Our attempts to relax are seriously stressing us out

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The following is an extract from the original article that was published in qz.com.

In the digital era, a lot of us feel busier than our parents and grandparents ever were. But analyses of the way we actually use our time suggest that we’re mistaken. On the whole, we’re not doing any more work than previous generations. We don’t do any more household chores, either. So why do we feel so much busier? Continue reading…

To get the most out of your day, manage your attention not your time

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[Article first published in Quartz.com, 14th September 2015]

…in an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently.

Herbert Simon, Nobel Prize Laureate

From the Renaissance to 1900, human knowledge has doubled every century; by World War II, a doubling only took 25 years. In 2006, IBM estimated that by 2010 the world’s knowledge would double every 11 hours (pdf). All this information, and similar increases in communication, have created unprecedented challenges for our brains. Overwhelmed and distracted, days pass in a blur of frenetic and relatively mindless activity; relationships get crunched into snatched moments before the screens suck us back. Our most valuable and scarce resource is no longer time—it’s attention.

This article is aimed at those of us who have felt the path to achievement is to maximize our time. It outlines a few of the simple shifts you can make to manage your attention instead. After all, it’s an attention economy. Continue reading…

Strategic Idleness

shutterstock_134514503 - CopyIn a recent survey in the US, 83% of people said they had no time for ‘relaxation or thinking’ at all. In a knowledge economy, what hope can we have as individuals or as corporations if we’re not thinking. More specifically, there’s a type of thinking that is more under threat than any other kind: the thinking that happens when we’re relaxed or idle. Martin Heidegger made the distinction between calculative and meditative thinking. Calculative thinking is focused, activity-driven and outcome-oriented; meditative thinking is more relaxed, internal and expansive. When we’re busy, we employ calculative thinking. When we’re consuming reality TV or YouTube videos of dancing cats, we’re not really thinking at all. Meditative thinking only happens when we are neither producing nor consuming; in other words, when we are idle. My concern is that the twin drives to produce and consume are squeezing idleness out of our lives; and idleness is important because it is the origin of meditative thinking.

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Productivity through chunking and slicing

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How long does your attention stay on one thing at work?

One study found that office workers switch task every three minutes.  You’re working on a project and ‘ping’ an email arrives. You leap into action and deal with the email before returning to the project…then an IM pops onto your screen. It feels good swatting away all those incoming demands, like some task-juggling Jedi: the brain rewards bouncing between tasks with a release of dopamine. The more we hopscotch, the more effective we feel. Continue reading…