What's the greatest enemy of productivity? According to neuroscientist Josh Davis, author of Two Awesome Hours, it's not laziness or procrastination. It's not even multitasking, bad as that is. It's spending too much time on work that doesn't really matter.
But once you start work on something nonessential, it's very difficult to get that perspective, he explained in the latest episode of the YouTube series Intersections. "We really don't have as many opportunities to be deliberate and intentional about what we're doing as we think," he said in an interview with Mentora founder Hitendra Wadhwa. "Once you get into a task, you're less conscious of the choices you're making. You get into this reactive mode and it's hard to pull back."
Your best chance of breaking out of that reactive mode is if something unexpected happens--such as someone interrupting your work. Most of us are working at home these days, and that means we can be interrupted by family members at any time. If you're trying to complete a task and your kids come in, your first reaction might be annoyance, Davis says. "But if I take 10 seconds and remember what's important to me--them and doing my work--I can see that as an opportunity. The interruption created a decision point. A gift has just occurred because I might have been working on something that's not the best use of my time."
What's important today?
An interruption that breaks your train of thought or the flow of your work is a rare moment when your mind can fully focus on what Davis says is the most important question: "What's important today?"
Look at your work from that viewpoint and you may well decide that you should be spending your time and energy on something else. Even Davis, despite his expertise in brain function and decision making, says that at least 50 percent of the time when he steps back and asks that question, he realizes that what he was working on isn't the best use of his time.
What if you're lucky (or unlucky) enough to have no interruptions during your workday? Then you should schedule your own interruptions, Davis advises. "Stand up and walk down the hall," he says. "It has to be a no-device walk, because if you have a device with you, you're going to be reacting to it." Walk around for a couple of minutes and ask yourself that question about what's important today.
"That can make all the difference," he says. It's especially important to ask that question at this time, he adds. "When everyone is working from home, what's work? What's life?" he says. "We have to make so many more decisions about how to use our time than ever before. If you can capture these moments as decision points, it can make you more productive."