Increasing Productivity with the Power of Observation

Over the last several centuries or so, humankind has undergone a radical shift that has redefined which biological traits determine success. For tens of thousands of years, success, both biological and societal, was determined, at least in part, by a person’s ability to produce physical work. However, for the first time in history, the average person’s economic success is no longer tied to what they can produce with their hands, but what they can produce with their minds. Although this may at first seem like a boon to our digital age mentalities, the facts of the matter are also rather disheartening if we view them objectively. While we read and process more information in a single week than many people in the middle ages processed in an entire lifetime, our attention spans have shriveled and our abilities to solve problems and think analytically have diminished as well.

All of these facts point to the obvious need for an increased focus on individual cognitive performance. Conserving brain power for important tasks is the key to translating these mental qualities into physical results, and throughout this post I will attempt to outline some ways that we can cut through the onslaught of digital distraction and achieve better and more focused results based on the power of observation.

Define Work and Define Avoidance

This is perhaps the most important piece of advice that I’ve ever stumbled across, and so it is also perhaps the most important piece of advice that I can communicate to anyone. We are more connected than ever. We can communicate across time and space, work from anywhere with an internet connection in some instances. But this increased connectivity has also bred the most insidious species of time wasters: Insert here any of the following: Facebook, Twitter, Pintrest, Email, SMS, et. al. (Disclaimer: I’m not suggesting that these things don’t have valuable applications, but they often, at least in my observation, have become the most popular ways to waste time)

The same connectivity that is able to amplify our productiveness also seeks to disrupt it by turning us into compulsive checkers: emails, status updates, text messages. I can still recall the tell-tale ding of my iPad before I shut off the email notification. I’d salivate like a Pavlovian dog at the sound, the thought of someone wanting to reach out to me, but more often than not it was either spam or something entirely non urgent.

Our first step in increasing our powers of observation is to note which things we do to produce an actual result and which things we do to avoid doing the things that will actually produce a result. Work should have a defined goal: I am doing action X to achieve outcome Y. Ask yourself the following question several times a day for a week and track any trends that you see arise: What am I doing right now and, more importantly, why? Our goal in this exercise is to define our methods of avoidance, and yes, we all have our own methods of avoidance. After we first define these trends of avoidance, we are then free to come up with plans to either eliminate them or contain them within appropriate time frames. When I completed my first attempt at this exercise, I was shocked at how much of my time was robbed by sheer compulsion. I had no legitimate reason for doing much of what I was doing, but nonetheless it robbed me of precious brain energy needed to complete other, more important, tasks.

I challenge everyone who reads this post to comment below during the next week to share their methods of avoidance. I will start by including some the habits that I have developed to avoid doing work.


15 responses to “Increasing Productivity with the Power of Observation

  1. One of the methods of avoidance that I’ve developed recently is checking my new iPhone constantly when it is in my view. I know that it is on vibrate, and that I’ll hear it if someone texts or calls, but nevertheless I kept checking it. Finally, I decided to put the iPhone away when I’m trying to do anything important. Out of sight, out of mind : )

  2. Throughout this morning I have checked a game that I play on my phone compulsively at least five times, when I woke up, when I was on my way to school, before class, right after class and when I do homework, I take a break and check the game. I check this game because it’s a game where you have to restock and buy things so my attendance is “needed” to be productive in the game. I receive alerts for the game, so when something needs to be checked a banner will show up on my iPhone and also a noise or vibration will occur. I check even if I have not seen or heard any of these things. I clearly have more important things to do because there is no value to the enjoyment I get out of building another store or hiring one of my residents in the game. I have five classes of work to do and I work four days a week, but some how this game becomes a priority for me. This method of avoidance can be and is avoided if I put my phone away and if I do things with my time that I see are beneficial to me and my education. I could also delete the game, but I honestly don’t think I could because I am sadly proud of how advanced in the game I am. The game is called Tiny Towers and everyone should get it.

    • Kim,
      I like your reflections here, and I understand your hesitance to delete the game entirely. I’m not even sure if deleting it is the answer at all. I think that as users of tech. we need to be strong enough to fight these urges without eliminating them. It is very easy not to touch something that doesn’t exist, but a more difficult feat to not touch something that is within our reach.

      One of the things that scares me a bit that you mention, which I also do, is the compulsive checking even though there is no ding or vibration. This is a hard habit to break.

      Good start! One more habit to go for the full 20 pts.

    • Throughout this week I realized that I eat to procrastinate. Even if I just had lunch when I get to the library and I go get a snack and a drink before I start my work. I have ADHD so anytime I get bored studying I drink water, eat or go get more food so that I can put off my work. I’m actually doing it right now…..On my way to work I had a couple extra minutes so I stopped and got food. I’m now eating everytime I pause, partly because I haven’t eaten breakfast and partly because I don’t know what to say next. I eat food anytime I have an extra minute or want to put something off. It’s a wonder I’m not 300lbs. I can try not to do this by thinking about the last time I ate and asking myself if I am honestly hungry or if I am just bored/procrastinating. Over this past week I realized that I ate up to 7 times a day, not huge meals, just to fill time or procrastinate work or class.

  3. I never knew how obsessed I was over facebook until this year. I knew I checked it whenever I had time in the library or at home, but this year, I was given an ipad for work. This ipad was not given to the ITC’s to distract us, but to do research on them and learn about the different apps so we are able to tell others how to be productive with them. Though this was the goal of the DEC department for us ITC’s, I have used it as more of a distraction for in class, between classes, and any time I find myself bored. Sure, I have done research, discovered new apps, and figured out many ways in which the ipad can be used, but facebook is always up and running. I have tons I should be getting done besides facebook, but I check it constantly to see what others are up to. I have moved a lot, so it is sort of my way to still feel as though I am close to those I moved away from. I like to comment on their statuses, pictures, and accomplishments because I want them to know that I still care and think of them even though I do not live near them anymore. This is my way to justify my facebook addiction, however, because I do not need to be on it as much as I am. I could easily check it one time a day, or even once a week, without those I moved away from, from ever noticing.
    I actually find myself sitting in class getting anxious to check my facebook. I want people to comment, like, or send me a message. It actually makes me angry when I get a notification on my phone or on my ipad for those who send me requests to play games. I do not get on facebook to play games, I get on to try and connect to people. In a way, I feel as though the game requests are spam. I really don’t know why I check facebook obsessively, but I do know it is a distraction from other important tasks in my life that should be worked on. Before I wrote this comment, I was on facebook for at least an hour distracting myself with others photos and statuses.

    • Tori,
      Good job identifying a habit of avoidance. I think your comments about FB are spot on, for yourself and a lot of other people in our generation. Now that you have identified this habit as something unproductive, how can you change your habits to make FB less of a focus? Shut off all notifications? Check it only once a day?

      Good observations. You need one more habit to get the full 20 pts.


  4. One of my two habits of avoidance that I have developed during this semester is watching Netflix when I could be doing something constructive. It seems whenever I come back to my apartment at the end of the day, instead of doing work I will watch an episode or two of a TV show, and then suddenly realize that I had work to do and have put it off. I have been thinking about turning off my wifi/internet connectivity as soon as I get home as a way of combating the situation, but at the end of the day I feel like I am entitled to a break. I have 4 classes, work, and my Internship I really shouldn’t have time to devote to watching TV yet it happens. So, I’m basically stuck in a stalemate with myself.

  5. Pat,
    Good insights. I recently had this problem with the TV show “LOST” on Netflix. I watched the entire series in about a month and a half, of course when I have other things to do.

    Here’s are some suggestions to help you win this stalemate: try doing your work somewhere it is impossible, or inappropriate, to watch Netflix. For example, go to the library or the leather lounge instead of your apt. to do work. This change in place may help you break this habit.

    Great post. One more habit for the 20 pts.


  6. Here is the second habit that I have, looking at my cell phone. Not unlike Jeff I will turn it on and look at it whenever it is in my line of site. For some reason when I look over I always think the flashing blue light(signifies that you have a message) is flashing, so I instinctively pick my phone up and will just waste my time playing on an app instead of putting the phone down and going back to work. I’ve already checked it once since I started writing this post!

  7. One habit that I have developed just within this semester is constantly being on the iPad. I have a tablet that I have had for over two years and I do school work and other things, but the iPad has so much more to offer me. I am constantly fiddling with something or finding new apps to try out.

    My second habit that I have had for years is crime investigation shows. I love Criminal Minds, CSI, NCIS and all those types of shows that usually come on CBS. I will stop doing work for 2-3 hours at a time just watch these shows. I have even gotten into the habit of even reading on commercials for classes between the shows.

  8. Pat, I used to have a phone that did that and I did the same thing you did. It drove me crazy how many times a day I would look at it. I finally got a new phone that doesn’t do that. I know there is a setting where you can turn it off, but for some reason I never wanted to turn it off. I literally had to get an entirely new phone that didn’t come with that setting. Another avoidance of mine is the Disney channel. I am obsessed with Disney and I have Disney, Disney XD, and even Disney Junior. I don’t watch the Junior one (that is for the children I watch), but I find myself wasting time watching show after show until there are no more new ones to watch. They are renewed every so often and I again find myself doing the same habit of wasting time with the shows.
    With the facebook, I could close it out every time I am done checking this. That way, if I want to look at it again, I will have to type in my user name and password again instead of just refreshing the page. I think this would force me to wait longer periods of time before checking it. With the Disney app., I really don’t want to change that because it is my escape from work and school. It is my time that helps me relax and waste time, and not worry so much about life in general.

  9. I am surprised to say the least with what I found. All last week it seemed I would be writing a paper, or doing an assignment and literally every five minutes or less I would check Facebook and Twitter. Then I end up getting side tracked, lose train of thought, and add extra time to the assignment that is not needed. Now what I am going to try and do this week is that when I am going to turn off my wireless when I am writing a paper or doing assignment and sees if this will help me. I believe that I check Facebook and Twitter every few minutes because I want to avoid the actual task and prolong it, instead of combating it and getting it done as soon as possible. What I need to do though, is not to care about social media as much and learn Facebook and Twitter is not everything.

  10. Another habit of avoidance that I am surprised in that I have seen over the last week, is that when I am prolonging anything school related or non school related tasks/activies, through checking my cell phone every few minutes. This I believe comes out of my eagerness for constant communication and the fact that I would rather focus on communicating with someone instead of doing a specific task. I also use my phone as a back-up mechanism when I get in awkward situations. Let’s say I go with one of my friends to hangout with his group of friends, I do not know the people I am about to be introduced to. This also goes with my phone becoming my defense mechanism, in that let’s say they are all hanging out and talking about stuff I don’t know or ignoring me all together. I can check my phone and pretend to be texting or on the internet, but in reality I am just trying to make the situation less awkward. So one I am going to try and work on not checking my phone every few minutes, and not using it as a defense mechanism in awkward situations.

  11. I myself am obsessed with my email. I cannot go on my ipad without feeling a need to check the number in my mailbox. I am always afraid that if I skip or miss an email i will miss something important in my life. I am often checking my email more then I am doing homework. I will be in the middle of writing a paper and hear the ding and i will have to check it and see what is going on. If my ipad lights up with an email I must check it. Once i check it it gets me off focus. I am no longer just checking my email, I am involved in what the email was about. i am now thinking about that class, orginization, or group project. i am no longer focused on class or homework. it is very said but so true about my life. I am trying to teach myself to not use my ipad unless I need to for this reason. i also have began to foace myself to close my email window on my computer so when i am on my computer for homework reasons i am not getting distracted. I refuse to get email on my phone. I do this so I can walk away from it and not have to deal with it . Therefor when I am out with friends or doing bussines I am not getting email.
    My second distraction is pintrest. I am obssessed!!! Actually that is an understatement. As soon as I get on it I get very distracted. I will look at someones post then I will look at their wedding board. then I will check their

  12. teaching board then find a link to some oneelses then repin over and over and before you know it I have my whole wedding planned out… It is insane. I try my best to only get on when I am done with all of my work but thatrarely ever happens. Someone will tell me of something they saw on pintrest and I am gone. I love to plan so this site just feeds my obession to plan my wedding ,future house, and children before I even have a groom. I also love to shop. the site allows me to have a want board full of silly gifts, a dress board , and a disney board full of 250 pins!!!!! I also have a makeup board cooking board and handy tip board. I just keep finding things to pin and get soooo caught up in it that three hours later I see I have done nothing. I have leanred to try and stay away form the siste as much as I can but i will tell you it is currently up on my computer as I write this. I also have tryed to hide my pin this button from my bookmarks but I still catch myslef using it now and again. I love my boards and i think everyone should use them but you must find moderation.

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