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.
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The feeling that you get from crossing things off your to-do list can be addicting. It’s easy to get caught in the trap of adding absolutely everything to your system, including things that can be done in two minutes or less. With enough small and insignificant tasks, you can clog your system and lose considerable time and focus. And if you overwhelm your system enough, you might even paralyze your productivity completely.
Management consultant and author of Getting Things Done, David Allen, has a two-minute rule that can not only make your projects move forward incessantly, but it can also prevent many small things from overloading your system in the first place:
If you determine an action can be done in two minutes, you actually should do it right then because it’ll take longer to organize it and review it than it would be to actually finish it the first time you notice it.
Thinking of your time in two-minute increments will allow you to get a lot of things done. When you simply do something, you eliminate all of the prioritizing, scheduling and picking of tasks. As Allen put it in a recent interview with Success magazine, the rule “is actually tricking you into making an executive decision about what is the next thing that needs to happen and that’s really the training people need.” The two-minute rule is in essence, a mind-trick.
When dealing with clients and working with teams, it’s not uncommon to hear the phrase “get the ball rolling” when describing project progress. But are the phone calls, emails and scheduling of meetings actually considered work? A costly mistake for many is confusing the idea of being in motion with simply taking action. Our real job, the action, should be to produce the actual deliverable. While motion and action might sound similar, they’re not the same. In a recent blog post, entrepreneur and travel photographer James Clear distinguished the two as follows:
Motion is when you’re busy doing something, but that task will never produce an outcome by itself. Action, on the other hand, is the type of behavior that will get you a result.
There are many strategies for taking action, but two that have worked for Clear are:
1. Set a schedule for your actions.
2. Pick a date to shift you from motion to action.
Being in motion is not only an inevitable part of getting things done, it’s integral. But we can’t get lost in it. Clear offers a simple way to refocus by asking: “Are you doing something? Or are you just preparing to do it? Are you in motion? Or are you taking action?” Don’t get caught up measuring progress by steps you’ve completed. In the words of ten-time NCAA National Championship winning coach John Wooden, “Never mistake activity for achievement.” Instead, be relentlessly focused on the end-goal. Motion will never produce a final result. Action will. Read the rest of Clear’s blog on motion vs. action here.
Starting a new project is an exciting experience that often requires new ways of thinking. However, when faced with multiple competing deadlines, we can be quick to treat a project like a process for the sake of efficiency. This could prove to be detrimental not only to the new project, but to existing processes and worse – to the overall growth of an enterprise. In Startup Leadership, author and professor Derek Lidow shares the dangers of confusing projects with processes:
Confusion between projects and process stifles growth and destroys value, causing a great frustration among many entrepreneurs…Whether their mission is to make money or to create social good, everything an enterprise creates is the largely the result of its projects and processes.
Lidow summarizes the major differences between projects and processes and some important ways that they relate to one another:
Have never done this before.
Do the same thing repeatively.
Goals are about creating something new or about implementing a change.
Goal is to create value by repeatively performing a task.
Project objectives and plans can be changed by whoever gives the project team its mandate and resources, provided the team also agrees.
Processes can be successfully changed only with significant planning and investment (a project is required to change a process).
Significant leadership is required to plan and execute a successful project.
Processes are managed, not led, unless they are to be changed.
Projects create change.
Processes resist change.
Projects and processes are completely different and Derek Lidow stresses that understanding their differences – and how they interrelate – is crucial to growth. In order to grow an enterprise properly, projects and processes must be used in balance.
Learn why Derek Lidow thinks real innovation comes from projects, in his Wall Street Journal article.
Creativity seems like a bolt of lightning that strikes almost completely at random. However, psychologist Robert Sternberg believes that’s not entirely true. On Fast Company, Sternberg explains that creativity can be made into a habit:
There are three basic factors that help turn creative thinking into a habit: opportunities to engage in it, encouragement to go after such opportunities, and rewards for doing so.
At a pragmatic level, this might mean finding a community of people who support and encourage your creative work….There is more, of course, to cultivating a habit of creativity than finding a community….Look for ways to see problems that other people don’t. Take risks that other people are afraid to take. Have the courage to defy the crowd and to stand up. Seek to overcome obstacles and challenges.
All it takes is a willingness to pursue creativity and, of course, the right environment to let it thrive. It’s all about persistence for many of us, he says. Read the full write-up on how to make creativity your new habit on Fast Company.
When’s the right time to quit a job if it leaves you feeling hopeless, exhausted, or like you’re wasting your time? How do you separate a day-to-day struggle from a larger problem? According to Chris Coleman, there are three clear stages for when it’s a good time to quit. Coleman tells us not only the stages, but also provides questions to ask yourself to see which stage you’re in, over on the CreativeMornings blog:
The turnover rate in creative jobs is much higher than the national average. A lot of this has to do with the “I want it now” mentality. “I deserve it.” “All my friends work at Google.” The moral of the story? Don’t leave until you have done the job. Ask yourself:
[Ask yourself the] question: Is there anyone here who will tell me the truth when I ask for feedback?
- Most bosses hate to give feedback. If you want to know how you’re doing, ask.
- Don’t settle for mamby-pamby answers. You’re looking for specificity and a neutral, open conversation.
- If there’s no one who will tell you the truth, go.
Knowing when it’s time to go and when it’s time to suck it up (because you likely still have a lot left to learn) can be hard. Coleman’s three stages — from competence to judgement and finally to influence — provide us with some nice stepping stones. Best of all: her numerous example questions can help you identify which stage you’re at (and whether you really should call it quits).
Get all of the stages and valuable questions to ask yourself on the CreativeMornings blog.