The (very) long summer holidays have allowed me to reflect on what has been a very busy and productive year. However, when I think about productivity I feel that my actually productivity has taken a stumble over the past couple of years. While I appear to have had a high output in terms of work completed this year including developing projects at school, completing the first year of my MA and writing my first published article, I do not feel like I have had total control over my time. Here’s why…

HTC Hero

Yes it’s the homescreen on my beloved HTC Hero Android smartphone. How can a device that allows me to instantly access emails, Twitter feeds, Facebook messages, RSS feeds, my task list and calendar hinder productivity you may ask? Well, there you have your answer. All of the aforementioned channels are now constantly connected to me. That’s fine BUT they also choose to notify me when I receive an email, when an article is ready to view and when I should be completing a task. In short, they are in control of my life. All of the applications notify me by beeping and leaving a quaint icon in my notification bar. I therefore know how many unread emails I have, now many deadlines are approaching and how many apps need updating. Great? Initially yes, but in the long run they take my mind off the task in hand and add to a increasing unconscious pressure to clear the notification bar. This isn’t just confined to my phone – Google Chrome on my MacBook Pro instantly notifies me too. It’s getting to the point where each of my devices are competing with each other to be the first to notify me when I have email. This sort of thing really disrupts my flow (especially when writing). I realised how this was hindering my productivity after reading Mark Allen’s recent blog post where he talked about taking control of such technology and not letting them control us.

I’ve really been inspired by Doug Belshaw’s blog posts recently and the general work ethic he discusses in this ongoing #uppingyourgame publication. His work has also spurred to read more about gaining back my productivity ethic in the midst of the notification culture. As well as reading Doug’s blog I’ve been looking at advice in Upgrade your Life by Lifehacker as well as Getting Things Done by David Allen.

So what have I done? Firstly I implemented Henry Theile’s Inb0x Zer0 approach, which involved me archiving my GoogleMail inbox (where I found MySpace notifications from an account I had with them from 2004). I now have an empty inbox… it feels good. I’ve also disabled email notifications on my HTC Hero as well as uninstalling the GMail plug-in for Google Chrome. I will be checking emails on my terms in the future and limiting this to limited periods throughout my working day. I’ve also reorganised my approach to storing research as well as the way I plan at school (now mainly through Google Docs). It’s going to be tricky to undo some of the ‘habits’ I’ve got into over the past couple of years, but I’m sure I can do it and be happier and more productive in the process.

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  • Doug Belshaw

    Sounds like a fairly productive year to me! Glad you're finding #uppingyourgame useful. :-)

    Your post has seeded a germ of an idea in my brain of a blog post of my own…

  • MultiMartin

    Thanks Doug. I think I've produced some productive outcomes but the process hasn't always been productive. I do think the development of a notification culture has been a major contributor to hindering my productivity. I think this is because I saw such systems as a benefit and assumed that they would allow me to control the data channels and networks in my life. The opposite appears to be the case and they are gaining increasing control over my life. I think it's time to address this balance. Lankshear and Knobel (2006) said that we're at a point where we're not entirely sure how to deal with technologies educationally – I think this could be the case in terms of productivity too.

  • greeninkuk

    @MultiMartin Your blog post is great, some real home truths there for me!

    • MultiMartin

      @greeninkuk Thanks – I sometimes feel I am a bit too brutal and should be quiet!

      • greeninkuk

        @MultiMartin No it is something I have been thinking about too! With phone, iPad and comp I never switch off, afraid of missing something.