There are days on which it feels like the flood of things to take care of never ends and that the only solution is to work more and more (Have you ever thought: "Sundays are great to do the work that I wanted to get done on Saturday since the entire week was filled with meetings and low-priority emails" I know I have.). I have tried this approach and it works - up to a point. Unfortunately, the net result at the end of this vicious cycle is an unhealthy stress level which impairs executive function and thus significantly impairs productivity and health. I spent a lot of time over the last few years thinking and reading about this. Over the next few post, I will share with you what I have found and what has and has not worked for me. I hope my observations will help you and make you more productive, happier, and who knows perhaps even healthier!
First of all, there is no way around hard work achieve great things. I advise you do not listen to anyone who claims otherwise. Yet, the way how we organize our work can make a big difference.
Rule 1: Let go of your smartphone.
Yes - I mean it! Although we feel that a smartphone helps us to keep our act together and deal with all the demands that are imposed on us, I argue the exact opposite is the case. I found that many apps are designed (not sure about the intent) or work in a way that you get addicted. I cannot count the number of times I checked miles and status with the different airlines, just had a quick look at the news, checked the response on twitter to something I posted, etc. Sounds familiar? At least I managed to avoid games... The worst is email because most work-related emails I receive requires some action beyond few words of a reply such as filling in a form, modifying/reviewing a document, checking my calendar, or (oh no!) thinking about them etc. All these actions are hard to do on a smartphone so I would in essence look at the email, add what I read to my mental todo list without having resolved anything. This simply added stress but did not resolve anything.
Once I put my smartphone away, I started to notice how the majority of people are glued behind their screens. In contrast, I suddenly had the time to talk with the random stranger waiting for the same bus, daydream, think about my next grant proposal, and so on. I was free! For the first few days, I realized how often my hand would reach for the smartphone that was not there anymore. I think we have come intolerant to even the smallest amount of time that we have to spend with ourselves or the real people around us. Waiting for the elevator - phone out! Waiting for somebody to join a meeting - phone out! Waiting in line to get your coffee - phone out! Once I unlearned this reflex (by replacing my smart phone with an old fashioned flip phone), I started feeling so much better and my various projects started to progress much more smoothly. Now, if you have kids, this is even more important. Just check out this very scary article in the Atlantic about the effect of smart phones on the developing brain.