It’s certainly not new, but I recently came across the GTD Times blog run by the David Allen Company. The most recent entry is the first part of a keynote in which Allen overviews his approach to “getting things done,” as covered more fully in his book by the same title. If academia should ever manifest itself as an environment with an overabundance of demands, Allen’s advice may be a helpful starting point in adequately coming to grips with that situation.
Why? Because focus is rare and distraction abundant. As Hyatt comments,
Even when we think we are focusing, we usually aren’t. When we work intensely on one problem but do quick “check backs” on email, social media, and the like during breaks, we run into the problem of “attention residue.” Those things come back with us when we return to our core work and make it harder to focus on our most important tasks.
For the balance of Hyatt’s summation of the interview, see his blog. Or, for the full interview, see the recording below:
A recent study commissioned by Microsoft Canada found, disturbingly, that the human participants’ average attention spans had fallen to 8 seconds, a shorter time frame than measured for goldfish (Evernote, New York Times). One of the major suspected drivers of these results is the propensity of the participants to use a mobile device while “paying attention” to something else.
Even comparatively minor distractions apparently have a compound effect on concentration and productivity (Computers in Human Behavior, Evernote). What is required to avoid this effect will be different in different contexts (Knowledge@Wharton). But, being as “present” as possible in or to whatever situation we’re engaged in should be helpful in at least raising for ourselves the question of whether the amount of time and life invested into something—e.g., a ding, chirp, buzz, beep, or blink—is actually worth the return that might be expected from that thing.
I couldn’t go on at my previous pace, and I didn’t have to. I began building new boundaries around my margin. And I started enforcing them to keep myself out of trouble. This is where the rubber meets the road for us all. We must deliberately build margin into our lives, or our busy seasons will become permanent. No one else is going to do this for us.
Although I’ve moved away from using Evernote, their blog still often features interesting content. Recently they’ve had a three-part series on minimalism that heavily leans on Joshua Becker (part 1, part 2, part 3). Among Joshua’s reflections that the series provides are a two-part suggestion for “saying ‘no’ effectively:
1. Figure out and write down what your priorities and values are, even if you’re in a hectic environment. Ask yourself some tough questions like “Who is the person I want to become? Would my 40-year-old self approve of this?”
2. Realize and understand this: “If you say yes to something, you’re saying no to everything else. If you want to say no to something, realize that allows you to say yes to something else.” This is the true power of saying no: freeing up time so you can say yes to the things that matter most to you.
“If you say yes to something, you’re saying no to everything else.”
Or, in economic terms, each opportunity taken also has with it an accompanying “opportunity cost.” For the balance of the post series, see the Evernote blog (part 1, part 2, part 3). Joshua’s book, The More of Less (WaterBrook, 2016) can be found on Amazon.
Shawn Stevenson’s core business certainly falls in an area where probably few biblical scholars will care to follow. But, some of the implications of the expertise that he has for broader productivity applications may indeed prove informative and helpful.
Michael Hyatt has a helpful discussion of 10 tips for enabling better focus. For me, suggestions 5 (“Take email … software offline.”) and 6 (“Put on music that helps facilitates concentration.”) have tended to prove particularly helpful.
For Michael’s discussion of these tips and the other 8 he provides, see his original post.
Michael Hyatt has a free productivity assessment tool that provides “a free analysis of your overall [personal productivity] score and a breakdown of the productivity areas you evaluated.”
A followup email provides a short set of tips for improving, and the analysis page that displays after the survey is completed provides access to sign up for a free webinar on the “7 deadly sins of productivity.” I attended the webinar recently, and it does provide a good number of suggestions revolving around focus as a primary key to productivity.
The webinar then offers attendees the opportunity to sign up for a paid productivity course with still further content. But, the free elements contain a good amount of helpful information themselves.