On Productivity And Procrastination

If you spend a lot of time on Twitter each day, you start to feel a sense of vicarious productivity.

Discussing links, chatting with several people at once, managing followers: none of it really matters, and yet it’s easy to lose sight of this when you’re immersed in it. 

You think you’re achieving things by commenting on and distributing content produced by others. But unless you’re being paid to manage your Twitter account, you’re really just engaged in a highly interactive distraction.

We’re only going to become more familiar with the presence of constant distractions. I have not a goddamn shred of research to back up this suggestion, so bear with me.

Regular internet users readily switch between dozens of social applications, interfaces and conversations every hour: email, instant messaging, Twitter, Facebook, et al.

Compare this constant multi-tasking to what our parents were familiar with: that is, concentrating on the task at hand – using the skills that you’ve chosen to build your career upon – before dealing with what’s ahead.

I might suck at explaining it, but the skills that a savvy internet user possesses are radically different from the previous generation. And I’m not one to give much thought to generational difference, but unless I’m much mistaken, we’re learning to think in a totally different way.

I’m aware that I’m extrapolating my own experience onto a wider demographic.

But I’ve found that instead of regularly focussing on one single task, my attention is divided across several mediums. It’s rare that I can concentrate on one task from start to finish.

Logically, this means that the quality of my creative output – be it a university assignment, a paid article, or an email to my family – is reduced, as I’m thin-slicing my thought contributions across hours or days.

That’s the rational explanation: reduced concentration on a singular pursuit results in a diminished outcome.  But I’m not certain.

I’m still adjusting to this relatively new method of online productivity. But I’ve no doubt that individuals who can successfully navigate a web of procrastination pitfalls will end up miles ahead of their peers.

It’s like Tait Ischia said in my interview: “If all the kids these days spent the same amount of time writing blogs that they did on Facebook, then [the advertising] industry would be a hell of a lot more competitive.

He’s talking specifically about writing, sure. Because he’s a writer. But apply his concept to your ideal pursuit: breakdancing, animation, video production; I don’t know, interior fucking design.

The reality is that if you don’t work at your passion, you don’t get any closer to realising it. It continues to sit out of reach. That passionate carrot that you just can’t be fucked working toward. It’s the difference between putting the majority of your energy into becoming a widely-read writer and just telling everyone you meet that you want to be a widely-read writer.

In this way, nothing about productivity has changed since humans started realising that they required more than just food, shelter and sex to live a satisfying life.

So I suppose that the internet,  in the hands of the unmotivated, might just be a platform that has the potential to be a dense distraction. It’s the marbles, the skateboard, the comic books, the pool halls of previous generations, condensed into a single interface.

Except it’s inside, and you’re probably going to learn fewer skills when traversing the internet for extended periods. But even that statement is wrong; you’ll learn skills, but they’ll be completely different to what you’d learn in a pool hall or a skate bowl.

Historically, the people who are motivated toward an end have achieved things. They’re remembered. They won. And those who stood in the shadow of their achievements weren’t remembered. They didn’t win.

Simpler: the people who get things done win.

This post is a departure from the norm, because I clearly haven’t thought this through. But I’m okay with that. Stepping outside my comfort zone of pretending that I have the answers.

How do you spend your time online, and how do you deal with distraction? Do you think we’re learning to interact smarter?

Comments? Below.
  1. Stephen says:

    Multi-tasking is a productivity killer. Fact is, when you switch from one task to another, your brain takes time to get up to speed. The more complex the task, the harder this is, the more time it takes and the slower you work. I’ve felt this myself. I’m sure you must have as well.

    And multitasking inevitably leads to task avoidance. You do what you prefer over the task you don’t prefer. This is untenable in a work situation.

    Both of these illustrate why the consultancy I work for advises clients strongly against letting salespeople (to pick an example) multitask. Frankly, a lot of salespeople seem to want to do anything but sell and this shows in the amount of business development appointments they do if left to their own devices. Focus them solely on that BDM work, though, and suddenly they have no excuse to avoid it. Much better for the business.

    How do /I/ cope with distractions? Badly, probably. I’m not the best at practising what I preach. I have been known to rip out the ethernet cable on deadline though. Or to switch to longhand. It’s funny how changing medium can actually make a difference.

    After I finsihed high school, I started writing a novel. I never finished it, but that’s not the point. The point is that I poured an /enormous/ amount of effort into it and as a result got a hang of the art of writing halfway decent prose. I’m not sure I could do the same in a world with distractions like IRC and facebook. I’m just lucky I don’t WOW — i would never get anything done.

    For people like the Bronte sisters, writing /was/ their distraction. They produced amazing prose as a result. It may be that the interwebs (to consciously use the term ironically) may produce similar art that lasts the ages. But I’m not sure we’ve seen it yet.

    And I’m not convinced we’re (meaning people heavily involved in internet commmunication) interacting smarter as opposed to merely dipping into many more pools much more shallowly.

    Gosh that was a mouthful….

  2. Stuart says:

    I’m also a victim of the problems associated with the divided attention of the modern age. It’s all too easy to sit at the computer and click around the net, instead of _doing_something_. I’m aware of this problem, and hope to get better as time goes on. We’ll see…

    I think many people are in the same boat, but I don’t know how this has changed over time. It’s such a badge of honour to be a PRODUCER of something, rather than just a consumer of what other people in society have created. People who do things stand out.

  3. Denis Semchenko says:

    I spend so much time online I wonder how I even manage to get stuff done on time… Multi-tasking/slacking can, according to Steven, be a massive productivity killer – the online communication tools (FaceCrack, TweetCrack etc) distract you from accomplishing the top-priority tasks and you simply lose concentration twittering/endless status updating/clicking the links. I think I’ve got a bad case of net addiction. /end rant

  4. Denis Semchenko says:

    PS Even as I was typing this, I got distracted by my TweetDeck – hence ‘Steven’ instead of ‘Stephen’… sorry dude!

  5. Hannah says:

    There would be days when I feel like that due to my mass multi-tasking efforts, I have managed to get nothing done. Some tasks can be done well as part of a multi-tasking crusade but I have started noticing that certain tasks need to be done while focused.

    Matt from Ployme did an interesting diagram on his presentation in April when he highlighted the hours designated for ‘everyday activities’ and which hours can be for ‘strategy-related activities’. I think the same approach can be done for multi-tasking online (difference here is that you’re not running around in a restaurant, you’re sitting still on the chair while the mouse does the running).


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