Our mobile phones demand our attention all the time. We know this. Eighty-seven percent of us wake up and go to sleep with our phones and interact with them 2,617 times in between. When you add surfing the web and social media into the equation, how can we ever get any work accomplished?
Worse, even outside of work, when we should be enjoying the company of family, friends or the warm glow of a television, professionals still spend twenty to twenty-five hours a week monitoring emails (Newport, 2016, p. 57).
This raises the question, “Is it time for an intervention?”
Are we so crippled by our compulsion toward email checking and Amazon shopping that we need to be thwarted, to have the choice taken out of our hands? Even Nir Eyal, the author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, can’t control the urge of his phone without intervention. He recommends an app called PocketPoints, which rewards you for not using your phone. (Lewis, 2017).
Gloria Mark of the University of California Irvine conducted an in situ study to determine if the use of blocking software would promote worker focus and productivity and have positive effects on the workplace. The study used Freedom software which doesn’t allow web pages to load that are contained on a blocklist.
Drastic measure? Sure, but it worked. “Cutting off distractions provided significant benefits of increased productivity and focus; on the other hand, there are individual differences in experiencing temporal demand and stress” (Mark, Iqbal, &Czerwinski).
What they’re saying is if you have more of a connection to social media or a particular website, you’ll feel greater stress and work may feel more demanding. Blocking websites and rewarding yourself for not using your cell phone is a good start, but it is a band-aid, addressing only a symptom and not the cause.
Open floor plans, trends toward constant connectivity and lightning fast responses to emails are all the rage. But why are these trendy and cutting-edge ideas counter-intuitive to concentration and focus? Doesn’t it take concentration to address any marginally difficult problem that arises at work?
Cal Newport, in Deep Work, offers a couple of reasons for this trend: it’s easy, and people want to be productive, and busyness is often a false equivalent for productivity.
The problem is, without metrics on how behaviors affect the bottom line, the tendency is to do what is easiest. It’s called The Principle of Least Resistance and it “…supports work cultures that save us from the short-term discomfort of concentration and planning.” (Newport, 2016, p. 60).
Work cultures are further stalled by a tendency to equate knowledge work to an assembly line. Newport describes it as Busyness as Proxy for Productivity and defines it as, “in the absence of clear indicators of what it means to be productive and valuable in their jobs, many knowledge workers turn toward an industrial indicator of productivity: doing lots of stuff in a visible manner.” (Newport, 2016, p. 64).
Newport coined the term, “metric blackhole” to describe this murky region where business tasks and values true impact on the bottom line is obscured.
Great, our day-to-day office existence is in a black hole where we perpetually answer emails and appear busy, moving from one easy task to the next in a never-ending cycle. Sounds like a nightmare.
If you want to break this nightmarish cycle, start by blocking distractions. If that means using software to help get you started, go for it. The key is to learn to focus truly, to concentrate completely, so that you can work deeply.
Doing this will enable you to stand out from your peers because depth is fast becoming a rare commodity. And you will be in demand because you possess that rare and valuable quality: deep work.
Lewis, P. (2017, 10/06; 2018/9). ‘Our minds can be hijacked’: The tech insiders who fear a smartphone dystopia; the google, apple and facebook workers who helped make technology so addictive are disconnecting themselves from the internet. paul lewis reports on the silicon valley refuseniks who worry the race for human attention has created a world of perpetual distraction that could ultimately end in disaster. The Guardian (London, England) Retrieved from http://link.galegroup.com.libraryproxy.quinnipiac.edu/apps/doc/A508326586/AONE?u=a13qu&sid=AONE&xid=6564b60e
Mark, G., Iqbal, S., & Czerwinski, M. (2017). How blocking distractions affects workplace focus and productivity. Paper presented at the 928-934. doi:10.1145/3123024.3124558
Newport, C. (2016). Deep work is rare. Deep work (1st ed., pp. 49-71). New York, NY: Grand Central Publishing.