By whose standards?

Three years ago, I was managing a project to teach young people digital skills. One aspect that we invariably touched upon was healthy use of social media. Social media has evolved to become a double-edged sword. On one hand, it’s useful for staying in touch with family and friends, receiving quick information and for advertising products. On the other hand, social networks can be huge time wasters, have contributed to decreasing attention spans and can give people a very warped sense of what life is like. Perhaps the most insidious harm social media can do is to create the illusion that other people are achieving great deeds within short periods of time and everyone else who isn’t is a failure.

Bul
How do you tell fact from fiction?
Continue reading “By whose standards?”

Never underestimate the power of attention

Have you ever had to build a skyscraper or send a man to another planet? Ok. Most people will never do those projects in their lives and that’s fine. However, we all deal with some level of complexity on the projects we work on whether it’s designing a new software or setting up a supply chain halfway across the globe. No matter how complex the project you are trying to do is, it can be broken down into a number of simple tasks. Reducing complex processes to their simplest activities is how skyscrapers are built.

“Most people overestimate what they can achieve in a year and underestimate what they can achieve in ten years.”

Bill Gates.
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Pay now, reap later

We live in an era of fast food, instant meals, same-day delivery, information overload and pressure to always stay connected. As a result, we are slowly losing our ability to be patient. According to research, 5% of mobile internet users will leave a webpage if it does not load within 3 seconds. We have come to expect everything immediately that when we have to wait just a few seconds, we lose interest and move on to something else.

Comin
To those who wait
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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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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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Why do people struggle to be productive

Since I began publishing this blog, I have had quite a few conversations about personal productivity. I have had the opportunity to listen to people talk about their productivity challenges. Occasionally, I have also heard how someone applied something they read on my blog and how it helped them in their lives. Through all this, I have kept wondering why do people struggle to be more productive.

Now here nowhere
Where are you headed?
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Communicate communicate communicate

One of the most important skills we need in a world of information overload is good communication. The average person is bombarded with so much information that crucial bits can go ignored. How often have you sent an email with important information only for it to go unhindered because it was hidden beneath so many paragraphs of noise.

Are you speaking or are you making noise?
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Keep your friends close and your to-do list closer

Where is your to-do list for the day? As I type this post, I can take a quick glance at mine on my favourite note-taking app, Evernote. On the go, it’s available on my mobile phone. It automatically syncs across my devices so I don’t have to worry about forgetting anything. I go to great lengths to make sure I have my to-do list with me wherever I am. That’s because out of all the productivity tools in my box, the to-do list has proven a life saver.

A to-do list
Ready to cross the next task off
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Stop being busy and start being productive

Activity does not always equal productivity. The rise in number of online meetings has created a unique problem. People spend all day attending back-to-back meetings. An extreme case was someone who by virtue of having to attend meetings with different teams across different time zones was getting only 3 hours of sleep per day. That’s certainly a busy lifestyle. Is your busyness leading to more productive results? No one is paid to attend meetings but meetings can be very comforting because they give the illusion of work being done.

Does not equal productive
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Productivity means being prepared to do your best

I remember in Junior Secondary School during assembly we often had to sing a song that began “Do your best and leave the rest.” I was tempted to attach a voice file of myself singing the full song. Luckily, saner heads have talked me out of it. That song got me thinking, in order to reach peak productivity, you need to first choose what to focus on, then give it your best, even when no one is watching.

Don't try to be perfect. Just do your best
Wherever you are
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