Stop Reacting to Robots: A Path to Mindful Work

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.

Read the entire article here.

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Real Success Starts with Real Expectations

Research shows that your ability to persevere is directly correlated to your likelihood of success. Those who can hang in there when things get tough, studies show, are the ones who regularly succeed. It’s no wonder why this is the case: those who persevere are the only ones who come out on the other side, while everyone else has called it quits.

One primary reason why many of us quit anything is simply because sometimes things are difficult — but only to a point. By definition, things that are difficult are things that can be overcome, understood, and dealt with. Part of our ability to overcome difficult things is linked to our close personal network, but it’s also a matter of whether or not we’ve set the right expectations for the challenge ahead. When we pursue a new habit, start a new job, or otherwise undertake a new challenge, our assumptions and expectations about the work required of us is one of the most important factors for ensuring we’ll make it through to the end.

Ben Casnocha gives us the playful anecdote of learning how to draw an owl:

I believe a key reason so many people on the road to mastery call it quits is not because drawing a beautiful owl in pencil is superhumanly hard. It’s because they thought it would be easy.

Drawing an owl can be difficult (particularly if you aren’t an artist by trade), but—like starting a new job, trying to create a new habit, or working your way toward prominent success—it can be done. The first step isn’t simply to start, it’s to set your expectations and ensure you’re ready for the task in front of you. I call this step zero.

If you’re starting a new job, step zero for you is to talk to your manager or team about exact expectations for you from day one. If you’re starting a new habit, your step zero may be to create a list of everything you’ll need to do in order to make the habit stick.

As Casnocha explains:

Step one is always start, and step two is always keep going and going and going until you’ve nailed it.

Before you start any endeavor, focus on the step before starting: establishing the right expectations and planning how to tackle them.

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The Right Way to Disagree With Your Boss

By Suck UK

By Suck UK

Disagreeing with your boss is awkward, but expressing that divergent viewpoint is important in your professional growth as well as the forward progress of your company. Social scientist Joseph Grenny shares with Harvard Business Review how to express disagreement with your superior without coming across as a jackass:

Discuss intent before content. When the boss gets defensive, it’s… because she believes your dissent is a threat to her goals. Defenses are far less often provoked by actual content than they are by perceived intent. You can be far more candid about your view if you frame it in the context of a mutual purpose that the boss already cares about. If you fail to do this, the boss may believe your disagreement signals a lack of commitment to her interests.

Show respect before dissent. Most of us assume that if you want to be respectful, you have to dilute your disagreement, and if you want to be honest, you’re going to have to hurt some feelings. But this is a false dichotomy. You must find a way to assure your boss that you respect her and her position. When that sense of respect is secure, you can venture into expressing your views openly and honestly.

Basically, the trick is to frame your disparate view in the context of your team or company’s larger goals, while also conveying respect for your higher-up through the language you use and the attitude with which you use it. Disagreement can even be productive in the workplace, if and when it is communicated properly.

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Assign People to the Tasks They Love (Not Just the Ones They’re Good At)

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By Morgan Gaynin Inc.

Professor of Business Psychology Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic knows that creativity can be further developed by pairing it with an activity that the individual is truly passionate about. In an article for Harvard Business Review, Chamorro-Premuzic explains:

One of the most effective methods for enhancing creative performance is to increase individuals’ motivation, particularly intrinsic motivation (their task-related enjoyment, interest, and involvement). Ever since Teresa Amabile first emphasized this idea, meta-analytic studies have confirmed the intuitive idea that assigning people to projects they love unleashes their creative potential. In contrast, extrinsic rewards, such as financial incentives, tend to inhibit people’s creativity.

The next time you work on a collaborative project, be sure to find collaborators that are genuinely engaged in the venture as their creative contributions will be more elevated. If you can’t choose who you work with, than at least delegate people to tasks they truly enjoy. Not only will this prevent complaining, but you will receive more original work. As psychiatrist and psychotherapist Carl Jung said, “The creative mind plays with the object it loves.”

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Forget Goal Setting, Focus On Systems

By Aaron von Freter

By Aaron von Freter

You might be familiar with research that suggests setting goals and then laser-focusing on them can actually be detrimental to motivation and perseverance. The more fixated you are on your goal, the less you enjoy the actual experience of working towards that goal, thereby increasing your chance of failure.

James Clear suggests a new approach to goal-setting. Namely, don’t set them. When it comes to making progress in areas that are important to you, craft a system that will help you get there in lieu of setting a goal:

What’s the difference between goals and systems?

If you’re a coach, your goal is to win a championship. Your system is what your team does at practice each day.

If you’re a writer, your goal is to write a book. Your system is the writing schedule that you follow each week.

If you’re a runner, your goal is to run a marathon. Your system is your training schedule for the month.

If you’re an entrepreneur, your goal is to build a million dollar business. Your system is your sales and marketing process.

The problem with most goals is that they place huge burdens on you, and in so doing can imply that you’re not quite good enough yet. They also don’t set you up for long-term positive change, being geared towards one major milestone after which you could cease your productive routine entirely and still have achieved what you set out to.

Clear doesn’t advocate doing away with goals entirely, but rather using them as a guide for building a system that’s much more rewarding, habit-building, and geared towards measurable progress:

[K]eep things simple and reduce stress by focusing on the daily process and sticking to your schedule, rather than worrying about the big, life-changing goals.

When you focus on the practice instead of the performance, you can enjoy the present moment and improve at the same time.

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Don’t Waste the Tiny Gaps in Your Schedule

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Take a look at your calendar. How many 30-minute gaps can you spot between events? You can thank the automated scheduling platforms of the 1990′s and 2000′s for that. And while these gaps might seem harmless, rest assured they can add up. Take a long-term view of your month, quarter, or year, and you’ll see that these 30-minute gaps are undermining your productivity.

Productivity expert Jordan Cohen suggests using these gaps wisely:

  • Take a few minutes at the start of each day to identify the gaps in your schedule.
  • Schedule what you want to accomplish in each gap right on your calendar. This can be anything from lower value work that needs to get done (such as expense reports) to larger, finite tasks you’ve been dreading (such as outlining your next presentation).
  • Hold yourself accountable. At the end of the day, look back on your 30-minute tasks and note which ones you’ve accomplished.

So stop looking at those 30-minute gaps in your day as empty space. They may be the key to turbocharging your productivity.

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How To Find What Makes You Happy

By Marcus Williamson

By Marcus Williamson

Part of the reason happiness often feels so elusive is that we don’t spend time really focusing on what we need in order to cultivate that happiness. When we’re bogged down at work or flustered with unsuccessful attempts, more often than not we mostly just wallow in those feelings of frustration and hopelessness, rather than taking a moment to question what needs to change.

Change that. Take the time to explore what you really need to make yourself happy. Beyond facilitating a lighter experience traveling through life, happiness leads to increased productivity, more engagement with work, and richer creativity.

Over on Thought Catalog, Ko Im offers a series of prompts to help you discover patterns that point to how to do more of what makes you feel happy. A few favorites:

What is the best thing that happened to me? This not only brings back fond memories but also shows implicit gratitude. It also shows your scope – is it a specific event or an overall “I’m grateful to be alive!”

What are five things I like about me? Yup, shower yourself with compliments.

How are three ways others would describe me? These adjectives could be good or bad. Perception vs. reality, the point is to be self-aware and therefore confident.

Finish this sentence: My dream is… Don’t be afraid to write it down, say it out loud, shout it from a rooftop! What would you do if no one else was reading, watching or listening?

By considering open-ended questions related to what makes you feel upbeat, fulfilled, and inspired, the wheat will start to separate from the chaff.

But what does happiness really even mean? Is it contentment, fulfillment, passion, joy, or some combination therein? The truth is, it’s whatever it means to you, and as such, the way to get there is to discern what things and actions generate those feelings and state of being for you. The best place to start is by carving out time for reflection, using cues like the above.

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