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Tech interrupts us every 3 minutes, how to stay productive

A new study reveals workers are distracted every three minutes by technology, how do we stay productive? We share tips as we reveal the wrong answer to this question.

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Workers are distracted by technology

On Happening Now on Fox News today, Dr. Gloria Mark at the Department of Informatics at the University of California at Irvine was interviewed about her new research that reveals the average American worker is interrupted every three minutes, and it may take as long as 23 minutes to get back on track. Dr. Mark said that with the proliferation of information today, and the unprecedented access people have to more people and information, the question is not how distracted we are, but how could we not be distracted?

We’ve written about Dr. Mark’s work previously, as she is well known for her research on digital distraction. Earlier this year, Dr. Mark took people off of email, and discovered that email obsession is not only unproductive, but actually has health implications, as the heart rate of a frequent email checker is in constant high alert mode, meaning it does not rest or increase like a normal heart should. Workers taken off of email were more productive and focused, with the implication being taken now that the same applies to social media.

Dr. Mark told Fox News that the distracting nature of social media is “an open question,” adding that “the thing we [do] know is that stress goes up as we multitask.” She noted that too much stress impacts productivity, and that while workers need some stress to keep them going at work, they shouldn’t be so stressed that their health is impacted.

How do we maintain sanity? Here’s the wrong answer:

Dr. Keith Ablow is a long time Fox News contributor and writes for Good Housekeeping and while he has an impressive background, his approach to Dr. Mark’s study proves he is out of touch with technology and modernity. Let’s break down his entire segment, point by point:

“Sooner or later, we’ll take holidays from technology,” taking designated hours, days, or weeks away from technology, as “this level of stress is only going to increase.”

He’s right, the level of stress is going to continue increasing as our culture adjusts, just as the introduction of cars stressed out drivers until user behavior and the technology reduced the stress levels. He is wrong, however in that “sooner or later” holidays will be taken, as many people years ago adopted a technology-free zone for weekends, or after dark, or refusing to take a smartphone on vacation or to relatives’ homes. Old news. Next?

Dr. Ablow continued, “The fictionalization of our lives wherein everybody thinks he or she is a reality tv show, posting (partially fictitious, by the way) Facebook profiles, tweeting about everything you do, like you’re a rockstar, which you’re not, and thinking that you’re so important that you better check the email every second while at work rather than getting any work done.”

Okay, breathe. First, if this is his impression of social networking and email use (aka technology), he obviously has a teenager he is basing his entire theory on. I have a teen as well, and yes, they are glued to their phone, and while I don’t believe my child is so self righteous they must post everything about herself, Dr. Ablow or his teen obviously does. Most businesses use social media now as what I would consider a traditional staple in their marketing arsenal, and the NASDAQ posting stock quotes, the Pope tweeting prayers, doctors live tweeting surgeries, and artists sharing their works on Facebook is far from “reality tv” behavior.

In response to the statement from the anchor, “but we don’t want to miss antything,” Dr. Ablow responded, “You know what? Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein didn’t have email or tweeters, or whatever, Twitter, and they did just fine for us.”

Seriously? You’re opining based on innovators of yesteryear? Imagine if they had email and a web community wherein they could all communicate their ideas and expand them, and if they had been able to do so, would they have mastered more innovations in a shorter period of time and actually been able to do more before they died? We’ll never know, but you get the point, it’s a bunk theory that because they didn’t have modern technology, they did just fine – they could have achieved more. Maybe.

In closing, my favorite portion of Dr. Ablow’s statement is that technology “is distracting, conveys people away from themselves. It’s a drug and it’s no different than any other drug of abuse. I promise you, people say ‘this is bad for me, I don’t want to do this anymore,’ and they’ll tweet that out. It’s a formula for disaster.”

I recently heard of people that did so many internets that they began convulsing and died in an alley, and someone was busted up the street and charged for posession of internets with the intent to distribute, and they’re going to be locked away for life. I met a girl recently that had done so many tweeters, her cheeks were sunken and her teeth were falling out and her husband had recently been incarcerated for overdosing on Facebooks and almost beating her to death. Please. It’s addictive and many studies not cited have proven as much, but it is not the exact same as every drug of abuse.

So what is the answer? How do we maintain our sanity?

Dr. Ablow is often right on, he is extremely well educated and well informed, just not on this particular topic – he must have been the only person available. Although I didn’t scream at the television (maybe I did), many ways to maintain sanity and avoid distraction came to mind, here are my quick tips:

  1. If you read one tip out of all of these, make it this one: turn off push notifications. Duh. Go to the settings in every social network and do not let it text you or ping you every time someone updates or tags you. Only look at notifications when you have the time to go to that social network or email service.
  2. Time block. Easy. Make a policy with yourself that you won’t look at Facebook after 5, or you won’t use Twitter until after lunch, you’ll do X for two hours, Y for two hours, Z for 10 minutes, etc. We’ve written about curing corporate A.D.D. with this atop the list of methods.
  3. Use a service like Notify Me Not to help you walk through getting rid of all of your junk email and keeping focused on real people in email, and you can mass unsubscribe from all junk email right now. If you’re on Gmail, ToutApp analyzes your gmail habits to help you pinpoint your timesucks.
  4. Use technology to battle technology and boost productivity. Any.do, Asanda, Due, and Do are all popular task management tools to keep you focused.
  5. Email too distracting? Install the free Inbox Pause tool which takes away the email interruptions while at work. Email getting redundant? Check out Yesware.
  6. Get extreme, and set up Strict Pomodoro on your browser, which blocks any site you designate from being used for certain time blocks so you can stay focused on your actual work, then you gain access to them for a few minutes. Genius.

There are endless ways to keep your day focused, we’ve been covering them for years, and using the excuse that the internet is a drug, so you just shouldn’t do it is completely unfeasible in today’s world. Stay focused, use technology to battle technology, and if you want to dig deeper into productivity tips, read years worth of tips, tools, and tricks to help you navigate the waters.

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius - she has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. phone services

    December 13, 2012 at 9:27 pm

    Technology particularly social media still has many good uses today. They should just be properly used and in a moderate way.

  2. Jessica DelBalzo

    December 17, 2012 at 11:31 am

    Lani, thanks for the humor AND the useful tips (ie: not the ones Dr. Ablow gave out).  <a href=”https://www.kminstitute.org”>Knowledge management</a> is a huge roadblock for businesses and individuals who are overcome by technological interruptions in the workplace, but these modern tools absolutely have their place in the office.  Can you imagine how much business would be lost if we completely avoided social media or email?!

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Integrate language learning into daily browsing with this new extension

(TECH NEWS) Interested in learning a second language but struggling to find the time? This new extension helps you learn French with no added time commitment.

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Woman seated on couch with laptop open to Fluent, a language learning extension on Chrome.

Language education software has long struggled to help students who don’t have sufficient time to study and practice. Sparing ten minutes a day on Duolingo for language learning is a really big commitment for some folks, even during a quarantine (but hey, no judgement here). Fortunately, Fluent has arrived to eliminate your remaining excuses for being monolingual.

Fluent is a new browser extension that helps you practice French while you browse the web. By replacing words in your native language with vocabulary in your target language, everything that you read through your web browser becomes a tiny bit bilingual. Slowly, Fluent acclimates your brain to seeing and translating foreign words automatically by teaching them through contexts that you’re already familiar with. Right now it’s only available in French, but new language offerings are already in the works.

On their producthunt.com page, co-founder Ara Ghougassian says that Fluent “helps by removing the friction to practice; you install Fluent and instantly you’re learning new vocabulary right inside your browser. No apps, no notifications, no setting time aside to study.”

As a language learner myself, I love the idea of seamlessly integrating my studies into daily life. There’s nothing quite like being able to read in your target language. With Fluent, users are able to do that right away. Drills and flashcards are okay, but straight-up memorization isn’t a very engaging or intuitive way to learn.

That being said, if you’re serious about learning a language, it’s worth giving yourself a reality check here: There is no singular, effortless, or fast way to become proficient. There’s no avoiding the fact that real fluency does take considerable time and effort. Language learning is just like building up your muscles: You have to consistently exercise if you want to get stronger.

So while I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that you rely on Fluent alone to study, the extension is a great introduction to developing those habits in your language learning. This particularly helps folks who find the idea of picking up a new language from scratch intimidating. But if you’re just curious about French, you’ll love its bite-sized approach to learning new words (not to mention, the hint of French on every webpage means you’ll feel a little bit posh while you’re surfing the web)!

Language skills are a wonderful way to invest in yourself, expand your career prospects, and unlock doors to new cultures; Fluent makes it easy to get started on your journey. Bonne chance!

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Tech News

Goal-based project management tool simplifies your work life

(TECH NEWS) If you are struggling to keep tasks straight then this new tool Qoals allows for a simpler and more straightforward way to accomplish goals as a team.

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Qoals pitch

We all have goals – whether they be personal, professional, financial, etc. Anyone can set a goal, all it takes is having a thought and assigning it a certain level of importance. However, not everyone completes their goals due to the oft difficulties and confusions associated with execution.

Like anything else, if there’s a will, there’s a way. A new way has been found in the form of Qoals – a simple and straightforward tool that helps you to get aligned around business goals instead of an endless wall of tasks.

The ability to complete goals is done through: setting goals, adding tasks, collecting things, and tracking progress. With this, everyone on your team has access to this information to keep tabs on what’s happening.

With setting goals, you create and prioritize your goals, letting your team members know which ones are most important at that time. Goals can be prioritized with tabs such as: long term, short term, and urgent. By adding tasks, you can add and assign tasks to set a clear path in order to complete set goals.

In collecting things, you collect resources related to your goal and keep them in one safe place (again, this is accessible to your whole team). This doesn’t require uploading files, but simply including links to resources to keep everything easily accessible. Finally, by tracking progress, everyone on the team can see where you’re at with your goals – which saves time with the follow ups of “how’s Goal X going?”

Why did Qoals develop this goal-oriented approach? “It’s about time we simplify things,” according to the official website. “Get aligned around goals and let everyone know what’s important for the business. Add goals under various projects and start adding tasks and resources to make that goal happen.”

Additionally, Qoals boasts that this provides users with a birds-eye view of what’s happening with their team, allowing them to be more human-centric. You can create unlimited projects, set and track your goals, collected everything related to said goal, keep the discussion relevant, access your tasks with one click, stay connected to your team, and see what’s going on at a glance.
Qoals is currently in beta.

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Tech News

If focus is a struggle for you, try this exploding to do list

(TECH NEWS) Nearly 90 percent of people who make to-do lists don’t finish them; can timed explosions fix that? Exploding To Do gives you productive chaos.

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exploding to do list alt

I’m a to-do list guy. I can’t remember the last time I started a day without one; indeed, an average day for me entails several to-do lists written on anything from scraps of yellow legal pad paper to my phone’s built-in Reminders app. There’s only one problem: I rarely make it through one list, to say nothing of the numerous one-offs I create as the day wears on.

According to Huffington Post, nearly 90 percent of people who make to-do lists doom their bulleted entries to the same fate—and, while many point to daily interruptions as the culprit, it’s clear that a sheer lack of urgency is the problem for anyone regularly struggling to check that last box (or ten).

But what if your to-do list…exploded? That’s a question that Exploding To Do wants desperately to answer for you.

Explosive urgency is the idea behind the company’s titular app. Citing decision fatigue as a major contributor to unfinished business, Exploding To Do seeks to cut down on your long-term planning in favor of manageable, daily tasks—and, even then, only the important ones.

After all, you don’t have much time. At the end of the day, your to-do list “explodes”, and while you can relegate entries to future dates or review combusted days of the past, the current day’s events are over; through this somewhat dramatic approach, Exploding To Do hopes to foster your “selective focus” so that you can make the most out of your day—and maybe finish a to-do list along the way.

From a presentation standpoint, Exploding To Do offers a fairly minimal presentation—something akin to a pen-and-paper approach—but the company behind it confirms that users will be able to track data, access to-do lists of days past, and create a back-log of ideas and actions for use at any time without having to detract from the day’s work.

Decision fatigue is a beast, especially in an age of neon lights and 60-hour work weeks. It’s refreshing to see something minimal and task-oriented grace the market—even if that product promises to explode daily.

You can sign up for Exploding To Do’s wait list on their website.

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