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Are You Addicted to False Productivity?

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Karl W. Palachuk
March 1, 2021

Fiber Enter

I love to read. Sometimes, that means online (on a computer), or on a device such as my Kindle. But mostly, I love to read actual paper-based books and magazines. This is due in part to my age. I grew up reading books. More specifically, I grew up reading books with a pencil in my hand.

My books are frequently filled with notes, underlines, and comments to myself. Recently, I gave a friend a book. He looked at the pencil marks and note, “Oh. I get the annotated version.”

Many people don’t read much today. Reading, especially a physical book, requires that you sit quietly someplace and don’t do anything else. You need to have decent lighting. And you need to sit your butt in a chair are read. Plus, reading takes time.

There’s something “odd” in the twenty-first century about the concept of just doing one thing at a time – and doing it well. We have come to believe that this is un-productive, or at least less productive, than trying to do many things at once.

This phenomenon is part of an entire class of things we do today that give us a false sense of productivity. Somehow, we have come to believe that we are more productive at a computer than at the kitchen table. There’s something about the technology that feels productive.

Perhaps the most productive thing I’ve done over the last 20+ years is to sit in a chair and meditate. All the “activity” is taking place inside my head. So, it might look unproductive to an observer, but meditation allows my brain to relax and do some of its best work.

Are you addicted to technology? One way to examine this is to see if you have the following behaviors:

  • You have a standard routine that includes checking email, Facebook, LinkedIn, SnapChat, text messages, Teams, etc. in fast succession. And then, before you pick a task to work on, you check them all again.
  • You are literally tethered to your phone. It is in front of you, or within arm’s reach at all times. You take it to the grocery store, the back yard, the kitchen, and the bathroom. You check for email and text messages constantly, all day long. (Plus, of course, all your favorite social media.)
  • You have two or more monitors on your computer – even when you’re just doing one thing. The second monitor stays on, perhaps with videos or podcasts, like a friend reminder that you’re still connected even when you’re doing something else.

Many of these behaviors make us FEEL more productive when they actually make us less productive. Hence the term False Productivty.

I’ve talked to several people who have gone on vacation over the last few years and report that it took them two or three days before they stopped feeling nervous because they we not connected to their work 24/7. This is literally a sign that they are addicted to the technology.

For more than ten years, we’ve known that the “ding” of a text message can give you a pump of dopamine, a chemical your brain creates. Dopamine is related to your brain’s reward response. It is related to pleasure. And it motivates you to continue whatever behavior started the flow of dopamine.

So, we can actually be addicted to our phones. And our monitors. And all the little behaviors that feel good, even if they don’t do us much good at all.

I leave my phone off, volume down to zero, and in another room most of the time. If I turn it on and up for some reason (e.g., I’m expecting a call), it makes noise all day. And 99.9% of the time, that noise is simply telling me that I can remortgage my house, lower my car payment, get a new roof, or something else that’s completely unrelated to a successful personal or professional life.

Tune into your own behavior: Are you engaging in activities that have little or no productive value but FEEL productive? If you, I encourage you to ween yourself off these habits. Start by identifying them. And then, try to get in the habit of doing just one thing at a time. Open email; read email; then close email. You really don’t need to check it every five minutes.

Isn’t it odd that we expect other people to respond in an hour, or two, while we try to repond within minutes? Turn that around. Very few people expect you to reactive to their requests within minutes. In fact, such people are probably considered unreasonable.

One of my mantras is Slow Down, Get More Done. You don’t have to operate in a frantic fashion all day long.

After all, when you do one thing at a time, you will better focused and end up doing a better job. And you’ll end up doing it faster as well. So, in the end, you’ll be more productive when you decide to kick the dopamine habit and tackle one thing at a time.

Good luck with this. If you have techniques that work for you, please put them in the comments!


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