Why it’s time to embrace new tech

Tech can overwhelm and distract us – try turning your phone off and work in 30 minute bursts

Many modern workers struggle to tune it out, but you can use it to your advantage, says Microsoft’s Dave Coplin.

Ever get frustrated that despite all of the advances in technology and how hard you work, you never really seem to get anywhere? Chances are that you’re struggling with 21st century working in a 20th century workplace.
Here are four signs that how you work is getting in the way of your productivity (and what you can do about them).
1 You carry two pairs of headphones with you – one set of ultra-sleek earbud style headphones for guerrilla commuting, and a pair of colourful, oversized “over the ear” style headphones just for use in the office. Nothing says “I’m busy” better than huge, hot pink 1970’s styled cans.
2 Technically, you’re supposed to “hot-desk” at work, but over the past few months you have become embroiled in a bitter feud over territory. Your strategically placed stress ball and coffee cup vigilantly guard your favourite desk, clearly marking out your domain and defending against out-of-hours raids from usurpers.
3 You loathe receiving emails, but love sending them. You email the colleague sitting next to you because it’s “easier” than talking to them and you think that the mark of a great day at work is managing to reach “inbox zero”.
4 When it comes to multi-tasking, you are a master of your art. You spend most working days flitting between browser tabs and applications. From email, to twitter, to your status report and back again, you can juggle them all.

IN FOCUS

The headphones you wear at work are to try and insulate yourself from distractions, and your fierce battle to keep your desk is not dissimilar. But if you’re doing the sort of work where you’re constantly being distracted, why go into the office at all? These days, technology makes it possible to pretty much work from anywhere – although the real trick is actually for you to make it happen.
Email overload is a problem for everyone, raising stress levels and diminishing focus. Productivity experts have suggested systematically deleting, filing or responding to emails. But why not also do your bit and start to send less? Just because you can “cc” people or hit “reply all,” that doesn’t mean you should. Instead, consider looking for new ways of communicating that are more efficient. Sometimes it really is better to talk, or to ask the same questions in open collaborative forums that are visible to everyone in the company. Writer Bill French brilliantly captured the problem when he claimed that “email is where knowledge goes to die”.

PRIORITISING WORKLOADS

And finally, we really need to talk about multi-tasking. We would all be better off creating a list of things we need to get done that day, and then allocating specific time periods to focus on them. Make one of the items “email,” but confine your temptation to dive into your inbox outside the allocated time. Be ruthless with yourself when you’re working on other things: turn off your phone, turn off all notifications, and work in short bursts of around 30 minutes with a few minutes break to stretch your legs and grab a drink in between.
Ultimately, we just have to remember that although tech in the 21st century has the potential to overwhelm or distract, it also provides countless opportunities – from video conferencing to remote working. So if we want to be truly productive, the only thing we need to do is to rise up and grasp them.
Dave Coplin is chief envisioning officer at Microsoft UK.

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