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Op/Ed

Procrastinate with purpose by following the Zeigarnik effect

(EDITORIAL) Procrastination is almost inevitable, but what if that procrastination could increase your productivity?

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Let us speak together of the Zeigarnik Effect. But only after I’ve made a cup of tea. See, that’s the nature of the Zeigarnik Effect.

In addition to having a rad name – seriously, I feel like I’m revealing mysterious secrets from the Eastern Bloc, which I technically am – the Zeigarnik Effect tracks a quirk of human cognition that can, once properly hacked, increase productivity by making procrastination work for you.

Bluma Zeigarnik’s original study, which has had its results repeatedly replicated, states that an interrupted task, or a task the subject knows is not yet complete, stays in the back of the mind while they do other things.

The original subjects were waiters.

Bluma Zeigarnik found that service professionals remembered details of a given order when that order was still open, even if they were busy working on something else, but once it had been completed, the details vanished.

What might seem like a procedural consequence of waiting tables – not like you have to remember the doneness of the cheeseburger you gave somebody who left the restaurant an hour ago – has since been demonstrated in tasks from jigsaw puzzles and flatpack furniture to WoW and SimCity.

It’s not a job thing. It’s a brain thing.

When you leave something undone, and you know it’s undone, there’s still a little mental RAM whirring away, working at it.

That’s awesome.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say some of you do not spring out of bed Monday morning singing like a Disney protagonist and throw yourself into every task set before you with motivational poster vigor. I mean, I didn’t, and I like my job.

Hence my cup of tea. I literally wrote those two sentences, then went and made a cup of tea.

Field test. It works.

That’s the Zeigarnik hack – do what needs doing for 5 or 10 or 15 minutes, then stop. Aquire your legal stimulant of choice, or talk to coworkers, or do anything else your workplace allows that isn’t the particular task you’re aching to procrastinate on.

The Zeigarnik Effect won’t do the work for you, but when you set yourself to that job again, you’ll have more ideas and more energy than you did when you started.

Your brain doesn’t like incomplete tasks any more than your boss does.

When a task seems past you or you just don’t wanna, set a time period – 15 minutes is good, but experiment – and let your mental firmware work on it for a bit while the rest of you does something else.

Zeigarnik is procrastination with purpose, a way to get something done without overtaxing either your time limit or your will to live.

Give it a shot. I did, and I got a solid article and a hot cup of Darjeeling out of the equation. Top that for a Thursday morning.

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Matt Salter is a writer and former fundraising and communications officer for nonprofit organizations, including Volunteers of America and PICO National Network. He’s excited to put his knowledge of fundraising, marketing, and all things digital to work for your reading enjoyment. When not writing about himself in the third person, Matt enjoys horror movies and tabletop gaming, and can usually be found somewhere in the DFW Metroplex with WiFi and a good all-day breakfast.

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Op/Ed

Sadly, the tiny home movement has morphed into an elitist badge of honor

(EDITORIAL) Prepare to roll your eyes all the way back into your head, because the latest tiny home project in Cali puts the movement even more out of reach of the average American.

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Though they probably didn’t intend the correlation at the time, whomever first said “Less is more” could have easily been referring to the tiny home movement in America.

We’ve cultivated a strange fascination with small things in grandiose settings, and the latest gimmick to grace the “tiny home” movement is no exception – it’s a 3D printed tiny home in California that’s merely 300 square feet in size and sells for $250,000 on land valued at over $5M.

The land in question serves as a refuge for tech giants who just want to get back to nature, albeit inside of a tiny air-conditioned property. They’re marketing the “Sleeping Pod” as an efficient place that runs exclusively on Tesla batteries (ooh), and it’s a final nail in the coffin of a movement that started as a means of efficiency and sustainability, now morphing into catering to the mega wealthy.

Bucking the city in favor of no light pollution and agricultural-themed living is understandable, and no one needs that kind of respite like the people this site attracts.

But, like… y’all know that tents are a thing, right?

We’re past the point of being wildly confused that someone would ever pay a premium to live in a significantly smaller house; in fact, millennials and their parents alike seem to idolize the notion — one that, absent its public allure, might still be viable as an affordable, sustainable, comfortable alternative to traditional living.

Unfortunately, it seems like you’ll need to own a social media service or three if you want a shot at America’s latest frugal fascination.

It’s worth pointing out that sustainable, cheap tiny housing does exist — just not here. In other areas of the world, 3D-printed homes made from recycled materials can be built for under $10,000 in less than a week, and sustainable sources of energy such as solar- and wind-based power (while not initially cheap to implement) are investments which easily pay for themselves once they’ve been installed.

In an ironic twist, the ability to afford significantly less room for the opportunity to experience minimalism at its dumbest is now one reserved only for the rich.

While the technology powering Monterey Peninsula’s Galini Sleeping Pod, dubbed the “sustainable airstream of our time” is inspiring, the elitist price tag attached to it is not.

The bottom line resides in common sense: sustainability shouldn’t be a privilege, and it shouldn’t be marketed as a luxury.

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Op/Ed

Instead of ‘leaning in,’ women leaders are opting to ‘lean out’

(EDITORIAL) Many women have tried to “lean in,” but as that sets many back, they’re opting to “lean out” and forge their own path.

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We’ve been reporting on how many of “truisms” about women in the workplace are actually myths. Women do ask for raises and try to negotiate – they just aren’t heard. Women do possess the qualities that our culture looks for in leaders – they simply aren’t seen as being “feminine” characteristics, and so are coded negatively.

One of the most pervasive of these gendered myths is the concept of “leaning in.” As famously defined by Sheryl Sandberg, the advice to “lean in” and volunteer for additional responsibilities at work implies that women aren’t already doing so. That’s false (and a harmful stereotype to perpetuate).

No matter the industry, women do lean in. The truth is they often aren’t given credit for it when they do.

It should come as no shock then that after “leaning in” and not receiving additional credit, better compensation, or increased recognition in their companies — many women and minorities are getting frustrated with trying to change a status quo that isn’t interested in changing. Instead they are opting to “lean out.”

They are simply leaving and creating opportunities elsewhere.

One example of someone opting to lean out is Allison Baum, recently profiled by Quartz. A VC professional, Baum tried leaning in at her company only to receive minimal appreciation. She attributes this lack of progress to the way that her corporation wasn’t set up to help women succeed.

The Guardian ran a shocking report last year about the negligence of many of society’s safety systems (like seat belts!) that failed. Literally. They failed to incorporate women’s bodies as part of their designs.

Eventually, Baum left and founded her own VC firm. Leaning out allowed her to not only create an opportunity for herself, but to in turn create more opportunities for women and other minorities in the tech field.

If you’re in a position of authority, or are in a position where you are thinking of how you can best build your company so that all your employees can succeed, let Baum’s story illustrate the restrictions of only thinking about business in a “traditional” fashion.

In order to encourage the diversity that you need to grow and thrive, the very fabric of your team or organization must be built with more than one image of success in mind.

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Op/Ed

A hugely dangerous challenge of the Internet of Things

(EDITORIAL) The Internet of Things is here, with all manner of soft AI voices and shiny Bluetooth bits. But how long can we count on it staying?

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LG Alexa internet of things

So, robot apocalypse. The Internet of Things machines have their cold metal fingers all up in our data, our houses, our sand dunes and/or porn.

And for what? What do they offer in exchange for this unprecedented invasion of our day to day lives?

Seamless, user-friendly automation to help with a thousand daily tasks, demonstrably improving our quality of life.

That’s… that’s actually a pretty good offer! Nice work, robots.

It comes with catches, and we’ve covered those, but Day One bumps and blunders are part of owning tech. They generally get engineered out.

What I want to talk about is Day 100, or 1000. Because the important word in “Internet of Things” isn’t “Internet.” We have the Internet. We can confidently expect the Internet to continue being a big deal.

But “things” is an important word. Things are distinct from tech. With tech, buying the thing and futzing with the thing are part of the fun, especially for practicing nerds like your narrator. Tech is new, and the excitement of a new game or a new phone can take the edge off, say, a server crash or a quick trip to tech support and back.

What about things? No early adopter aura in history will get a customer to ignore a fridge full of rotten food. Fridges need to work, period. So does your thermostat and your car. All those things are charter candidates for the full IoT overhaul, and they’re all capital T Things, not tech. They aren’t shiny toys people can live without for a week or four. They’re expected parts of daily life, things that need to work on Day 1, 100, and 1000.

Are companies preparing for that? Are the startups rising out of the blue-light-white-plastic Stuff Renaissance prepared to rebrand as global service providers, doing the hard, unglamorous, absolutely necessary work of digital maintenance?

Bigger question: are they prepared to guarantee security while they do so? Because anything with digitized bits needs patches and updates to function, and if it can download patches and updates, it can download things that are not patches and updates. No one wants to chase a botnet out of their microwave. Are the companies invested in always-on Things standing up and saying they’ll take responsibility for indefinitely securing and maintaining the infrastructure they intend to profit from?

Short answer, no. They’re not. Operations departments tend to be vanishingly small, painfully understaffed, spectacularly underpaid. Let’s be real,: we don’t prioritize stuff like that. We’re talking the digital equivalent of the guy who chases the raccoons out of your HVAC, and that sounds entirely too much like work.

Maintenance is not sexy.

But it’s absolutely necessary. It’s generally just the beginning of a thing. It gets the wheel rolling, and that’s not to be undersold.

But the IoT wheel is most definitely rolling. The issue is keeping it in motion, making it a wifi-level universal usage standard, not a 3DTV fad.

That won’t get done in a meeting. That gets done through long term adoption, and long term adoption will be about attracting, training, and retaining people willing to do the hard work of maintenance and customer support.

The Internet of Things wants to be a major step forward in the infrastructure of daily life. I am incredibly in favor of that. But daily life works because it’s the full time job of a whole lot of people to make sure it does so. So to Internet of Things companies, I say – pay them, treat them well, make your organization the best place in the industry for them, or be left behind by the people who do.

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