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Staying Productive Despite Today’s Disjointed Tech

by | Jun 24, 2020

We stand on the shoulders of giants in the current age. Consider any IT, cybersecurity, or programming job. We don’t have to complete the basic mathematics and physics necessary to use computer science. When it comes to computer hardware, we don’t have to construct the materials and power grids to use a microprocessor. The same goes for eating out. The supply chain and logistics are already set in place. We don’t have to grow our own food, prepare it, or even go somewhere to get it. All we have to do is click to order. 

Technology is amazing. The problem is, it’s automated 95% of the hundred things I want to get done, and the last 5% of all hundred are still open tabs on my browser. Our to-do lists are disjointed. Not many of us are working on one task, from start to finish, all day long anymore. 

For example, my current to-do list includes:

  • Collaborating with four team members on an analysis with shared files.
  • Reviewing a slide presentation online that someone else put together.
  • Submitting code to a shared repo that 20 other engineers are working on.

This is because we’ve used machines, technology, and AI to automate as much as we can. However, we rarely automate an entire job, or in other words, an entire person. We carve off individual tasks, chunks of jobs, or parts of an FTE. We’ve invented tools and innovations that make a task easier for us. 

Technology can’t do it all. 

Consider the progression of how humans have approached engineering problems over time. We started with stones and sticks, then invented written words and mathematics, added a slide-rule and calculator along the way, progressed to computerized tools, and we’re now collaborating on huge problems with a mix of other engineers and automated scripts and functions.

But what about the planning, the formulation of the problem, the synthesis of results, and the inevitable bugs and corner cases? We still need a human in the loop for all of these efforts. If there is a new problem or unforeseen use case, we need a human to intervene with a structural redesign. 

This usually means that the leftover shards of a task that we humans are handling are the most grisly, hard to process items in the bunch. And there’s a good chance that we’re switching ceaselessly between multiple grisly and incomplete tasks like this throughout the day. 

How to stop switching between tasks. 

If you really want to cross off these grisly, hard-to-complete tasks from your list, it’s important to get into a flow state. This is kind of like building a tower out of blocks. My 2-year-old daughter knows this well. When you build tier after tier and then knock it over, it takes time to build it back up again (and often tears!). Whether it’s blasting out some lines of code or focusing in on a yoga class, getting to flow requires you to:

  1. Remove or block external stimuli (noise, weather, interruptions…)
  2. Quiet your internal stimuli (hunger, worries about unrelated tasks…)
  3. Utilize your practiced mental processes (as opposed to those that you are unfamiliar with and require additional mental load or meta-focus to complete)

If you don’t have the right chops for step 3, you may need to train yourself more on the required tasks first. Here’s an example of what I mean. An NBA free throw shooter has certain motions on autopilot. Their muscles, arm placement, and momentum are so memorized that they don’t need to think about how they shoot, they just shoot. 

Mike Vardy, Founder of Productivityist, defines the opposite of these autopilot mental processes as “Beginner’s Mind”. He told us you can do a lot of simple things to more easily attain a flow state during your everyday tasks. For example, “It’s imperative to write down the verb on a to-do list as explicitly as possible so you don’t have to fumble through the task with Beginner’s Mind.”  Rather than writing, “Call Jim,” include details and write,  “Call Jim at 555-5555 to respond to questions on the data set.”

Another helpful practice is to carve out blocks of time in your day or week away from colleagues, noise, and distractions to focus specifically on explicit tasks or themes of tasks.

Steps like this avoid mental interruptions that can rip you out of the flow. This is essential to keeping a flow state because it takes up to 23 minutes to get back on track after every interruption. 

When to bring in automation. 

Many organizations and individuals have begun to see productivity and automation as one and the same. However, when it comes to automation, people put the cart before the horse. It’s often people think about what they want to automate before they consider why they want to automate it. However, Mike shared that, “it’s not about getting more things done, it’s about getting the right things done.”

By starting automation on the right foot, you’ll get the productivity results they’re looking for. 

At Capacity, we’ve identified the final 5% of the tasks that are left on the modern employee’s plate, and we’re on a mission to leave teams with fewer tabs open on their browser. We’re focused on creating a process that stitches the last pieces together, so they run smoothly via a workflow or a simple command of a conversational AI chatbot. 

That’s what we’re about here.