Why We Don’t Have Enough Time…and What to do About It

I’m not sure about you, but for me there seems to be an ever-increasing lack of time to get stuff done. And it seems to be getting harder to reach the bottom of what seems like an infinitely long to-do list. So I was intrigued to discover some startling trends that are causing productivity to decline and reduce our capacity to focus on meaningful work and what really matters in life.

Marketers have so much detailed information about us that can be transformed into a highly-effective arsenal of strategies used to manipulate our attention and spending. It only takes 300 likes on Facebook for a computer to know more about you and your personality than your own spouse. That’s creepy. But then give thought to how much you have shared online about your career, interests, life and shopping habits. Smart algorithms or customer relationship management software can assist with gleaning this information with the purpose of sending out hyper-refined and targeted marketing materials that have the sole purpose of getting our attention and/or cash.

How much time did you spend online today? How many clicks did you make that were not pre-determined or part of a planned objective that you went online to achieve? What prompts do you receive to remind you to come back online and check devices like your smart phone, tablet or your email account?

We all have finite attention, and marketers are competing hard to get a slice of it. 205 billion emails are sent each day, and over half are spam. Consider the time it takes, even if only a few seconds, to open an email, make a judgement of the worthiness of its contents and then decide whether to hit the delete button. How many hours, days, weeks or even months worth of time have you wasted sorting useless emails? Contemplating this has made me think long and hard before copying someone in to communications. The CC or reply all option should be used sparingly, if at all.

And then we have ultimate attention polluters: social media! According to insiders who work at these companies, the largest tech companies now employ ‘attention engineers’ that use similar principles from casinos and slot machines to make engaging with the product as addictive as possible so they keep our attention for longer.

The problem is significant, as research has shown the harmful effects multi-tasking has on the brain’s ability to focus and engage in higher-level, deep thinking. Experiments have also shown that the mere presence of a smart phone…even if it is untouched…has a negative effect on the ability for people to focus and pay attention to a task.

Is screen time shifting your attention away from something more important?

It is a brave new world for those who are growing up in the shadow of savvy marketers who know everything about them before they even reach for a keyboard or own a smart phone. Several schools already mandate iPad ownership from prep (5 years old). I feel so fortunate that Facebook wasn’t really a thing after I left high-school and I have a clean digital footprint and the maturity to manage it. But what are we teaching our children and employees about navigating the noisy and attention-seeking devices that surround us?

The world has become so overcrowded with marketing that silence or ‘ad-free’ has now become something companies can sell back to us at a profit.

Fortunately, there are things we can do to take back our attention. Having clear, written down goals for each day and discussing them with others helps keep us accountable. Take 2 minutes to meditate and empty your mind of all thoughts when you find yourself in a different place to where you expected, that is unrelated to your goal. After two minutes, re-read your goals, and get back on track.

Finally find time to ask yourself this hard-hitting question:

What will your life have been, in the end, but the sum total of everything you have spent it focusing on?

– Olive Burkeman

 

Time is indeed running out. If you are lucky enough to live to 79, the average lifespan of a human, the number of days you will live in your life can be depicted in a 169×169 grid:

I turned 30 earlier this year. That makes my grid look like this:

How about you? What are you going to do with your remaining empty squares?

Sources:

Quit Social Media by Dr. Cal Newport

How a handful of tech companies control billions of minds every day by Tristan Harris

Attentional Commons by Oliver Burkeman

Information Overload by Nicholas Carr

Virtual Communication by Gillian Terzis

The Value of Silence by Marina Benjamin

Inside the mind of a master procrastinator by Tim Urban

 

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