“Well we really do spend most of our time on our phones. I personally would have to strike a balance.”
Comment left by a reader of last week’s post
The birth of the smartphone changed the way we live. Prior to that, cellphones were just miniature telephones. You could use one to send text messages and some of them came with pre-installed games but their primary function was to make calls.
As technology advanced, the cellphone became capable of much more than making calls. The birth of social media and mobile applications turned smartphones into the equivalent of a playground or office you could carry in your pocket. Eventually, the smartphone replaced the pocket calculator, camera, calendar, post office and even the banking hall.
Two weeks ago, I had a conversation with a friend. He was complaining about the expectation people have of receiving an instant reply whenever they send out a message. Although he and I laughed about it and joked about people who check whatsapp once a week, the conversation stayed in my head. My friend was making a very valid point: we feel the need to stay connected to data all the time and share the expectation that everyone else is. As a result, people expect you to reply messages as soon as they send them.
The problem with thinking that way is people get annoyed when they don’t get replies a few seconds after sending a message (especially if the app says the recipient is online). This would be funny except it has real world consequences for relationships. Everyone has a friend who is notorious for never replying messages on time. The one who fails to confirm they are available for the weekend hangout you planned and shows up at the last minute. We blame that friend for ruining our weekend plans. You all know of a couple who had a fight because one of them failed to reply a message until two hours later.
Where is your phone? In your pocket? A handbag? On a table in front of you? Or in your hand reading this article? Another question: How many phones do you have?
A lot of Nigerians have more than one phone. The logic seems to be use your smartphone for social media and have a dumb phone for use as a backup. Wherever you go today, you are likely to see someone happily pressing away at their phone’s screen. It’s no longer uncommon to see two people on a “date” busy typing away at their phones, completely ignoring each other.
Emails are making life difficult for many people. If you don’t have a system in place for managing your email inbox, you will soon find yourself responding to other people’s emergencies all the time instead of focusing on your important tasks. To prevent email taking over your life, here are a few principles:
Mornings are not for checking emails
You have no idea what you will find in your inbox. If you start your day, by checking email, you are likely to find the five minutes you had hoped to spend magically became one hour. It’s hard to resist the temptation to reply an email even though some part of us probably knows the reply can wait. If it’s an emergency, you will probably get a phone call instead of an email. Use your morning hours to work on tasks that require deep focus.
In the early days of the internet, email was all the rave. Suddenly, you could send a long message to someone across the world and they would receive it in seconds. You didn’t have to post a letter that would take weeks to deliver. Eventually, email was replaced by Instant Messaging and social networks as the preferred means of instant communication. However, email continues to be used for official communication.
Email has become a productivity death trap for many. It’s easy for anyone to send you an email or copy you in one. Unfortunately, very few people get paid to read and process emails. Unless you are a personal assistant to an Executive or work in Customer-care, you probably don’t fall into this category.
Distractions are a part of life. When your neighbour says hi while you are in the middle of a complex calculation and you stop to say hi back only to find that you have forgotten what step you were on and have to start again from the beginning, that is a distraction. It is impossible to eliminate distractions from your life. You can’t stop your friendly neighbour saying hi when you’d rather work in peace. You also can’t predict when your children will try to get your attention with the latest picture they have drawn. What you can do is choose how you manage distractions.
Broadly speaking, the distractions we have to manage fall into two categories: internal and external. An internal distraction is you suddenly curious to find out the year popcorn was invented while doing your business accounting. An external distraction is that phone call from your friend while you are in a meeting.
How many hours could you go without peeking at your phone? So many people experience anxiety if they had to stay away from their internet enabled devices for a long time. Whatsapp notifications that run in the thousands and ever refreshing social media profiles have made it very difficult for some people to stay focused. Every notification is a distraction and even when they turn off data, the fear of missing out ensures at least some of their brain power stays thinking about what they could be missing. This is good for social media companies but bad for productivity. The ability to get focused and stay focused is becoming a rare skill just at the time when being able to stay focused can provide you with a huge advantage at work.
Welcome to part 2 of this month’s posts about dealing with distractions. If you didn’t read part 1, it’s available here. This week’s post will focus on how to deal with online distractions, with an emphasis on social media.
The majority of distractions most people encounter during the day come from social media. In an era of ever refreshing newsfeeds and blinking notification lights, you can be caught at the mercy of your phone. There are so many people making posts that there is absolutely no way you could read it all. Social media companies rely on you being online to make money. They need data about your social media habits so they have designed their platforms to catch your attention and keep you coming back. Do you have a report to write this morning, resist the urge to pop into facebook? Turn off your notifications, exit your email client. A friend of mine once referred to social media as “weapons of mass distraction.” It sounds like overkill but If you have ever found yourself laughing at a funny video when you were supposed to be working yet can’t remember how you got there, you understand the danger he was referring too.
Let’s face it, distractions are everywhere. It could take the form of desktop notifications or a colleague who stops to say hi and chats for one hour. It could simply be your children playing loudly in the background or an argument you had in the morning that affects your ability to concentrate later in the day.
Most distractions come either from the internet or from other people. Few offices have really private areas, except if you are a high level executive with a private office. In an office where everyone can drop by at any time, it’s easy to spend an hour chatting with the colleague who stops by your desk to wish you good morning. Distractions from the internet can be even harder to deal with. In a culture that fears missing out and constantly refreshes social media pages, it can be difficult to take a deep breath and stay offline to get meaningful work done.
To become a productive person, you must learn to focus on the tasks that add the most value to your life. You need to devote your time and energy to the tasks that yield the highest returns towards achieving your goals. To achieve this, you need to work on identifying your time wasters. Time wasters are those seemingly little unscheduled interruptions during the day that shift your focus away from your most important tasks.
Humans are social creatures who like to interact, catch up on the latest gossip and chat. It is no surprise then that most of our identified time wasters tend to revolve around social interactions such as phone calls, chatting and unannounced visitors. No one wants to seem rude but if you stop working every five minutes to answer a phone call or respond to your friend’s message, you won’t be getting as much done. You don’t need to cut people out of your life entirely. That would be a very lonely life indeed. What you should so is use a few simple tricks to stop you getting interrupted during important tasks.