I'm still traumatized by my middle school grade reports.
"Ronell does not spend his time wisely."
Boy, were those teachers correct.
Most of my "free" time in class was spent doodling, reading non-school-related books or daydreaming.
In the decades since receiving those grade reports, there have been times when I still feel like the same kid sitting in class doodling.
Only nowadays I don't have teachers and parents breathing down my neck; I'm the one attempting to break the time-wasting curse.
In fact, it's a challenge I chose to face head-on since 2015.
The results have been eye-opening...and inconsistent.
Technology's role in my declining productivity
Beginning in 2015, I realized that to accomplish work at a rate I would be happy with, I'd need to focus more of my time on creating content as opposed to consuming it.
This led to a painful audit.
After using a timer and a Gmail calendar to track every minute of every day for several months, what I found was astounding:
- I was spending more than two hours a day monitoring social media
- Emails accounted for more of my day than actual work
- Interruptions from various app notifications were rampant
- To-do lists were more bane than boon, with many items going undone and being moved to the next day
- Frustration was a common sentiment throughout the day
To tame this monster, I did the easy stuff first:
- Deleting all social media apps from my phone, which means I could only use them on desktop, and even then I used a timer to enforce strict time limits on their use.
- Only checking email after I'd accomplished a few hours of work each morning
- Audible app notiifcations were inhibited
- To-do lists were replaced with "done" lists, which meant I started the list after having completed the most important task for the day
- Any signs of frustration were met with a brisk 28-minute walk through my neighborhood
This plan has worked well but requires continued refinement, particularly since not all days are the same when you account for travel, holidays and such.
But along the way, I've learned a great deal, not the least regarding how to view productivity and precisely what it entails.
Increasing productivity means effective prioritization
Accounting for the entirety of my workday via a Gmail calendar was eye-opening.
It helped ensure I reserved the proper amount of time for tasks; doing so also held my feet to the fire with regard to staying on task, too.
But the real clarity came when I added a timer to the mix, allowing to me clearly see how much time certain tasks took and how much of my time was leaking to tasks that didn't add value to my life or my work.
It was disheartening to learn that, even on my best days, when I wasted minuscule amounts of time, I still didn't complete an amount of work I was happy with.
This had less to do with how I used my time; it was a realization that only so much can be done in a 12- to 14-hour span.
On one hand, I was happy to learn I was more effectively managing my time and being productive in the process. Alternately, it forced me to view productivity through an entirely different prism, one where I graded myself not by how how much work I got done in a single day, but (a) how much deliberate effort I cumulatively spent on a task and (b) how much I accomplish in a week.
I'm still not happy with my level of productivity, but at least I'm no longer made miserable by my lack of it as a result of using an ill-defined framework of measurement.