The Chronicle of Higher Education profiles University of Washington professor David M. Levy who is on a quest to make us less distracted by our digital tools. His methods are fascinating and will force you to reconsider your own digital habits.
He uses several exercises to help demonstrate to his students how distracted they actually are (and what to do about it). From the story:
First, the students practice meditation:
The practice, as Mr. Levy teaches it, involves repeatedly bringing your attention back to your breathing as the mind wanders away. Think of it like lifting weights. Just as you can build up your biceps by doing reps, he says, meditation can strengthen attention.
Then, the students learn to clear their mind before approaching the task at hand.
But meditation works like an eraser that rubs out the mental chatter you carry up the stairs to class, says another student, Michael J. Conyers. “It opens me up to where now I can give my full attention to this guy.”
Next, they log their digital behavior:
[Meran] Hill was flabbergasted to find out how frequently she checked e-mail. She checked it right after waking up. She checked it riding the bus, crossing campus, climbing stairs, sitting in class, eating dinner. She checked it up to 25 times a day, just on her phone. For each new message, her phone vibrated. It stressed her out. Often the alerts concerned unimportant messages from e-mail lists. She was reacting to robots.
And lastly, using tracking software called Camtasia, they observe the way digital addiction affects physical appearance.
When students play back the Camtasia recording, they see what was happening on their screens with their own faces displayed in a corner. They watch themselves flit among Words With Friends, e-mail, Words With Friends, Spotify, Words With Friends, and that goofy video of a cat rolling up against a sake bottle.
“Look at my face—I do not look happy,” [Hill] says. “My posture is like this.” She slouches her shoulders, aping what she sees in the video.
All of this distraction, Levy reasons, can have a dramatic effect on our ability to learn and retain new information. The multitasking and constant distraction is what leads us to feeling overconfident in our own abilities.
What’s tricky is that someone who does surf the Web while listening to a lecture will very likely have the impression of doing just fine, Mr. Mayr says. That’s because our minds lay a trap. All content in long-term memory is represented in two ways: “as a sense of familiarity on the one hand, and whether or not you truly understand it.”
People often mistake familiarity for understanding. They open the textbook after getting home from a lecture, and they recognize the material. They think: I get this. Then they take a test—and bomb it.
When asked in an interview about how he structures his work week, Jack Dorsey (co-founder of Twitter and Square) said: “Sunday is [for] reflections, feedback, strategy and getting ready for the rest of the week.”
Laura Vanderkam, author of “What the Most Successful People Do on the Weekend,” observed that weekends, especially Sundays, are crucial when it comes to getting clear and prepared for the coming week. She’s dubbed the process of recalibrating yourself on the sabbath as “Sort-Your-Life-Out-Sunday.”
[On Sunday,] do something you love Monday to Friday. When the conditions of your job are right, you can start the week excited about it. You like the work for its own sake and hence, it isn’t a cause of anxiety.
But another, perhaps more practical, idea is to schedule something fun for Sunday nights. Get together for a game night with friends. Have people over for dinner. Find an adult soccer league that plays on Sunday nights. Go to religious services. Volunteer with your family somewhere. In nice weather when it stays light late, go for a long bike ride or walk. The key is to figure out something you’d really enjoy doing, then plan it ahead of time.
Think of it as performing a more comprehensive and personal version David Allen’s infamous weekly review. Sort your life out on Sunday, and you’ll hit Monday ready to go!
Due out in less than a month, Make Your Mark is the third installment in the 99U book series—and the first to tackle the subject of leading a creative business.
These days an MFA is as likely to be leading a business as an MBA. More designers, artists, journalists, and creatives of all kinds are stepping up to the plate and anointing themselves entrepreneurs. The thing is: Creatives don’t work like everyone else. We’re restless and innovative and neurotic and full of ideas and energy. And we want to make stuff. But how does that “maker mentality” sync up with leading a business?
That’s what Make Your Mark is all about. We made a business book for creatives by creatives. It collects 21 essays and interviews from leading creative minds at businesses big and small, like Warby Parker, Google X, Facebook, DODOcase, Sugru, Contently, and many more.
How to Enter the Giveaway:
Make Your Mark is not just about how to run any old business. It’s about how to run a creative business with purpose, meaning, and IMPACT. So, for our giveaway, we’re asking you to take the “Maker’s Pledge” to dedicate your business to making something that matters.
Just tweet out the Maker’s Pledge below (make sure to follow us), and we’ll give a free copy of Make Your Mark to the first 50 tweets.
“I, _____, take the Maker’s Pledge to solve real problems and make something that matters. www.99u.com/book #makeyourmark”
Make Your Mark will be available on Nov 18th. Pre-order the book now.
We can’t always do what we want. But for our businesses, we should build, start, and create things that we’re truly passionate about. We tend to be more successful when we’re working on projects that electrify us.
When it comes to growing our businesses, we may want to step back into the shoes of our young selves when we approach our work, suggests John Petersen, CEO of Firehawk Creative. In an article for We Work magazine, he writes:
Kids do what they want to do. If you force them to do something, they put in as little effort as possible to get to a time when they can do what they want.
He also reminds us that:
Kids aren’t trying to come up with some scheme where they never have to work again. They just want to do their thing.
Yes, we need to pay our bills. Yes, there’s always laundry to take care of. And yes, responsibilities only seem to grow as we get older. But building something in hopes that you’ll be Zuckerberg-rich will more than likely leave you anxious and frustrated. Instead, focus on building the best, most authentic business you can.
I don’t believe in briefs; I believe in relationships. The difference between a brief and a relationship is a brief can be anonymous. And I’ve tended over the last fifteen to twenty years to really work with people who give you a really deep sense of where it is they want to go, what it is that they are dreaming about. And that, in turn, has informed us on the projects more than any brief has ever done so.
Initial discussions should provide not only the vision for the project, but the aspirations of the company. Instead of anonymously sending out briefs, make it a collaborative thing: the brief will naturally evolve out of these client conversations. With continued dialogue, you build the trust you need to really question ideas and find innovation. Use the brief as a creative tool to open up dialogue with your clients, negotiate easier, and get to the heart of the problem.
Do notifications impact your workflow?
Co-founder and CEO of Buffer, Joel Gascoigne, undertook an experiment in which he disabled all notifications on his phone. Not only did he regain his focus, he was also able to convert his workflow from reactionary to proactive:
It is now completely up to me when I choose to check my email, Twitter, Facebook, etc. I have no excuse that a notification came in. If I check it too frequently and find myself procrastinating, it is only my fault: I went out of my way to go and look.
Focus isn’t a magic ability. It’s simply a function of limiting the number of options you give yourself for procrastinating. 99U challenges you to turn off all notifications for a week, and let us know how it goes below.
It’s important to be aware of inspiration that simply influences us versus inspiration that turns us into a copycat. Knowing the difference can help turn us into the type of creative worker we strive to be. As Evernote designer Joshua Taylor explains in this interview over at the InVision blog:
Researching and seeing what others are doing is important. I try not to do that too much though because I think there’s a subconscious tendency to copy as soon as you start looking at everyone else’s stuff. My advice is that if you are going to look at others’ work, look at a ton of them so that there’s enough influences and you can’t distinguish between them. Constantly looking at other people’s work has a huge impact on who you are…We are all products of our environments, so surround yourself with great things.
The right inspiration, at the right time (and in the right amount), can be just what we need to improve our own ideas and creative work. It’s when we catch ourselves looking for inspiration as a way to solve the task at hand or complete the work we’re doing that we know we’ve stumbled into possible copycat territory.
Instead, we must strive to constantly surround ourselves with a lot of varied and high caliber work.