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Are meetings more effective when there is a ban on all devices?

Some time ago, I was part of a meeting where many people brought out their laptops and started working. They kept glancing at their wristwatches and I could tell most of them would rather be elsewhere. It got me thinking if devices should play a role in productive meetings. If you are reading this article because you want a quick answer, let me tell you I don’t have one. On one hand, I have attended meetings where the use of technology enabled devices allowed for richer engagement. For example, we once used Jamboard to capture ideas from as many people as possible during a meeting. On the other hand, it’s easy for people to whip out their phones and play mobile games under the desk.

No cellphones
Should we put this outside conference rooms
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What’s your Plan B?

A humorous series of statements I once heard goes something like this: Plan A is the main plan. Plan B is the backup plan. Plan C is the just in case plan. Plan D is the when everything goes wrong plan. Plan E is the escape plan. While I don’t envision a situation in your personal or professional life where you will need to have well-defined Plans A to E, many people underestimate the value of a good backup plan (Plan B).

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Give it your best shot for just 15 minutes

A major challenge faced by people who work with a computer is how to work on a task while resisting the urge to open a browser window or watch a film. Companies have tried to address it by configuring office laptops such that social media, video streaming sites and games are inaccessible. That hasn’t really stopped the desperate. Unless you work in a customer-facing role in a bank, there is often no restriction on cellphone usage in most offices.

Tired man staring at screen
That screen had better have interesting content
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Keep your notes handy

If someone were to tell you a small but important piece of information right now, how prepared are you to capture and store that piece of information? I ask this question because over the years, I have seen some very interesting (and some very cringeworthy) attempts to take notes. The most interesting one has to be when a friend sent me a long whatsapp message containing a list of seemingly unrelated items followed by this message: Ignore. I just need a place where I can see this. Quick hint: Don’t use chat applications as a substitute for a good note-taking app.

Notepad with pen
How prepared are you to take notes
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Not making a mistake might be the greatest mistake

How many mistakes have you made in your life? If you are like most people, it will be impossible to count them all. Mistakes are a natural part of life. We make them all the time. If you choose to acquire a new skill, you will have to accept you will make a lot of mistakes on your path to mastery. At some point, you have also probably made a mistake at work. It could have been as simple as placing the office keys on the wrong hook. Perhaps you took a decision that in hindsight ended up not working out as you had envisioned. Or you made an estimate that ended up being wildly off the mark.

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The tortoise always wins

Everyone has heard the fable of the tortoise and the hare. It has been shared since time immemorial and has often been the subject of different interpretations, including some hilarious cartoons. Very briefly, the tale goes as follows. The tortoise and the hare agreed to take part in a race. The hare confident in his victory decided to take a nap under a tree. While he was sleeping, the tortoise slowly crept by and overtook his opponent. By the time the hare woke up and made a dash for the finish line, the tortoise had already won the race.

Tortoise beats hare
Confident in his victory, the hare paused to sleep

This fable is rich in productivity principles. Let’s pick them out.

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Time Management is Self Management

As a personal productivity enthusiast, I genuinely believe people want to make better use of their time. I also believe everyone has goals they want to achieve. Yet a lot of people struggle with time management. Lately, I have been giving the matter a lot of thought and I have reached the conclusion that most people struggle with time management because

Time Management = Self Management

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You can only do one thing at a time

There is a reason, each worker on an assembly line does only one task. By having each person do only one thing, the number of workplace accidents falls significantly. This is because having only one task allows a worker to build expertise and gives them focus. It’s actually easier to work when you have only one job.

Every few months, I come across someone who claims they are very good at multitasking. Despite the latest Scientific research proving conclusively that multitasking is a myth, there are still a lot of people who believe they are good at it. Even worse, I have seen job adverts that list ability to multitask as a required skillset.

Multitasking icon
This is not possible
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Lack of priorities (not lack of time)

In an earlier post, I referenced the formula below:

Productivity = Time spent * Intensity of focus

A friend reached out on whatsapp to ask how he was supposed to find one hour each day for deep focus on an important task. He is a busy man who felt all his time was already taken. Amused, I asked if he was willing to do an exercise that would help him identify how many free hours he had in a week.

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Have you made time for the thing that matters (ii)

How do you achieve great results on the Important but not urgent tasks? You create time for Deep focus. I first encountered the concept of Deep focus in the aptly named book Deep Focus: Rules for focused success in a distracted world by Cal Newport. If you haven’t read it, I’d recommend adding it to your reading list.

The idea behind deep focus is an individual will get more done in a single hour of focus-driven work on a single task than they would in ten hours of shallow focus split across different tasks. If you want to get more done, you not only need to first create time for it, you also need to make sure that time is quiet and focused time.

Productivity = Time spent * Intensity of Focus

Continue reading “Have you made time for the thing that matters (ii)”