by Chris Geiser – email@example.com
I admit, in writing an article advocating less technology, I feel as sheepish as Anheuser-Busch must feel in posting the “Enjoy Responsibly” tag at the end of one of their million dollar Super Bowl commercials. But this problem of office distractions has been gnawing at me since Outlook began popping up email notifications some 10+ years ago. Ding! Hey, there’s another one…
Your Achievements Start With Ideas
Think of your top 3 achievements within your current occupation. You probably defeated some entrenched and inefficient process, won over some big new account, or convinced your boss/co-workers to look at a problem from a new perspective. Now, think about what provoked this magical moment of accomplishment.
Your achievement began with an idea, didn’t it? Okay, it was probably somebody else’s idea originally, but with your unique perspective and some new associations, it became yours . Then, you got nervous that your new idea wasn’t good enough, so you played a solitary version of “devil’s advocate” with it… Then, you modified it. Then, you grew impatient with your idea and set it down for an hour, a week, a year. Then, something in nature reminded of your idea… Then, you modified it. Finally, you mustered up the courage to propose your idea and asked for your colleagues to support it. Then, THEY modified it! What’s left of your idea gets implemented and with it, a little piece of your identity follows wherever it goes.
Your Ideas Shape Your Identity
In your quest to create ideas for the sake of profit, beauty, or efficiency, you often incidentally locate a part of your own identity, that which makes you unique amongst your 6 billion comrades. This requires a pretty deep dive into your own psyche. Ideas, by their nature, have not yet been tested against reality, so certainty is nowhere to be found. And in those solitary games of “devil’s advocate” confronting any penchant for inconsistency (dare I say, hypocrisy?) is uncomfortable study, at best.
Your Ideas Are Worth the Trouble
Look around your office and note what most of your fellow office workers are doing, right now. They are executing their assigned duties. They are processing orders, servicing customers, organizing information, and preparing their fellow co-workers for their, next-in-line, assigned duties. Yet, someone within your organization, hopefully not too long ago, conceived an idea that precipitated all of these activities. He/she designed your product, or constructed the sales pitch that won over the big account, or implemented a series of smaller ideas on the way to becoming the most efficient widget builder in the region. To say that your job security, professional status, and income level all depend upon ideas is not to overstate it.
Your Ideas Are Under Siege
According to CNET, the average office worker is interrupted once every 3 minutes (phone calls, emails, IMs, visitors, etc…). CNET also states that it takes 8 minutes for our brains to get into a really creative state. Imagine those 8 minutes as an entrance ramp onto the creative-thinking superhighway. You know you have been in the creative “zone” for an hour or two when you finally click back to Outlook and see that 2 or 3 important messages arrived, the Ding! and accompanying popup window having failed to pull your attention away from your idea. Pat yourself on the back.
Multi-Tasking for Dummies
In case you haven’t already heard, the notion that multi-tasking drives greater productivity is, in most cases, utterly false. Sure, any dummy can cook dinner and talk on the phone at the same time. Instead, let’s consider your most important work: when you create something from nothing. A recent study from Stanford found that performance suffers for people who consume more than one media at a time (i.e. composing an email, while listening to iTunes, with a Star Tribune article and all its advertisements open on your secondary monitor). That’s because you are not simultaneously paying attention to two (or more) things at once, rather you are switching your attention very rapidly between those tasks. The Stanford study revealed that, compared to lighter multi-taskers, heavy multi-taskers:
- Have more trouble ignoring irrelevant information
- Had poorer recall of important information
- Took longer to switch from task to task (ironically, the heavy multi-taskers were actually worse at multi-tasking).
Silence is Golden
The process of idea formulation requires your brain to hold onto several thoughts simultaneously and for extended periods of time. You need time to draw associations, pull threads apart and dispose of some notions, while combining others. Now imagine doing all that while navigating your Rush Hour commute with Minnesota Public Radio squawking in the background.
The title for this article, “Disruptive Technology,” was used improperly. Disruptive Technology is a term that refers to a new product, so advanced in its value, that it completely shatters the existing marketplace. Remember how many Walkmans/Discmans you owned before the debut of Apple’s iPod? How many Walkmans have you bought since? The irony is now thicker than Apple’s stock price, as it is these disruptive technologies that now lay siege to our concentration. Tweets, text messages, emails, social networking, and devices that beep, shake, flash, and practically beg us for our attention, all feed man’s insatiable desire to feel connected. In a world of always-on, connected devices we have reached a point of diminishing returns. We need be aware that we sacrifice some of our most valuable future ideas, indeed our companies’ future identities, simply to be exposed to more and newer information. If you want to do something about it, one way to start is to encourage the use of “Do Not Disturb” around your office.