There is a thrilling hum at tekMountain—the underlying whir of gears turning in skulls, with a punctuation of the inspired keyboard across the sun-infused open-plan. Pod spaces emmenate the sound of collaboration-in-action: new partnerships in the act of being formed, relationships forged, questions-bounced, lunches shared. 38 companies call Sir Tyler Dr home, and 200 coworkers set up shop to design, develop and execute their daily tasks and long-term plans, supported by 20 mentors who they have access to for insight, some are coworkers themselves—you never know who you will rub shoulders with at the coffee klatch or channel endorphins next to at the fitness center. It’s hard not to be inspired by the palpable focus and drive where breakthrough products debut into tekMountain’s ever-expanding technological and creative ecosystem.

But we are not all born self-disciplined, prolific workers. How do we cultivate the sharp focus and impressive productivity that our coworking neighbor seems to come so easy to them?

Let’s measure your actual output—not just the illusion of it.

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Today you epitomized productivity: a flawless juggle of 24 tabs open on your browser, work chat, Slack channels, 80+ new email notifications, a back-to-back meeting schedule, updates to your networking calendar, tweaks to your SMART goals, online lessons on Kung Fu, top priority projects, your bosses’ top priority projects, scrolling through LinkedIn on your smartphone while inhaling lunch at your desk, at the same time asking Siri where to forage for morels for your grilled pizza for dinner. You slayed work today.

But how productive were you, really?  

Multitasking = the failure to filter irrelevant information

All signs point to: not so much. Efficiency can drop as much as 40% when you’re multitasking. You’ve read that article before. You’ve also read the one that explains how multitasking reduces your performance because your brain can only focus on one thing at a time. Ok, trust in over a half-century of cognitive science. Got it.

But what if you think you are “good” at multitasking? If you are an air traffic controller or a choreographer, that’s par for the course. According to the American Psychological Association, it is essential in these roles since, “..these operations, as in others, mental overload can result in catastrophe.”

That distracting “ping” just cost you 15 minutes of your time.

Still think you have what it takes?

Subtle task-switching cuts efficiency, raises risk

Studies show that an average of 15 minutes is needed to re-orient to a primary task after a distraction, which brings me to APA’s three-pronged definition of multitasking: it’s not just the act of trying to perform two tasks simultaneously—it’s also the act of switching from one task to another, or performing two or more tasks in rapid succession. These time-wasters all punch holes in your productivity.

Ready to start kicking the habit? Some time you have to see it, to believe it.  An illuminating interactive resource from the Harvard Business Review tracks the productivity levels of two workers. One shifts focus relatively infrequently, and the other constantly shifts between priorities. The aggregate data paints a sobering portrait of the frenetic modern worker who switches tasks hundred of times a day, on average. Spoiler alert: frenetic worker logged 496 task-switches at a 33% productivity rate, focused worker logged 277 with an 85% productivity rate. Trust me, the blow-by-blow of the downward spiral (and productive counterpart) is well worth your time.

How to capture tasks accurately to inform your strategy

Here’s our next hurdle: why track your tasks if you can just estimate your time spent doing them? Isn’t it a pain to finagle with egg timers, time-tracking apps—or if you are old-school, multiple stopwatches slung around your neck for each task? The thing is, we can’t trust in ourselves to accurately estimate our tasks, according to Hofstadter’s law, coined by cognitive scientist Douglas Hofstadter. The Guardian explains it best: “Any task you’re planning to complete will always take longer than expected.” This is known as the “planning fallacy,” which is the chronic underestimation the time things take. The article goes on to explain, “We know everything always takes longer than expected; we just seem to forget, again and again.”

Time is of the essence to hone your tracking habit

Commit to track your time (including distractions and breaks) for a week, a month or like this hyper-committed blogger, indefinitely, it seems. It’s up to you to start to crack your code of productivity—and leverage your time wisely. There’s a wealth of free or inexpensive time-tracking tools out there. Some believe in an old school egg timer, as the physical act of winding one up confirms your determination to work. Others already utilize fitness trackers and geek out on the data, so why not try Toggl, an online tool, mobile app and chrome extension that is simple and easy to use—with gorgeous reports that illuminate the breakout of your days. Or try RescueTime, the elegant application used in the interactive study above.

But first, turn off all your notifications.

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The next series of blogs are about productivity & focus (and the rabbit holes & Shiny Objects that love to hijack our attentions). We at tekMountain are dedicated to contributing to the dynamic conversation serving the wider business community. We are actively cultivating a culture of collaboration, dialogue, and resource-sharing. We’d love to hear about your strategies, tips and tools you use to keep on track and in the zone. Tweet at us, or leave comments on this blog or LinkedIn.

 

This blog was produced by the tekMountain Team of Sean AhlumAmanda SipesBill DiNome and Zach Cioffi with lead writer Beth Roddy.

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