Addressing unproductive gadget-grabbing urges

“Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should!”

Just another three minutes’ drive and I’d be back at my desk – but my mind wandered to my meeting later that day, thinking “Where am I going exactly?”

I actually considered pulling over there and then, reaching for my smartphone – and finding out my destination, route and journey time. But by the time I’d done that, I could be back at the desk with it more easily to hand.

I thought to myself “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should!”

How often are our instant reactions actually untimely distractions?  

And not just with our own tasks: When someone says “Can you just do this for me?” or “I only need one bit of info, it won’t take a moment ” it can seem easier just to do it. Maybe we don’t want to appear non team-spirited? Maybe we worry that we’ll forget?

But responding later is far more productive than breaking mid-task concentration.

“It’s rude to interrupt!” is a concept we’re raised with. Whilst we know it’s unacceptable to break into someone else’s dialogue, we disrupt our own internal dialogue all the time. It’s unsatisfying and unproductive. Just as we respect conversation, perhaps we should respect concentration? 

Gadgetry makes immediacy so temptingly accessible, with the instant gratification and stress-reducing promise of “If I deal with it now, I’ll have less in my head!”

Do these sound familiar?..

  • Constantly checking email –  serving no-one any better and achieving nothing else
  • Starting an email or action point in a meeting whilst people are still contributing to the conversation – potentially missing relevant information whilst also damaging relationships and reputation
  • Reaching for our phones with every thought as if the answer’s in there or picking up a phone every spare minute to look down to see what’s happening in the world
  • Responding to a bleep, bing, ping or ring from a phone or computer from an app, calendar reminder or email

One chap used to wear Mickey Mouse ears to tell others he was concentrating and not to be disturbed. Is there an equivalent whereby our self-control needs to tell us to leave our concentration alone? 

Simple solutions to ward off interruptive urges:

  1. Placing a smartphone really out of reach, a few steps away
  2. Turning social media or sociable activities into rewards after a big task
  3. Allocating time to the next task –  a deadline can create urgency and fight off interruptions
  4. Finding a fast way to note the tasks that come to mind, to tackle later
  5. Planning with old fashioned pen and paper, away from gadgets

People often say best ideas happen in the shower, one of the few places we’re alone with our thoughts. We’re blurring boundaries as we increasingly expect (or are expected to be) online or available all waking hours and as we associate getting things done with being attached to technology.

Technology brings instant gratification. So does widely-available financial credit. A holiday, car or flat-screen TV can all be paid for later. No self-disciplined saving required.

We enjoy that “can have” quality… but deep-down we know it may cost us double to pay off the credit later.

What if we saw “instant” tasks the same way? That doing things right now costs double time. 

And what would we do with the gained time? Maybe leave work on time, maybe finish larger tasks faster, or maybe get to the gym at lunch? Or maybe lunch with colleagues – not solitarily munching over the keyboard, catching up on amassed emails?

Choosing self-control might mean that the next time an idea pops into our minds our automated response will be to see where to “park” it.

Sometimes, thinking “Just because I can, doesn’t mean I should” might even mean we decide we just won’t do that thing. At all!

Please comment.

Other articles you may like:

The power of your first work hour

The moment of daily defeat

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6 thoughts on “Addressing unproductive gadget-grabbing urges”

  1. On our e-mail system (Microsoft Outlook) we can put a red flag against e-mails which we don’t have time to deal with straight away. I do this only for e-mails which are asking me to do something, not those where I’ve just been copied in for information.

    Then when I’ve got a moment to catch up with them I can sort by ‘flag status’ to bring the ‘red’ ones to the top of the list. This saves the stress of thinking I might forget something, and saves time as I don’t have to look through a long list of e-mails for the ones that matter. And I can assess straight away what my next priority should be.

    Then once an e-mail is dealt with I take the red flag off again.

  2. Hi Tim.
    Thanks for commenting. Great that the red flag system works there as your reminder. Good to have a routine discipline that works for you – and even better if it works for a team.
    Great to hear from you, Tim.

  3. Fab blog! As technology becomes more accessible i think mindfulness becomes more important. Otherwise we’re just slaves to the machine.

  4. Thanks Amanda.
    Mindfulness – good point. There’s such irony in communication-and-information-sharing gadgets hijacking our participation in the present ..and conversation!
    Really appreciate your comments.

  5. I agree that we need to respect concentration more than we do currently. I used to get easily distracted when I would answer the ringing phone of colleagues away from their desks [company policy]. I have now worked out that if I pleasantly and immediately offer to take a message, I can quickly return to my own work instead of getting involved in a matter I know very little about. And in order to stop steam-rolling myself with tasks, I started using pen and paper again to ‘park’ those things that would occur to me late at night when in bed or while on another task or even when preparing to leave the office.

  6. Hi Ayo
    Great to hear your solutions. Parking is something perhaps we have previously underestimated?
    Thanks for sharing.

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