Increasing Productivity with the Power of Observation

Over the last several centuries or so, humankind has undergone a radical shift that has redefined which biological traits determine success. For tens of thousands of years, success, both biological and societal, was determined, at least in part, by a person’s ability to produce physical work. However, for the first time in history, the average person’s economic success is no longer tied to what they can produce with their hands, but what they can produce with their minds. Although this may at first seem like a boon to our digital age mentalities, the facts of the matter are also rather disheartening if we view them objectively. While we read and process more information in a single week than many people in the middle ages processed in an entire lifetime, our attention spans have shriveled and our abilities to solve problems and think analytically have diminished as well.

All of these facts point to the obvious need for an increased focus on individual cognitive performance. Conserving brain power for important tasks is the key to translating these mental qualities into physical results, and throughout this post I will attempt to outline some ways that we can cut through the onslaught of digital distraction and achieve better and more focused results based on the power of observation.

Define Work and Define Avoidance

This is perhaps the most important piece of advice that I’ve ever stumbled across, and so it is also perhaps the most important piece of advice that I can communicate to anyone. We are more connected than ever. We can communicate across time and space, work from anywhere with an internet connection in some instances. But this increased connectivity has also bred the most insidious species of time wasters: Insert here any of the following: Facebook, Twitter, Pintrest, Email, SMS, et. al. (Disclaimer: I’m not suggesting that these things don’t have valuable applications, but they often, at least in my observation, have become the most popular ways to waste time)

The same connectivity that is able to amplify our productiveness also seeks to disrupt it by turning us into compulsive checkers: emails, status updates, text messages. I can still recall the tell-tale ding of my iPad before I shut off the email notification. I’d salivate like a Pavlovian dog at the sound, the thought of someone wanting to reach out to me, but more often than not it was either spam or something entirely non urgent.

Our first step in increasing our powers of observation is to note which things we do to produce an actual result and which things we do to avoid doing the things that will actually produce a result. Work should have a defined goal: I am doing action X to achieve outcome Y. Ask yourself the following question several times a day for a week and track any trends that you see arise: What am I doing right now and, more importantly, why? Our goal in this exercise is to define our methods of avoidance, and yes, we all have our own methods of avoidance. After we first define these trends of avoidance, we are then free to come up with plans to either eliminate them or contain them within appropriate time frames. When I completed my first attempt at this exercise, I was shocked at how much of my time was robbed by sheer compulsion. I had no legitimate reason for doing much of what I was doing, but nonetheless it robbed me of precious brain energy needed to complete other, more important, tasks.

I challenge everyone who reads this post to comment below during the next week to share their methods of avoidance. I will start by including some the habits that I have developed to avoid doing work.

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5 thoughts on “Increasing Productivity with the Power of Observation”

  1. jeffeverhart says:

    One of the methods of avoidance that I’ve developed recently is checking my new iPhone constantly when it is in my view. I know that it is on vibrate, and that I’ll hear it if someone texts or calls, but nevertheless I kept checking it. Finally, I decided to put the iPhone away when I’m trying to do anything important. Out of sight, out of mind : )

  2. kimberlypyle says:

    Throughout this morning I have checked a game that I play on my phone compulsively at least five times, when I woke up, when I was on my way to school, before class, right after class and when I do homework, I take a break and check the game. I check this game because it’s a game where you have to restock and buy things so my attendance is “needed” to be productive in the game. I receive alerts for the game, so when something needs to be checked a banner will show up on my iPhone and also a noise or vibration will occur. I check even if I have not seen or heard any of these things. I clearly have more important things to do because there is no value to the enjoyment I get out of building another store or hiring one of my residents in the game. I have five classes of work to do and I work four days a week, but some how this game becomes a priority for me. This method of avoidance can be and is avoided if I put my phone away and if I do things with my time that I see are beneficial to me and my education. I could also delete the game, but I honestly don’t think I could because I am sadly proud of how advanced in the game I am. The game is called Tiny Towers and everyone should get it.

    1. jeffeverhart says:

      Kim,
      I like your reflections here, and I understand your hesitance to delete the game entirely. I’m not even sure if deleting it is the answer at all. I think that as users of tech. we need to be strong enough to fight these urges without eliminating them. It is very easy not to touch something that doesn’t exist, but a more difficult feat to not touch something that is within our reach.

      One of the things that scares me a bit that you mention, which I also do, is the compulsive checking even though there is no ding or vibration. This is a hard habit to break.

      Good start! One more habit to go for the full 20 pts.

  3. I never knew how obsessed I was over facebook until this year. I knew I checked it whenever I had time in the library or at home, but this year, I was given an ipad for work. This ipad was not given to the ITC’s to distract us, but to do research on them and learn about the different apps so we are able to tell others how to be productive with them. Though this was the goal of the DEC department for us ITC’s, I have used it as more of a distraction for in class, between classes, and any time I find myself bored. Sure, I have done research, discovered new apps, and figured out many ways in which the ipad can be used, but facebook is always up and running. I have tons I should be getting done besides facebook, but I check it constantly to see what others are up to. I have moved a lot, so it is sort of my way to still feel as though I am close to those I moved away from. I like to comment on their statuses, pictures, and accomplishments because I want them to know that I still care and think of them even though I do not live near them anymore. This is my way to justify my facebook addiction, however, because I do not need to be on it as much as I am. I could easily check it one time a day, or even once a week, without those I moved away from, from ever noticing.
    I actually find myself sitting in class getting anxious to check my facebook. I want people to comment, like, or send me a message. It actually makes me angry when I get a notification on my phone or on my ipad for those who send me requests to play games. I do not get on facebook to play games, I get on to try and connect to people. In a way, I feel as though the game requests are spam. I really don’t know why I check facebook obsessively, but I do know it is a distraction from other important tasks in my life that should be worked on. Before I wrote this comment, I was on facebook for at least an hour distracting myself with others photos and statuses.

  4. oharepa says:

    One of my two habits of avoidance that I have developed during this semester is watching Netflix when I could be doing something constructive. It seems whenever I come back to my apartment at the end of the day, instead of doing work I will watch an episode or two of a TV show, and then suddenly realize that I had work to do and have put it off. I have been thinking about turning off my wifi/internet connectivity as soon as I get home as a way of combating the situation, but at the end of the day I feel like I am entitled to a break. I have 4 classes, work, and my Internship I really shouldn’t have time to devote to watching TV yet it happens. So, I’m basically stuck in a stalemate with myself.

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