Here’s a look at three interesting stories currently in the news with ramifications for your team’s productivity.
1. Will multi-tasking keep you from high-quality work?
It’s not news that multi-tasking can get in the way of focusing deeply on work. But here’s an aspect of it that you might not have considered: “Shallow tasks like reading and responding to emails or checking social media might prevent you from getting fired, but it’s deep tasks that produce the value and build the skills that get you promoted,” according to Georgetown Professor Cal Newport in this Fast Company piece. And the more you multi-task, the less comfortable you’ll be with extended periods of deep focus. Newport argues that even a quick glance at your email can “drastically reduce your cognitive function and therefore reduce the quality and quantity of what you produce.”
“High-quality work produced is a function of two things—the amount of time you spend on the work and the intensity of your focus during this time,” he says. “If you can increase your focus, you'll get more done in less time.”
2. Could tracking your time for a month raise your productivity?
In this intriguing piece, HotelTonight CEO Sam Shank describes how he tracked and categorized how he spent his time for a full month and then compared that to what was necessary to accomplish his goals. The results? “I wasn’t leaving myself enough time for things I really wanted to be doing more of, like getting advice from our investors, building relationships with strategic partners, working with Product, talking with press, and being readily available and accessible to HT team members,” he writes. He goes on to describe what he did in response: “Right away, I started blocking off and freeing up my own calendar, actively scheduling things I want to spend more time doing, rather than watching as my schedule gets slammed. I say no to external requests more often. I make it a priority to build in ‘white space,’ aka unscheduled time, so I can be totally engaged in the scheduled time I do have … And as I’d hoped, the last few months have been way more productive and less stressful.”
If you’ve ever felt that your calendar was filling out with items that don’t help move your biggest goals forward, it might be worth taking a similar look yourself.
3. You should check email first thing in the morning
You’ve probably heard the popular productivity advice not to check email first thing in the morning. The thinking goes that you should start the day focused on your most important tasks, not getting distracted by whatever messages might have landed in your inbox overnight. But business professor Dorie Clark argues in this Harvard Business Review piece that you should ignore that advice, pointing out that it gets harder to deal with messages after they’ve been languishing there a while. “My problem with email was often the difficult decisions it necessitated,” she writes. “I found that I consistently avoided answering certain messages because they required hard choices that my brain found taxing … As a result, ‘easy’ messages got processed within seconds, and more difficult or awkward responses got delayed indefinitely — becoming even more awkward as a result, when I finally responded weeks or months later, looking rude in the process.” She suggests throwing out the “no email in the morning” rule and instead scheduling 20-25-minute morning email sprints.