Ep. 27 – Intentional Productivity – Context
The context of our modern work situations and life styles and how they are contributing to our distraction and lack of focus. Season 5 is about Intentional Productivity. What is it and how can it help us work and live better?
Any resources referenced in the episode are listed below the transcript.
Creating Cadence Transcript – Ep. 27
I’m your host Mich Bondesio, a writer, coach, consultant and the founder of Growth Sessions.
This is episode 27 and the second episode of season 5 of the podcast, recorded in mid February 2022.
In the first episode of season 5, I defined this concept I use in my work, called Intentional Productivity.
In today’s episode, and in future episodes, I’m starting to look at the current context of our modern environments and the things affecting our ability to live well and do good work.
Our experiences over the past two years have resulted in an exponential rise in cases of burnout around the world. And even though, at the time of recording, things are starting to open up in places like the UK and Europe, there’s no sign yet of the knock-on effects of the pandemic’s associated stresses and strains abating to a more acceptable level.
As I explained in the last episode, this year I’ve decided to write a book about Intentional Productivity, so that I can hopefully reach more people, to help them make more positive changes in their life and work, and support themselves better.
This season I’m exploring some of the key facets that I will be including in the book. So in essence, you are getting a bit of sneak peak.
I ended off the last episode by asking you two questions…
- Are you feeling stressed in your work?
- And/ or are you struggling with focus and completing daily tasks?
If you answered yes to either and these are an ongoing challenge for you, then you are at risk of experiencing burnout, which is an umbrella term for physical and mental fatigue, and can manifest in many ways.
Having experienced an epic and lengthy case of burnout myself a few years ago, I feel that I might be qualified to speak on this topic, but I’ll get into the nitty gritties of burnout in a separate episode.
Today, I’m looking at our context. The things that affect our productivity at work and our ability to focus on what’s important in life. You’ll probably find yourself nodding along as you listen in.
And I have a favour to ask … if the topics that I’m covering in this series spark a thought, idea or example you want to share. Or if you come across resources you think might be helpful to me as I write my Intentional Productivity book, then I’d really appreciate you getting in touch. You can write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I know your time and focus is precious, so let’s dive in.
During my own recovery from burnout, it became very apparent to me to that the typical social, cultural, digital and workplace norms around me did not support my health.
In fact, the typical ways in which we work (and live) in our digitally-focused are generally harmful to our existence. And they are getting worse as we spend more time online.
That’s because the pace of life and our fast-evolving digital lifestyles, and the way our technology has been built, can trigger autopilot behaviours. And these behaviours can slay our focus, fracture our attention and, what I’m about to say might seem contentious, but they can also dumb us down (and that is backed by research).
So let’s look at our context. Our days are blended, we are always contactable and always on, and a constant deluge of content (both good and bad) is flooding our eyes and ears.
If we have the option to work from home or flexibly in a way that suits us, that’s a bonus, but with it comes other responsibilities.
We may be juggling both personal and work life simultaneously, which can add to the strain on our cognitive load.
It’s easy to get into cycles of behaviour were we don’t switch off when our work day is done. We continue to answer emails and message colleagues during what should be down time. So our work day is extended beyond what is feasible for ongoing productivity, again putting strain on our cognitive load.
The research out there indicates that after 30-40 hours of working in a week, our level of productivity takes a massive dive.
When the pressure is ongoing, we default to autopilot and multi-task even more to try and cope. We think we are doing more, but the reality is that we are performing less.
Our bodies fall into an anxious, reactionary, fire-fighting state. And this can trigger our brain to go into survival mode and spike our cortisol levels, so we feel even more stressed.
And we feel we can’t slow down and we have to keep going because there’s seems to be too much to do. We feel exhausted, and for some of us we’ve actually forgotten how to relax. It becomes a bit of a vicious cycle.
When questioned about stress and recovery during a live interview with the Wall Street Journal, the coach and author Brad Stulberg observed ”the greater the stress, the more you need to rest”.
Brad is an internationally known expert on human performance and well-being. And his two books, “The Practice of Groundedness” and “Peak Performance” both explore the notion of sustainable success.
Similar to my concept of Intentional Productivity, the focus of Brad’s work is also about building strong foundations. Practices which support us daily to help us get to where we want to go over the long run.
The Growth Sessions talks, workshops and programmes that I run, are all developed around a specific framework.
That framework looks at four aspects of HOW we approach work and life and the impact our approach can have on our experience and outputs. Those four aspects are foundations, process, culture and performance. And despite their formal sounding names, they can be implied in a workplace or personal setting.
And going back to what Brad Stulberg said about rest to curb stress, rest is an important keystone for building our foundations, that first element of my framework.
Now, rest can take many shapes and forms.
Decent sleep and occasional naps are the most common way that we approach rest. But rest can also be active, such as running or cycling. Or rock climbing or gardening. Or it can be restorative or creative activities, such as reading, sewing, drawing, knitting, woodworking, journaling, model kit building, sand castle making, or lying in a bubble bath, anything that doesn’t involve a screen.
All of these restorative activities give our brains a chance to recalibrate, our eyes a chance to rest, and our physiology a chance to settle down.
A Netflix binge has its place in relaxing, but rest is not vegging out in front of the TV. That’s just another way to consume lots of digital content on autopilot. And when we’re chilling on the coach in the front of the TV, chances are we have our phone or our tablet in our hands, or within easy reach.
Our phones have become an extension of our hands and many of us are addicted to them and to other digital tools like our gaming consoles.
Nomophobia is the medical term given to people who experience an extreme fear of being without their phones. And the physiological withdrawal response that we experience when we can’t get to our phones or the apps on them, has been found to be exactly the same as if we were coming down after a hit of heroin.
I always joke rather darkly that the smart phone is like a modern day box of cigarettes – how it’s not the box, it’s the contents that are lethal. It’s the apps that we add to that little box that incessantly pull us away from our other interests and responsibilities, to instead languish in their dopamine delights.
And this can affect the best of us and even those, like me, who are fairly informed about how bad they are. Even when we know what it’s doing to us, we still do it because we become conditioned. It gives us feelings of false pleasure and makes us feel comfortable, when things around us bring discomfort.
A case in point … despite having relatively good digital hygiene habits, after getting a little too friendly with my social media apps over the Christmas period, I realised in late January that I was constantly reaching for my phone and jumping onto Instagram and Discord when I was feeling stressed or needed a distraction from difficult tasks.
It was causing me to lose a lot of time. And when I sat down to calculate just how much time I was using and losing, it turned out it was in the region of 14 to 15 hours a week.
What the hell people!
I’m writing a book, and I need to devote focused time to doing that writing, and I can’t be doing this.
So, after realising I was sabotaging what was important to me, I deleted my apps. After one day of discomfort, I felt ok. And interestingly, the last three weeks have been the most productive for me in the last three months. Because I’ve had spare attention to spend elsewhere, on things that are important.
I’ve had messages from people saying they could never do that. And I admit it felt like a big step at the time.
But it really ended up being so much easier than I thought it would. And I’ve gained back a large degree of my attention.
This isn’t a cure all. I could fall back into old routines any day, so easily. So I have to be intentional and remind myself about what’s important.
And the more time I spend away from social media, the more I realise how unimportant it all is in the larger scheme of things. (Travesty I know, tell that to all the marketers who are so reliant on it to make money). Personally, I find connecting with people in other ways online far more rewarding.
In a recent blog article Nir Eyal, the author of Indistractable, says (and I quote) “Without the ability to block out distractions, you’ll be condemned to going through life following someone else’s agenda.
As Nir points out, we need to become the masters, rather than the slaves of our information overload. And that’s where our values come in.
I’ve recently started giving a short talk called “Impossible is Nothing” based on the quote by Muhammad Ali. And in this talk, I also mention our values, and how they are one of our compass points. They represent who we want to be and what’s important to us. And they can steer our focus and protect our attention, if we become intentional about using them as our guide.
We also need to learn to be ok with the discomfort of making change.
Research findings indicate that moderate emotional discomfort can be a sign of progress and a signal that you’re developing as a person. To make it stick, you need to be ok with actively seeking the uncomfortable feeling. And that takes practice.
So in the case of overcoming phone addiction, it means learning to be ok with not having your phone in your hand, or in your line of sight. And that takes practice. It involves short term discomfort, but it will help you and me achieve long term gains.
This brings us back to our values and also our goals.
A recent Behavioural Scientist article by Ayelet Fishbach uses the example of improvisation classes as a means of improving our resilience and self-awareness, because they help us become more comfortable with feeling uncomfortable.
According to Ayelet, “adopting a “no pain, no gain” mentality when you know something will make you feel awkward, sad, scared, or uncomfortable in the short-run can boost your motivation to stick with it until it feels right.”
So, think about what’s most important in your life and in your work?
Can you place greater value on those things than the short term rewards of the things that distract you?
Can you employ your values to help you get through those initial uncomfortable steps in freeing yourself and your attention from the shackles of distraction?
If I can, then you can. As I said, it takes ongoing practice and breaking it down into small steps that help us build the strong foundations. And that’s what being intentional with your productivity is all about.
Resources I’ve referenced and curated for this episode, to help you develop a deeper understanding of these concepts.
Perform at Your Peak & Avoid Burnout – Wall Street Journal
How to Survive in a World of Information Overload – Nir Eyal (Nir & Far)
Get Comfortable with Feeling Uncomfortable (Behavioral Scientist)