What Am I Doing, and Why?

November 29, 2010
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The pace of life is fast, and just getting faster.

If you are “wired” like I am – in terms of technological connectivity – you are bombarded with stimuli. Whether it be incoming texts, phone calls, Tweets, Facebook posts, or whatever, the competition for our attention is fierce and will only intensify over time.

Always On

I think it is very cool that we can be “on the grid” 24/7, but all this connectivity means that we are constantly being distracted and our focus is always being misdirected, if only for a second.

I find that I often end up doing not the things I SHOULD be doing, but instead the things I was MISDIRECTED into doing. That is, someone sends me a Tweet with a link to some website, so I go to the website and read something, which causes me to write down an idea, which causes me to start to research that seed of an idea, and, before I know it, I just burned an hour on something that was neither important nor time sensitive.

What, and Why?

So, what’s the cure for this? Of course, there are many things you can do to stay on task, but here is a really simple one I’ve developed over time: I set an alarm that goes off once an hour on the hour (you can do this using Outlook, Google Calendar, or a variety of websites, including http://onlineclock.net/). And when the alarm goes off, I ask myself this simple question: “What am I doing right now, and why am I doing it?”

The first time I did this, I was amazed at how often I found myself doing something that was not at the top of my priority list. Probably 50% of the time, I was doing something that was caused by being misdirected by some outside stimulus. I would then “put down the shiny object” and get back to my priority list of things to do for that day.

Condition Yourself to Think

Obviously, this is not something you can realistically do all the time. The alarm does become very annoying and intrusive. My suggestion: force yourself to do this for a full work week. At that point, you will have conditioned yourself (in somewhat Pavlovian fashion!) to be consistently thinking about what you are doing and why you are doing it.

Do this a few times year and watch your productivity grow!

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