Top MBA professor: Stop touching your phone 2,617 times a day. Here's how to stay productive and focused
The numbers are both ridiculous and idiotic. According to a study from research firm Dscout, the average person touches their phone 2,617 times, checks email 74 times and receives 46 notifications — all in a single day.
That's a real problem when you consider another number: 168, which is how many hours we have in a week. While that number is the same for everyone, the difference is in how the hours are allocated.
When you're tied to your phone and constantly texting and emailing, you invest time that cannot be allocated to other, more important, tasks. Of course, you want to be responsive, but you don't have to be like Pavlov's dog with every incoming email, text or notification.
Steve Glaveski, author of "Employee to Entrepreneur: How to Earn Your Freedom and Do Work That Matters," offers a smart solution in an article he wrote for Harvard Business Review — to "disable all notifications on both your desktop and smartphone."
But it can't stop there
In the 24/7 digital world, prioritization is, in itself, a priority. There is simply not enough time, so we need to be self-reflective and purposeful in how we manage our time. If you're serious about not letting push notifications ruin your productivity, follow the five steps below:
1. Accept there's never enough.
Time is scarce — and like most valuable resources, there's never enough of it. The only solution is allocation. If an employee had all the resources they needed to get their job done, for instance, they wouldn't need a manager. A manager's job is to allocate resources. Start by putting your 168 hours per week into "life buckets." It'll vary depending on your lifestyle, but might look something like: Work, family, spirituality (or religion), health, recreation and social responsibility. Once you've created life bucket list — stick to it.
2. Know the difference between activity and productivity.
We either hear it or say it all the time: "I'm overwhelmed." "I have so much to do." "I'm so busy." Welcome to the real world. But there's a difference between activity (being in constant motion) and productivity (getting important things done). Setting priorities means identifying just the top five things that absolutely need to be completed. Having a list of 10 things at a time defeats the purpose of prioritization.
3. Kill the reply all.
This is a real time-waster. An email that takes 15 minutes to read is sent to a string of 40 people. Fifteen minutes multiplied by 40 people is 10 hours that could be spent on other things (if you're a math person, you'll get this immediately)! Surely, not all 40 people need to be on that string — and certainly not on the "reply all" responses of "got it, thanks" (times 40). A little discernment goes a long way, and people will thank you for it.
4. Set expectations. Back in the day, when faxes and telexes were the latest technologies, these communiques were sent out during office hours. If a fax was sent from Chicago to Tokyo, there was no expectation of a reply until sometime in their business day — and after they had a chance to think about it. Now, people are on text and email 24/7. In addition to being sleep-deprived, no one has the time to think things through before replying immediately. Set realistic exceptions and don't expect immediate replies. To be safe and courteous, let them know you're not looking for an answer until the next morning (or later).
5. Control your own calendar. So many employees walk into the office to find their day has been scheduled with meetings every half hour. Not all of these meetings are necessary, let alone take 30 minutes or more. Evaluate the purpose of each meeting and see which ones can be done through a brief conversation by phone or email. Smart managers know to observe the details of everything on their calendar, even if they have an assistant.
The always-connected world isn't going to change, so you must set your own limits and priorities. There's no way you're going to get everything done, so you better reflect on what matters most. And turning off push notifications is a step in the right direction.
Harry Kraemer Jr. is professor of management and strategy at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management. He's also an executive partner with Madison Dearborn Partners, one of the largest private equity firms in the U.S. Harry was voted by the students at Kellogg as the Professor of the Year in 2008 and was a finalist for the award in 2014. Follow him on Twitter at @harrykraemerjr.
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