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The Productivity Challenge Of This Era

Important announcement from the Ministry of Gossip:  THE GOSPEL ON CELEBRITY AND POP CULTURE
PREACH IT! Prince declares Internet ‘completely over,’ Web somehow continues to function


I’ve got a problem.  I can’t get my work done.  Or, at least, I’m not getting it done.  It’s not that I am not “at work.”  It is that while at work, I am not working.  At least, not enough.  I’m too busy doing other stuff.  Stuff that helps me learn, think, ponder – but not necessarily the stuff of my actual work.

In the old days, that other stuff was standing around a water cooler, cleaning and organizing and straightening the desk, the stacks, the piles.  Now, it’s reading and surfing and watching stuff on the web.  I hate to disappoint Prince, but he is wrong – the Internet is not “completely over.”  In fact, it has a death grip on our productivity.

Here is an example:  at least three times, I have run the live stream of a World Cup game in the corner of my computer.  AND I DON’T EVEN LIKE SOCCER!  That live feed was completely distracting.

So, yesterday, I took the bull by the horns.  (I have no idea what that means…)  I decided, enough is enough.  I pulled out all of my old time management tools, and spent some time planning my work.  By the day; day after day.  Which book to read when, which project to tackle when, which task to do at a set time  –  you know, trying to become much more productive.  (And, by the way, writing blog posts is part of my work).

I won’t bore you with the details. But they included actually printing out some sheets of paper (you remember paper, don’t you?), and pulling out my old high-tech tool:  a clipboard.  (It is an amazing tool!).

But the real test will be when I settle down in one of those blocks of time I have blocked out, and seeing if I can stay focused, truly on task.  That’s when it will get scary.

In a column in the LA Times, Building One Big Brain, Robert Wright describes the battle between our loss of focus, reflecting on The Shallows by Nicholas Carr, and the ways that the Internet and all of these “social brain” activities change the way we function (referring to an upcoming book What Technology Wants, by Kevin Kelly, a long-time tech-watcher who helped launch Wired magazine and was its executive editor back in its young, edgy days).

Here is how he starts his column:

For your own sake, focus on this column. Don’t think about your Facebook feed or your inbox. Don’t click on the ad above or the links to the right. Don’t even click on links within the column.

Failing to focus — succumbing to digital distraction — can make you lose your mind, fears Nicholas Carr, author of the much-discussed book “The Shallows.” At least, it can make you lose little parts of your mind. The Internet, Carr suspects, “is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation.”

In other words, don’t just float/surf/fly around – sit down and do some work!

But then, he asks the next part of the question, referring to the soon available book by Kelly:

As for Kevin Kelly’s view: I’ll let Kelly speak for himself as the timely publication of his fascinating book approaches. But it’s safe to say that he’s upbeat. He writes of technology “stitching together all the minds of the living, wrapping the planet in a vibrating cloak of electronic nerves” and asks, “How can this not stir that organ in us that is sensitive to something larger than ourselves?”

No doubt some of his critics will think of ways. But the question he’s asking strikes me as the right long-term question: Not so much how do we reconcile ourselves to technology, but how do we reconcile ourselves to — and help shape — the very big thing that technology seems devoted to building?

So – here is my thought.  I have often blogged about the loss of focus problem.  I have quoted fondly from Rework, in which the authors talk about the great value of chunks of alone time to get actual work done.  They are right.

But, we also live in this social brain activity era.

Getting the balance – doing both well – that is the productivity challenge of this era.