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Overcome by technology

With unbelievable technology at our fingertips, are we any more productive at work today than we were 20-30 years ago? No way.

The tools we now take for granted are paralyzing us and the only reason I’m writing this article now is my internet connection has gone down and I can’t follow the cricket on the Guardian website.

New ways of working require new structures, to ensure sufficient time for clear objective- making and correct business decisions; we need to find a new channel through the IT-heavy seas of the new work environment.

David Allen, productivity consultant and author of “Getting Things Done”, gives the following as examples of comments he hears in his line of work:

– “I’m overwhelmed and it’s getting worse. There aren’t enough hours in the day to do my job.”

– “I have too many emails and the backlog keeps growing.”

– “I have too many meetings to attend and I can’t get any ‘real’ work done.”

– “I feel I’m not giving enough attention to what’s important.”

– “I just can’t keep on going like this.”

I suppose these complaints are as old as work itself, but it does seem that people are increasingly frustrated by what they cannot do, rather than what they are employed to actually do.

Today, a spreadsheet can be produced in minutes, you can access data and information in seconds, emails have destroyed the postal service and the need for overseas travel has been heavily curtailed. Essentially, we can accompish more, with less effort. So why aren’t we reaping the rewards of better, more efficient productivity?

Allen says better overall organisational productivity does not necessarily translate into increased efficiency for individual workers.

One person may now be producing the work output of three, but is definitely not receiving three times the remuneration (although this is not true at the top). Fewer people are needed for the same results as before.

Result: those who remain in work have more responsibilities than ever and the IT skills the head of that department may once have had, are expected as a minimum requirement for all. Bear in mind, the technological advances enjoyed by one company are mirrored by all its competitors.

Workers can easily become overwhelmed by their company’s progress and need to discover their own state of productivity; a system that lets them work harmoniously within the company’s objectives and also gives them space to think, review and act correctly.

In order to find this peace, this harmony, a worker needs to integrate the workplace chaos around them and focus on what is important; recalibrate resources and ignore or put off whatever is less important.

This honed focus is not necessarily innate and might have to be learned. Allen proposes five things to help optimise focus and resources, that he believes can help at work, at home, or life in general.

1. Write down everything that captures your attention at work, or in your personal life. This might be notes from a board meeting, or a shopping list; the very practice of committing to paper will lead to greater focus and control, even if you never look at it again. It clears your head.

2. If you do look at it again; and Allen recommends you do, decide what each item written down means to you. This is simple prioritisation and will put you in the driver’s seat. A golden rule: any action that can be done in two minutes, do immediately.

3.Organise your new to-do list; emails to send, phone calls to make, meetings to arrange and keep the list handy.

4. Constantly review and think about your commitments and interests. As life changes, so too do your needs and priorities. A two-hour weekly operational review will let you tidy up, catch up and reflect on your overall landscape, both professionally and personally. What are your goals?

5. Deploy your attention and resources appropriately.

It all seems quite simple and it is, most people do this naturally, but half-cocked, and others simply haven’t identified the process, let alone applied it.

Applying these these practices, with a degree of commitment, will lead to better focus, control and results; technology, company goals and external realities will become things things to manage, rather than a hoped-for source of productivity.

Don’t just follow the latest quick-changing technologies and trends; take intelligent decisions based on your lists of requirements and goals; you will become pro-active and productive, an asset for any company.

The ever-increasing complexities of the work/life balance are here to stay and will continue to increase; the trick is to take part productively in the maelstrom, but not to be overwhelmed by it.

Nigel Phillips

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