Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Productive vs. Busy

I recently took two tests on the New York Times website: one that tests your focus and level of distractibility and another that tests how fast you juggle tasks. I got 100% of the focusing tests correct, meaning I was not easily distracted. According to the article, “Researchers at Stanford University found that high multitaskers performed poorly when presented with multiple distractions, meaning they had trouble filtering out irrelevant information. Low multitaskers were not affected by the distractions and could hold more items in their short term memory.” I fared differently on the tests for juggling tasks, being very slow to switch in-between tasks, even when repeating the same task. “Researchers at Stanford found heavy multitaskers to be significantly slower at switching tasks…and even slower to complete tasks even when the tasks were the same.”

The bottom line of the results is that by the measurement of these tests, I am a low multitasker. This is not news to me. I am keenly aware that I am very methodical in the way that I execute things, preferring to take my time and do them properly and review them, and then review them again before being assured that they are complete and correct. I don’t deal well with distractions, preferring to focus on each task individually, and I often lose track when I am disrupted, for instance, if I am in the middle of a project and a coworker interrupts for assistance. Though I am able to switch gears, I do so more slowly. While the results were not surprising it was interesting to see the research attached and to have confirmed that I generally work in a way that is best for me to be at my highest level of productivity.

With so many distractions now—television, internet, phones, instant messenger, text, social media, blogs, etc.—it’s very easy to be constantly busy doing something, watching something or communicating with someone. To this end, we often mistake being busy for being productive. Productivity involves actually setting goals or attacking tasks with the intention of a specific end result, yet many of the things we find ourselves doing just keep us busy. I am certainly guilty of it at times. I almost get jittery if my blackberry, with its multiple email accounts and social media outlets is not either in my hand or in my direct line of sight; I often read or watch television while I eat; I scroll through my twitter timeline while waiting in lines—there’s a continuous stream of activity that occurs around me and I have to catch myself and remind myself to put the phone down, turn the TV off, close out my email, etc. and really focus on the task(s) at hand. This is why yoga and meditation practices work so well for me. They help me to slow down, set intention and map out a clear path of milestones of productivity for my day.

The NYT also posted a related article about the effect so much technology is having on our brains. It’s an interesting read, and the tests are linked within. I would encourage you to check it out.

How do you manage ensuring you are productively accomplishing tasks or working towards goals each day and make certain that you’re not just doing “stuff”? Would you take these tests? How would the outcomes affect how you work?


CurvyGurl ♥ said...

I used to think I had this multitasking thing down to a tee. Talk about wrong, wrong, wrong! As you've pointed out, the quality of the things we create/work on is severely diminished by all the distractions surrounding us. The thing that really gets me is that we're encouraged to maintain a life/work balance, but it's impossible given all the things we deal with daily. *sigh*

Chic Mommy, Cool Kid said...

We just have to do the best we can, CurvyGurl, because it's impossible to do it all. We set our priorities, focus on those, and that's where we can find our balance.

GG said...

one of my favorite quotes is "you can have it all, you just can't have it all at once" and i definitely think that applies here. we really can do everything we want but just not all at once. that's why mindfulness and patience are such important qualities to cultivate.

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