read Deep Work by Cal Newport where he defines and examines the type of work we engage in daily and how the internet and social media has changed that dynamic. He defines deep work as the activity we engage in when we focus completely on a task with no distractions or interruptions. He argues that this type of work has greatly decreased since the introduction of the internet and particularly email and social media. He describes that we have built an aversion to deep work and instead constantly crave the immediate and repetitive gratification we get from answering our emails or responding to the latest text or post. This is easy work that does not require deep focus and concentration. People can go days and even weeks not engaging in deep work. The immediacy that our smart phones deliver gives an easy out and an alternative to engaging in the hard work that requires deep focus without distraction. How do you get that with the constant sound of a new text, tweet, email, etc. popping in continuously? Not to mention today’s pressure to respond immediately and keep our inbox clean. It would be interesting, if not disturbing, to measure the time spent in these activities and more importantly their “return on investment”.
Writing for me is deep work. It does not come naturally to me. It requires deep concentration and focus. As I write this piece I find myself wanting to reach out and check my email! As I write this piece I’m realizing I have not written in a long time. Processing email is an easy out that gives a false sense of productivity. How much more effective would we be if we turned this “distraction” off? Although a wonderful piece of technology, has it become a vice and is it leading to the reduction of deep work in our lives? And more disturbing, as Newport points out, the skills needed to produce deep work is like a muscle in your body. If it is not used it becomes weak and ineffective. Perhaps we should build deep work into our daily agendas the same as we do exercise for our bodies. Perhaps we should consider the effects technology is having on our lives both positive and negative. Perhaps we should start calculating our personal returns on investments. Perhaps we should wake up.