Efficiency, Focus & Productivity
A red flag for a work-thing recently got me thinking about productivity & efficiency. Why is it that it takes some people much longer to complete certain tasks than others? Why do each of us have very different working styles & ways of getting things done? And how do we manage these different approaches to work in an organisation to function smoothly? Why do we have a supposed systemically inefficient work culture which we refuse to get out of?
One of the ways to do this would be by “avoiding the middle”, a concept I read about in an essay somewhere which I can’t remember now. In a nutshell, it’s a way of focussing on one thing, instead of being distracted & doing random things while feeling like you’re focusing on work. But I think it goes deeper than that & could be applied to whole areas of our lives.
I see people around me who take 4 hours to do a task that should take no more than 1 hour to do simply because they’re distracted by irrelevant things such as email, calls & water cooler gossip. While this is useful in the right amounts for social connection, it also comes in the way of work & getting things done. Opening yourself up to some serendipity is great, but being constantly distracted from the task at hand does no good to anyone, especially the person who’s doing it. It may add to the mental burden of us working through the day, making us feel like we’re burnt out, overworked & massively short on time, but actually we’re sitting smack bang in the middle. This middle is the danger zone that exists where we feel like doing a lot of work, but are actually distracted by pleasure & end up achieving neither of those things.
Imagine this scenario. You get to your desk at 9 & have 4 tasks that will take you 8 hours in total to do. You start with the first thing on your to-do, but soon get distracted and decide to scroll Twitter to see what’s the latest in your industry. Before you realise, it’s 10:30 & you haven’t made any headway on the task. So you panic, put your phone down & start working again. At 11:15, you get a work call which you answer. Turns out it’s a colleague who’s looking for some help but it’s not something that’s too urgent. Instead of scheduling a call later & helping them out, you start solving their problem right now. This takes about 45 minutes & by the time you’re done, it’s 12 noon, you haven’t made much progress on your first task & you have no idea where the time went. This continues for the next 5 hours & you manage to do maybe 2 of the four things you’re supposed to do. At 5, you decide to go home & finish the other two things at home. But once you’re there, you think to yourself that it’s been a long day & maybe you can put on the tv in the background, pour yourself a glass of wine & work. You go through 4 hours of “work”, not getting anything done properly & not being able to focus on either the wine, TV or your work.
This, while it sounds wild, is a lot like what a day looks like for a lot of us. On the surface, it looks like we’re working 12 hour days but still not managing to finish any of our work. We feel burnt out, like we have no time for anything else & that we’re not paid enough to do the amount of work we do. But in reality, how much are we getting done?
The lack of boundaries, makes this so hard. Instead of taking 12 hours to do 8 hours worth of work, how different would our lives be if we demarcated boundaries & used work time for work & down time for unwinding? Even though we’re doing both in the same amounts (time wise, 8 hours of work with 4 hours of downtime), because they’re mixed up, we don’t feel like we made progress in either. This, apart from being highly inefficient, is also a recipe for disaster, making us feel burnt out & overworked.
How do we create better boundaries?
- DND your phone, shut all notifications & keep designated time for calls
- Time block tasks. Knowing you have only X hours to finish something, the chances of you finishing on time become much higher
- Set active breaks
- Disconnect completely when you’re relaxing.