The Magic of Productivity
In a chaotic world where virtual chimes and dings clamour for attention, it can be challenging to maintain focus and prioritize meaningful actions. From social media notifications to news updates to the endless scroll of online content, distractions abound like never before in history; with our attention pulled this way and that, disconnecting and concentrating fully on the task at hand can seem like an impossibility.
In this article, we’ll discuss some productivity tools and techniques and how they relate to the art of misdirection – the most important skill in a masterful magician’s toolkit. Before we delve into the topic, let’s test your attention to detail. Can you recall the first four words of this article without glancing away?
Productivity – A Distraction from Distractions
Misdirection is a technique employed by magicians to divert attention from their actual actions and create illusions. It’s about making sure that focus is directed where you want it – if your eyes are on the waving handkerchief in my left hand, you’re unlikely to notice my right hand slipping a coin up my sleeve, the same coin that is about to magically vanish. Now imagine harnessing this ability to direct attention positively, steering your focus away from the negative distractions surrounding you and onto accomplishing the tasks you consider valuable. Sounds appealing, right?
Every activity we engage in can be categorized into one of four areas, represented in the following Venn diagram:
The exterior of the Venn diagram represents negative uses of our time, while the overlapping section signifies where technology can aid us in accomplishing tasks more efficiently. To maximize meaningful output, our goal should be to spend as much time as possible within the blue, non-overlapping region of tasks where the ‘Human Brain’ is uniquely able to add value. Productivity systems aim to help us spend more time in this zone.
Aside from focusing on the right tasks, achieving a balance in our attention is also crucial. Chris Bailey’s book “Hyperfocus” posits that each individual has a limited attentional space (with some possessing a larger ‘capacity’ than others). When engaging in activities, it’s essential to use this capacity wisely and maintain a balanced focus.
In the given example, the attentional space required for both checking emails and listening to music exceeds the available capacity, causing the modelling task to fall outside the attentional space. This results in a significant drop in productivity, as focus needs to shift to accommodate the task’s size. As the image suggests, the optimal way to fill this circle is by having only one task at a time.
A productivity system encompasses various techniques, tools, and habits that aid in managing our attentional space: redirecting our focus to where it is required, offloading responsibilities, or offering structure. This management enables us to focus on larger tasks and avoid distraction, leading to the completion of more meaningful endeavours at a higher quality. The following are some techniques and tools you might consider adding to your productivity system – think of them as your ‘glamorous assistants’:
Microsoft To Do
The Microsoft To Do app is a simple yet effective tool for organizing and staying on top of your responsibilities. Its benefits include:
- A minimalist to-do list with tickable tasks.
- Customizable lists for better organization.
- Reminder times and notes for each task.
- Centralized task management for increased focus and minimized downtime.
Breaking larger tasks down into achievable bite-sized chunks can be a great way of making them more palatable, and the satisfaction of being able to check off a task as complete rivals completing a level of Candy Crush.
Time management, a valuable skill in both work and life, can be facilitated by making full use of your calendars. They offer the following advantages:
- Organization of time through reminders, deadlines, and appointments.
- Time-blocking to enhance focus and optimize attentional space.
- Collaboration by viewing others’ calendars for scheduling meetings.
- Syncing calendars across different devices for consistency in a singular centralised calendar.
By effectively utilizing calendars, you’re not just organizing your time; you’re reclaiming your attentional space, allowing you to focus on what truly matters in both your personal and professional life.
Emails often slip through the cracks of our inboxes, leading to inefficiency. Email management techniques can help:
- Automation for efficiency: Microsoft has a number of shortcuts that can make common processes more streamlined. Consider flagging important emails to centralise them in Microsoft To Do, setting rules to automatically move specific emails to folders, or utilizing quick steps to perform multiple actions with shortcuts
- Organisation for clarity: Consider creating new inbox folders for better categorisation, and customising view settings to visualise your inbox effectively.
- Tidying up: Spring-clean your inbox by archiving completed emails for future reference and deleting unnecessary emails entirely!
By streamlining your email management, you’re reducing the burden of email maintenance and decluttering your mind, allowing you to focus on more meaningful correspondence.
Capturing useful information is crucial, as it tends to get lost if not properly documented. Effective note-taking practices include:
- Saving useful websites in dedicated folders or bookmark collections.
- Recording ideas and discussions in virtual or physical notepads, organized by topic or project area.
- Allotting time to review and condense notes after a call or meeting.
Effective note-taking is your backstage preparation, ensuring that you have all the information you need at your fingertips. This allows your tasks to take up less space within your attentional space as your understanding of the task is greater.
Controlling phone usage and reducing distractions is a major challenge in our digital age. Focus modes can help mitigate this issue:
- Customize your phone’s home screen to display only essential applications.
- Set specific times for focus mode, limiting notifications and app access.
- Restrict social media apps during focus hours for enhanced productivity.
By setting up focus modes on your devices, you’re essentially performing your own act of misdirection: steering your attention away from digital distractions and towards productive and meaningful tasks.
If you find any of the above techniques challenging to implement, feel free to consult ChatGPT for personalised advice. For example, you could ask, “How can I set a rule to automatically move emails containing the word ‘compliance report’ to my inbox folder ‘to action’”. As we navigate an era rich with AI-based efficiency tools like Grammarly and ChatGPT, leveraging these resources can be a game-changer for your productivity.
Constant phone checking and task-switching can diminish productivity and hinder concentration. In today’s fast-paced world filled with distractions, it is crucial to be mindful of these challenges and find effective ways to manage them. Productivity systems act as a guiding force, providing calmness and order in an information-overloaded environment. Each system is unique, and there is always room for improvement – feel free to get in touch with any suggestions of any time-saving tips that were not included in this list!
Thank you for your time and attention. Let’s keep building a better tomorrow!