“The people who feel successful are the ones who do what they set out to do.” – Chris Bailey
When thinking about productivity, many of us tend towards questions like “How much money do I make?” or “How much work did I accomplish?” as metrics for measurement. But how does this help us measure what we actually got done? How we actually feel? This cold, corporate approach seems to miss the mark. A superior alternative to these measures is intentionality: The pre-decision of choosing what you do before you do it.
Intentionality lies at the core of productivity. Chris Bailey, author of ‘The Productivity Project’ and ‘Hyperfocus’, believes we should measure our productivity against our intention. This is what he has to say about having intentions behind our actions, “It’s the wood behind an arrow – we absolutely need it in order to move forward and get important stuff accomplished.”
He proceeds to discuss the benefits associated with having control over our attention. Pointing to how having control over our attention correlates with how satisfied we are with our lives, productivity, creativity, and overall happiness. Then he argues for broadening our perspective of productivity beyond work into every area of our lives.
Here are four tools and tactics for living with intention and becoming more productive than you ever thought possible!
Don’t Manage your Time; Manage Your Attention!
“The space between the things that we’re doing – between the things that we’re focusing on – allows us to focus better on the right things in the first place and live and act with this intentionality.” – Chris Bailey
Most people focus on managing their time, which is an easier and less effective task than managing our attention. But Chris makes the point that we tend to fall short when managing our attention; though this is easy, because our brains contain a novelty-bias which hits us with dopamine every time we switch to something new. This leads to a lack of control over our attention.
However, instead of remaining focused on something at all times, Chris begins to speak to the importance of “deliberate mind-wandering”. He believes this mode of “un-focusing” is as important as focusing. He cites a study that sampled the thoughts of people whose minds were wandering and found that they were thinking about their goals and their future 14x as often as when they were focused.
“Not all who wander are lost.” - J.R.R. Tolkien
He uses an example of cars on a highway to illustrate the importance of mind-wandering. While you may think what allows cars to move forward is their individual speeds, but it’s actually the amount of space between the cars. For our mind, wandering provides three benefits:
· Wandering allows our mind to unearth ideas buried in its depths.
· It allows us to connect our past, present, and future to plan and strategize for what you want.
· It allows our mind and attention to rest and unwind.
Emerge from the Darkness of Distraction
“A moment of attention never exists in isolation. If we’re distracted in each moment, those moments build up to make a life that feels distracted and like we don’t have a clear direction, because we haven’t chosen what we’re focusing on in the first place.” – Chris Bailey
Chris brings up a study which found that people who watched 6 or more hours of news coverage on the Boston marathon bombings were more likely to develop PTSD than someone who was at the bombing, running the marathon, and personally affected by it. It reinforces the finding that the single biggest predictor for fear and anxiety in our lives is how much time we spend watching television talk shows.
On a computer, we get distracted every 40-seconds, while a notification on our phone that completely distracts us does so for 25-minutes. These distractions are understandable given our brain’s previously-mentioned novelty-bias. However, Chris suggests we aren’t just distracted, but over-stimulated. Fortunately, he provides a few methods to tame this distractive-ness.
· Switch from digital to physical. Instead of reading your news online, subscribe to a newspaper and have it delivered to your home.
· Switch your device to greyscale mode to reduce the stimulation it provides.
· Identify the source of your distractions by asking yourself how you feel after using an app.
· Delete your phone’s email app, even for just 12-hours a day.
“People spend 3x more time on the apps that make them the least happy versus the apps that make them the happiest.” – Adam Alter
The Danger and Deception of Busy-ness
When busy-ness doesn’t lead us to accomplish anything of importance, what’s the point of being busy? It’s really no different than an active form of laziness. – Chris Bailey
In our society, people wear busy-ness as a badge of honor, but don’t recognize that being busier doesn’t necessarily correlate with being more productive or efficient. Chris makes a strong point that it isn’t about how much we produce or how busy we are, but it’s about how much we accomplish and how much of that is what we set out to do.
A recent study shows that while we are working on a sleep-deficit, we rank our productivity as being higher than it is. Contrary to the improvement granted from meditation, a sleep-deficit can reduce our productivity by about 60%. This study directly points to the importance of rest, downtime, and contemplative activities (such as meditation or journaling).
Despite the importance, most of us are overcome with guilt when we rest. Chris provides some advice to help minimize the effects of this guilt and increase our productivity.
· Make a list of your daily accomplishments and review them at the end of the week.
· Be intentional with your breaks. Take your break deliberately, instead of on auto-pilot as a mindless activity.
· Set three intentions for each day, week, and year.
“It’s a beautiful thing when you’re working with intention, because you know that whatever you’re doing in that moment is exactly where you need to be.” – Chris Bailey
Recharge your Attention with the Secret Benefits of Rest
The guilt associated with rest and downtime blinds us to the fact that they are huge parts of productivity – they help us focus on the right things and multiply your results. Engaging in habitual activities takes some weight off of our attention and allows our minds to wander; this rest puts us in a mode Chris calls “Scatter-Focus” which brings us more creative insights while making the activity fun. This fun, effortless habit will help you replenish the tank of your attention.
People tend to view meditation as the least-productive thing you can do. However, an active meditation practice improves your working memory by up to 30% so you can process more information and switch between tasks more cleanly. Along with mindfulness, meditation is one of the rare techniques that actually allow you to bring more attention to what you’re doing, while helping you notice when you’re distracted, producing positive wandering, and elevating your mood.
How to Fuel your Attention with Intention
“The state of our attention determines the state of our lives.” – Chris Bailey
Chris Bailey ends with some actionable steps, which you can personalize to work for you then reflect on how they improve your attention and life. He suggests you ask yourself what are one or two things that have resonated with you and try them out; find out how different apps make you feel and if they’re helping or hurting; adjust your technology in a way that improves your productivity; and mind the gaps in your schedule.
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