A welcome corrective from Quartz to all those productivity articles I used to enjoy reading, always in search of the perfect to-do app or system, distracting myself with the business-of-work rather than getting on with the actual work itself.
The life-draining tedium of errands is even worse in this age of digital convenience
Technology promised to simplify our lives—but errands seem to overwhelm us now. Automation, “smart technologies,” and “virtual assistants” haven’t magically made tedious tasks easier, but rather replaced old steps with new ones. You don’t necessarily have to go places to get things done, but you do have to recall old passwords or reset new ones, deal with infuriating bots that take your calls but can’t answer questions, and manage a slew of accounts. And because we change jobs more often and lead increasingly hectic lives, we experience a kind of “errand paralysis”.
How many of us spend all our working days with Microsoft Office products? It’s sobering to think that I’ve been staring at monitors full of Outlook e-mails, Word documents and Excel spreadsheets for more than 20 years now. Might that all be changing soon? We’ll see.
The new word processor wars: A fresh crop of productivity apps are trying to reinvent our workday
Nearly 30 years after Microsoft Office came on the scene, it’s in the DNA of just about every productivity app. Even if you use Google’s G Suite or Apple’s iWork, you’re still following the Microsoft model.
But that way of thinking about work has gotten a little dusty, and new apps offering a different approach to getting things done are popping up by the day. There’s a new war on over the way we work, and the old “office suite” is being reinvented around rapid-fire discussion threads, quick sharing and light, simple interfaces where all the work happens inside a single window.
The article lists the alternatives as Quip, Notejoy, Slite, Zenkit, Notion and Agenda for documents and Smartsheet, Airtable, Coda and Trello for spreadsheets.
Their informal, cartoony visuals and emphasis on
chatty messaging collaboration makes everything feel a little juvenile and jokey.
I wonder if my demographic is supposed to be represented on that Coda homepage by the grey-haired, casual-suit-no-tie coffee-drinker in the bottom right-hand corner. I’ve certainly never taken an ice-cream, a skateboard or a basketball to work, so I guess it must be, fist-bump-at-the-stacked-area-chart notwithstanding.
Do you get easily distracted?
Screen blocking glasses
IRL Glasses are the answer to screen overload and digital fatigue, putting people back in the driver’s seat to control when and how they interact with screens. Wearing IRL Glasses makes screens that are “on” look like they are “off.”
Or perhaps you’re looking for something for the office?
Open offices have driven Panasonic to make horse blinders for humans
At what point do we just give up and admit we’re living in exactly the dystopian nightmare speculative fiction warned us about? It probably ought to be these horse blinders for people, which look like something straight out of a Terry Gilliam movie.
Or how about something more … Halloweeny?
This vintage anti-distraction helmet looks like a creepy horror show prop
Distractions are all around us, whether it’s ambient noise or the colorful items around you, and it’s sometimes extremely difficult to concentrate on the task you need to finish. A 1920’s anti-distraction helmet, known as the Isolator, was invented to address this issue.
Here’s an interesting take on productivity and efficiency from Nikhil Sonnad at Quartz.
Forget easy-to-use design. Choose something hard instead
The new cult of simple software is making us less productive. Simple tools get in the way of our thinking by making assumptions about what we want to do, and by putting the ease of getting going ahead of optimizing productivity. By contrast, using a tool like Vim makes me more expressive. It reduces the friction between what’s in my head and what I can make happen on the computer. […]
It is time to embrace the difficult tool. No more accepting Excel when learning R or Python would let us do better work; no more out-of-the-box flashcards instead of customized software like Anki. Let’s stop expecting software to do everything for us, and put our minds to work.
Yes, sometimes less is more. But sometimes more is more, too. I’ll pass over Vim, I think, but I’m very tempted to head back over to Udemy and give those Python courses another go.
We all work very hard in our jobs, right? Looking for ways to be more efficient and productive. Well, perhaps not all of us. Or perhaps not all the time.
The art of not working at work
Most work sociologists tend toward the view that non-work at work is a marginal, if not negligible, phenomenon. What all statistics point towards is a general intensification of work with more and more burnouts and other stress syndromes troubling us. Yet there are more-detailed surveys reporting that the average time spent on private activities at work is between 1.5 and three hours a day.
Even if the percentage of workers who claim they are working at the pinnacle of their capacity all the time is slowly increasing, the majority still remains unaffected. In fact, the proportion of people who say they never work hard has long been far greater than those who say they always do. The articles and books about the stressed-out fraction of humanity can be counted in the thousands, but why has so little been written about this opposite extreme?
It’s an interesting article, but I wonder if it really applies here in the UK. Take this paragraph, for example.
Many would say that the underworked should talk to their bosses, but that doesn’t always help. I spoke with a Swedish bank clerk who said he was only doing 15 minutes’ worth of work a day. He asked his manager for more responsibilities, to no avail, then told his boss of his idleness. Did he get more to do? Barely. When I spoke with him, he was working three-hour days—there were laws that barred any workday shorter than that—and his intervention only added another 15 minutes to his workload.
In this austerity-stricken land would the equivalent worker, who admits to only doing 15 minutes’ work a day, still have a job after admitting that? They’re admitting their post is superfluous and are asking to be dismissed, surely.
I’m finding these kinds of articles about people moaning about their e-mail more and more annoying.
Unanswered emails were the bane of my life – until I spent a month in search of inbox nirvana
I renegotiate the terms of this week (with myself) and instead resolve never to check emails on my phone. This is because, as Gomes tells me, it is a “really, really stupid” thing to do. He describes a crushingly familiar scenario: you skim through emails on your phone, and half-read one that stresses you out. You can’t read it properly because it’s on a small screen which is “psychologically frustrating”, and you can’t reply because you get distracted – you so half-read it three times, growing more and more anxious, before you finally sit down at your computer, and realise it wasn’t as bad as you thought.
To prevent myself from checking my email on my iPhone’s browser, I move the Safari icon so that it is nine swipes away. It works. I feel simultaneously triumphant and riddled with self-loathing.
Yes, some people get more e-mail than others. And yes, it’s taking up more of our time than it used to. But no, it’s not an interruption from your work, dealing with e-mail is a part of your work now. And has been for, what, 20 years? There’s so much advice out there on how to work smarter with e-mail – filters and rules, labels and folders, even declaring e-mail bankruptcy now and then. Whatever works for you. Just get on with it.
The triumph of email: Why does one of the world’s most reviled technologies keep winning?
“Email has evolved into a weird medium of communication where the best thing you can do is destroy it quickly, as if every email were a rabid bat attacking your face,” Paul Ford wrote last year. “Yet even the tragically email-burdened still have a weird love for this particular rabid, face-attacking bat.
Hofstadter’s law is a self-referential time-related adage, coined by Douglas Hofstadter and named after him. Hofstadter’s Law: It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.
I think it’s time for a backlash against inane, obvious productivity advice, and this article from the Guardian feels like a good start.
Overwhelmed? 10 ways to feel less busy
#8 Slow down, however wrong that feels. The last thing you want to hear, when you’re drowning in to-dos, is that cultivating patience might be part of the solution. But our urgency-addicted culture is at the core of the busyness problem, according to the addiction researcher Stephanie Brown. We’re convinced that with just a bit more speed we could stay in control – and so we grow unwilling to tolerate the discomfort of slowing down. When you’re already on this urgency treadmill, it can feel excruciating to attempt to slow down – but you may end up getting more done if you try. Experiment with doing nothing at all for 10 minutes between tasks: the harder that feels, the more you may need it.
If Google and MS Exchange were to implement this, it really would shift our relationship with e-mail into a much more mature and intelligent place. We’ve had e-mail for ages now, we really should have moved on more than we have.
Seven email problems – one solution, I think
You can have your inbox set to destroy email after a certain time period. The sender is alerted to the fact that their email will be destroyed after xxx number of days, so if no response has been received in that time, assume email bankruptcy on behalf of the receiver, and use a different method to communicate your demands/thanks/wishes/offers.
You can also send time limited email – if the receiver has not read the email by a certain date, it becomes irrelevant or too late, and so the email is deleted, so that saves the issue of protracted apologetic comms that are dull for everyone involved. You could set this email to alert you when it is deleted unread, just so you know, in case you want to pursue the issue on a different medium.
How to apply Kanban thinking at work
At day’s end, review which tasks are in the “Done” column. “If you’ve only finished green tasks, ask yourself: ‘Are those my highest-value tasks? Why am I completing some and not others?’,” says Benson. “Try to identify patterns. That way you can hypothesise solutions, enact them, and test them against the board. The kanban should always be helping you improve.”
Might give this a go. I’ve got lists coming out of my ears, but I’ve been struggling with visualising my overall position on all these projects I’m responsible for.
Key features of Kaizen include:
I was trying to remember the name of this technique when talking about change management with a colleague earlier. I like the idea of everyone being on the look-out, in an energetic, proactive way, for ways of improving how they do things — and I guess the first step in that might be to encourage people to moan about their jobs, to identify the parts of the process that feel unwieldy, unnecessary, over-complex — but I’m wondering if it’s not just change on the cheap, as those bulletpoints above from Wikipedia might imply.
I’m always wary of personal productivity blogs. I love the topic but they become just another thing to read when I should be working. But WorkSmart seems different, like it might actually be useful.
"But what about the people working behind those services, who are having to use systems which aren’t quite so delightfully designed with the user in mind? The systems and processes we are all engaged with on a daily basis when we are at work often suck, and make our jobs a lot harder than they need to be."
Stuart Johnson has a good summary of Systems Thinking – which I’m guessing is A Thing now – and how it could be applied in a university careers/employability setting. I’m fighting, unsuccessfully, the temptation to write that surely this is all simply common sense?
We’re drowning in email. And the many hours we spend on it are generating ever more work for our friends and colleagues. We can reverse this spiral only by mutual agreement. Hence this Charter…
Didn’t this used to be just called etiquette? Interesting spotting this shortly after the postcard thing.
"Let me tell you something. If you’re thinking of doing these things, don’t. If you’re currently doing them, stop."
“When you check in weekly on a long term project, it’s easy to fall into a minimal progress trap and watch whole semesters pass with little results. What if, instead, weekly meetings were replaced with occasionally taking a couple days to do nothing but try to make real progress on the problem?”
The trick seems to be not so much blocking out an hour or so each day, but every now and then blocking out an entire two day period when you can completely immerse yourself into a task such as the one bothering me at the moment… Would like that, I think. Distraction-less. And this is one thing I’d like to try really soon, if poss.
From Maria Popova at Brainpickings.org, a wonderful (as ever) review of Internal Time: Chronotypes, Social Jet Lag, and Why You’re So Tired by Till Roenneberg
This myth that early risers are good people and that late risers are lazy has its reasons and merits in rural societies but becomes questionable in a modern 24/7 society. The old moral is so prevalent, however, that it still dominates our beliefs, even in modern times.
Lots to delve in to, including this concept of social jetlag.