Working Smart is Better Than Working Hard
There’s a great term used in Taiwan for smartphone addicts. “Di Tou Zhu” literally means: “The Low Head Tribe.” This tribe is global, of course, and growing. Watch any group of people required to wait for more than thirty seconds and…boom…everyone’s on a phone – quick email checks, a couple of rounds of some dumb game, some web surfing, social media scroll-throughs, etc. This tribe with their heads bent downwards at a screen aren’t, however, actually addicted to their phones. They – we – are addicted to the internet. It’s possibly the only addiction you don’t get grief over. So far “internet-shaming” isn’t a thing, nor do folks give members of the heads-down tribe dirty looks like they give smokers. Internet addiction isn’t perhaps killing people in the way opioids or tobacco can; but for many, it has essentially destroyed their ability to focus.
Distractions are carcinogens for the mind. They eat away at our time on earth. We’ve given up time – the only thing that can’t be extended – for insipid games with colorful falling balls or the convenience of being able to see pictures of what your friends had for lunch. And it couldn’t come at a worse time. The early decades of the 21st century will almost certainly be remembered in history books as the time when AI and automation began to transform work in the biggest way since the industrial revolution. If you want to keep your job – or create a new one in a new industry – you need to be able to sit still and concentrate.
Is it hopeless? Should we ditch tech and go back to notepads and pencils? –No. But we can put some guardrails in place. There are some simple hacks that quickly increase work productivity and don’t require renouncing technology. In fact, they harness tech. “Blocking apps” are getting a lot of press of late as they offer a one-stop solution for organizing a scatter-brained work or study day. After installing the app – which works across all your devices – you set parameters. You can choose to, for example, block social media sites from 10 am to 3 pm, or block news or game sites for a day, a week… it’s up to you. You can also consider using the app’s timer. It’s an old trick: work like crazy for 20 minutes, then take a five-minute break.
A good blocking app is also able to help you schedule and enforce a “work mode.” You can set up “office hours” during which time people trying to contact you are told you’re working. Because the app works across your devices, there’s no cheating on your phone during a bathroom break. Free to install and easy-to-use, blocking apps are becoming the go-to tool for people tired of “working all day” without getting much done. As the wise saying goes: Work Smart; Not Hard! Smart work can mean you finish tasks faster and therefore have more time for guilt-free leisure.
The modern workplace can be anywhere. At home, at a coffee shop, or at an old-fashioned office. But the flexibility in workspaces is both a blessing and a curse. Home has plenty of temptations, there’s noise at a coffee shop, and offices can be dull; leading to wasting time online in a bid to overcome boredom. But what we all need to get better at is being proactive, rather than reactive. Being proactive means taking initiative and planning for the challenges you are likely to face. If the noise of a coffee shop is an issue, being proactive means getting some noise-canceling headphones or even simple earplugs. If the web at home or the office is too alluring (including gaming and other ‘adult’ interests), being proactive means blocking those sites so you can focus. You’re in charge of your time, not some Silicon Valley billionaire who’s got teams of people calculating the perfect clickbait headline or that personalized, irresistible ad. You’re in charge. Block the ad. Block the clickbait sites.
Experiment! Try blocking distractions for a while and see how much more you get done. Set goals! For a year… or a month; or even a week. That feeling of accomplishment will power you forward to bigger challenges – it’s called “positive reinforcement.” And some final “Chicken Soup for the Soul” advice: If your goals are easy, they’re not real goals. Goals should be challenges that require effort. We climb mountains, not slowly walk up hills. Reach for that thing that seems slightly beyond what you think you’re capable of and – with some genuine focus – watch as you accomplish more than you ever thought possible.