When it comes to distractions, we all have our own particular Achilles’ heel—maybe it’s social media, maybe it’s gossiping with coworkers, maybe it’s Maybelline. Even when we can tune these things out, productivity is not a given—just because we feel like we’re getting lots of work accomplished doesn’t mean we’re actually using our time efficiently or effectively.
At NextGen’s recent webinar, “Productivity Tips: How to Drown Out Distractions,” many of the questions surrounding productivity, focus, and distraction were answered. Patrick Malone of American University’s Department of Public Administration and Policy covered tips, tricks, and best practices to help ensure that one’s time is used intelligently and production is maximized without undue stress or long hours.
Malone started by encouraging people to think about their own personal conception of time. How we think about time affects how we use it, and only by understanding where we’re starting from can we make changes and improvements.
Time is unique, said Malone, because “We don’t own it, but we give it away.”
This is especially true as one moves into leadership roles, and more meetings, check-ins, and supervision, this means that one’s time is increasingly pledged to others before the day even begins.
“As you become more senior, the gift of your time becomes extremely valuable to those that you lead,” said Malone.
Having reflected on the nature of time and the various demands on it, Malone moved on to lay out the ways in which time management plays a role in productivity, or the lack of it. The biggest challenge for leaders is clearly the demands placed on their time by others, but this can be true for people at all levels as well. If your boss is constantly handing you new assignments or your coworkers are shuffling their work off onto you, it is natural to look for strategies to deal with the dilemma of a limited amount of time and a seemingly unlimited amount of work.
Unfortunately, for many people, this means multi-tasking, a topic that Malone shared some important thoughts on. He brought up the concept of Continuous Partial Attention, which is essentially the state of being partly tuned into to everything while never being completely tuned in to anything. Multi-tasking is so ubiquitous in our technology-enabled world that many of us do not even consider its impacts.
“Only 2 percent of people can multi-task effectively,” said Malone. For the rest of us, it can actually reduce productivity by up to 40%.
“We are not capable of maintaining real, authentic relationships in the state of Continuous Partial Attention,” said Malone, which can be especially disastrous for leaders who need to connect and inspire.
Technology as well, while it offers many benefits, impacts productivity as it can suck up time with meaningless social media scrolling or constant email refreshes.
Fortunately, we are not all doomed to a lifetime of anxious, hurried unproductivity. A few simple steps can save us from ourselves, and the avalanche of work crashing down on us.
Two particular tips that Malone had were to take care of yourself and get comfortable delegating.
Taking care of oneself is both a physical and emotional task, and both parts of this complement and reinforce each other.
“Our physical health contributes greatly to our ability to be productive,” said Malone. Lack of sleep can impact productivity, and in a work culture that begins early in the morning, people who are naturally more awake at later hours need to be especially vigilant about resting, but also about targeting their actual windows of productivity to get work done.
Mental health is important as well, which means prioritizing relationships and avoiding the stress and pessimism that can trip us up before we’ve even gotten started.
To ease the load, Malone suggests delegation—it shows coworkers that you trust them, and it keeps you from getting bogged down in work that someone else may be better equipped to handle. If delegation is truly not possible, Malone recommends strategic prioritization with an eye toward maintaining work-life balance—instead of simply adding hours to your week, communicating with your team or supervisor about what needs to be done and what deadlines can be extended.
We live in a busy world, and it is easy to let that constant motion and agitation become our default state of existence. But by taking time for ourselves, working intelligently, and being reasonable in our expectations for ourselves and others, we can carve out space for peaceful productivity amidst the rush.