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Updated 29 Sep 2020

Hey you, successaholic… Switch off already!

Constant availability and distraction are killing your productivity.

12 July 2013  Share  0 comments  Print

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There are some fantastic advantages to the leaps in communications technology that we’ve experienced over the last few years.

Gone are the days of having to wait for someone to be in the vicinity of their land line in order to contact them, or the fastest form of written communication being a fax. But there are distinct disadvantages too.

For all the perks modern technology has afforded us, we now find ourselves in a constant state of distraction from being “always on.”

If you’re thinking to yourself, “why is it a bad thing that people can always get hold of me?” Read on, you’ll be surprised the kind of negative impact it can have on your productivity.

Distraction is making you stupid

As it turns out, your instant access – and by consequence everyone else’s instant access to you – is impairing your ability to process information properly. Nicholar Carr, author of The Shadows:

What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, being constantly distracted by a stream of emails, social media, instant chat, phone calls and playing on the Internet, encourages compulsive behaviour that continuously chips away at your ability to concentrate.

After all, concentration is something that needs to be stretched and exercised – just like a muscle.

But because the Internet is such an information-rich environment where checking one email can lead down a rabbit-hole of lost productivity, we find ourselves in a constant state of distraction.

While often fun and interesting, where diversions like this start impacting on your productivity is in brain function.

Learning happens through consolidating information from the short-term memory to long-term memory.

What this means is that any information in the short-term department that doesn’t get a chance to be contemplated and transferred to long-term memory can be easily bumped out of short-term memory.

What this essentially means is that your billion-rand, industry-changing idea can be bumped out of your head completely by something as trivial as a funny cat picture.

The myth of the ‘successaholic’

What’s more in today’s world, it’s easy to get sucked into the logic that in order to be successful you need to be available all the time.

Studies are showing increasing numbers of professionals checking emails in bed, checking their smartphones during family time, and never quite being able to just switch-off after hours – believing that being constantly available will make them more productive and more successful. How wrong they are.

Lesley Perlow, author of Sleeping with your Smartphone, conducted an extensive study debunking the myth of productivity through constant availability by running an experiment.

The 1 600 multinational corporate subjects of Perlow’s experiment were available 24/7, half were managers and executives that worked more than 65 hours a week, and that didn’t count the 20+ hours a week spent thumbing their smartphones.

And even though the subjects of Perlow’s experiment knew something was fundamentally wrong with their behaviour, they were pretty reluctant to give it up – in fact it took Perlow six months to find a willing batch of guinea-pigs prepared to part with their instant access tech.

Predictable time off

Perlow’s experiment wasn’t radical by any means – all she required was for her subjects to take one full night off per week by switching off all comms – a system she calls “Predictable time off”.

Despite initial angst, the challenge turned into a big hit with participants. What they found was that not only did the world continue to keep turning without them being instantly accessible, but productivity actually increased between team members because they were forced to improve co-ordination, collaboration, planning and prioritising in order to make the time off possible.

The ripple effect was that participants delivered better results to their clients, and the predictability allowed for a greater sense of control in their lives and greater job satisfaction.

How to implement predictable time off (PTO)

In order to start better managing your business, you can try the following techniques:

  1. Implement quiet time. Divide the day into periods where everyone agrees to not interrupt each other. This includes phone and email communication. Get reception to take messages, and workers to close their email during these times.
  2. Designate certain hours in the day to respond to emails. If you reply to emails at 11pm at night it sends a message to the sender that it’s OK to contact you at this time.
  3. Have weekly focus meetings with staff or a fellow practicing PTO to discuss how your previous week went and what could have been done differently to achieve your time-off goals.
  4. During your time off, make an effort to do only one thing at a time and let your mind process all the information it’s received over the last few days. You’ll find it becomes easier to switch off, get creative and work on developing that billion-rand business idea.
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