The Big Idea
Technology doesn’t always make us productive.
Questions I Answer
- How can I use my phone to make me more productive?
- Which is better tech or paper when it comes to planning?
- Is a paper planner better for your productivity?
Key Topics in the Show
Why technology might be failing you as a productivity tool.
Find out what kind of learner you are and how that impacts your planning.
The mental difference between typing and writing.
Why the human attention span is ⅓ of what it used to be.
Why you actually do need to sleep.
Resources and Links
- Listen to Episode 010: The Magic of Monotasking if you haven’t already
- Tips to figure out what type of learner you are:
- Visual: you tend to retain information best when it’s presented in a visual form. You find infographics and illustrated steps helpful.
- Auditory: you tend to learn best through listening. You enjoy learning from lectures, books on tape, and podcasts.
- Kinesthetic: you find physically moving helps you process your thoughts and ideas. You might listen to this podcast while exercising, or have found flashcards helpful in studying.
Hello, hello everyone. Welcome to Productivity Paradox. I’m your host, Tanya Dalton, and this is episode 11. Today, we are going to be talking about productivity and how technology is working for you, or rather how technology is not working for you. Now, the purpose behind Productivity Paradox is to find the productivity and organizational systems that are designed to work for you. If you haven’t listened to episode zero, I would encourage you to do that, because I talk about the purpose behind this podcast, and I even give a little bit of the background behind the name.
The reason why this is named Productivity Paradox is there is a scientific finding that shows the more technology we are using, the lower our productivity rates drop, which is kind of a crazy paradox, because it seems like it should be doing the opposite. I really think it’s important to consistently stop and assess how you’re doing. What does your productivity look like now? What am I using that is really working for me? What am I using that’s not working for me?
Now, many people are using their phones to organize every aspect of their lives. I want to ask you this, if you’re doing that, how is that working out for you? Are you finding yourself much less stressed? Do you feel like you are on top of everything? Or does it sometimes feel like maybe you’re swimming underwater? It’s not surprising that many people think that using the latest technology is the way to go, but don’t just choose to use technology because that’s what you think you’re supposed to do. Stop and really assess to see if you think that it’s really working.
Now, I use technology myself to help with certain areas of my productivity, so I am certainly not anti-technology. Many of you know that I own inkWELL Press, which is a paper planning company, but I’m not a paper purist. I think there is room for technology and traditional forms of planning to work really well together. Like many of you, I actually was not using paper for my planning a few years ago. I was using my phone for everything, and I felt like this is what I was supposed to do. I felt like what I was doing was working all right. I was doing okay.
Until I really took the time to stop and assess how I was really doing. I came across some of my old planners and some of my old calendars and things like that, and I began to notice, when I was flipping through them, feeling a little bit nostalgic, I started to realize that I was actually a lot more productive back when I was using paper. I was surprised by this, so I wanted to take the time and figure out why this was. I wanted to assess how I was really doing. So, it made me curious as to the differences it made for your brain using paper versus using technology.
Most of you probably also know that I used to be a school teacher, so I did a lot of brain research as part of my training when I was a teacher so I could effectively teach others in the classrooms. I found that with brain research, it really is the key to understanding how to unlock your potential and your peak productivity. When I was doing this research, I found it fascinating, and I felt like these insights were really important to share with you. As with all things, I think it helps to start with a foundation of why. Why do we maybe need to lessen our dependence on technology as our sole productivity tool? If it’s really not working for us, what can I do to create a system that does work for me?
These are areas where we can help to facilitate productivity, and I really feel like there are ways that we can use technology, your phone and computer, but as our sole tool, it honestly is failing most of us. Now, next week, in our next episode, we are going to be talking about strategies on using technology and helping it to work effectively for you, but first, if you’re anything like me, you might need a little convincing as to why we need to lessen our dependence on using sole technology as our productivity tool.
So let’s take a step back and talk about the brain itself and how it works. Everyone’s brain helps them learn in different ways, and there are three very common types of learning styles: kinesthetic, auditory, and visual. There’s several others, but those three are kind of the big three in learning styles. Most people are a combination of two or more styles, but everyone has one more dominant learning style that works best for them. What’s interesting is that writing actually hits all three of these learning styles. Technology does not. So, let’s go down through each one of those, just really quickly.
We have auditory, which are people who tend to learn best through listening. If you enjoy hearing lectures or listening to books on tape for learning, you’re probably an auditory learner. Now, most people think that writing is a visual activity, but writing actually can help auditory learners. When you’re reading, you intake those letters and words from the page, and that’s your visual process, right? You’re using your eyes. Taking those letters and words and interpreting them is actually taking place in the languaging processing center of the brain, and that’s the area that houses our auditory functions. Writing is kind of a unique activity in that it relies on verbal, our auditory processing capabilities, as well as visual.
Now, speaking of visual, visual learners are people who tend to retain information best when it’s presented in some visual form. If you’re the type of person who really finds infographics helpful or if you like illustrated processes or steps, maybe like the instructions on how to assemble furniture from the IKEA catalog, you are most likely a visual learner. Now, unlike technology, an open page allows visual learners to create their own visual representation of the information that they want to retain, and that is very, very helpful to visual learners. Maybe you do things in bullet points or Venn diagrams or mind maps or infographics. Technology tends to be much more rigid, so it doesn’t allow that flexibility that visual learners really need to memorize and engrain ideas and thoughts.
I am very much a visual learner, so any time I have information I want to memorize, I tend to write it out in a bullet-pointed form, because that’s what works for me. As a matter of fact, right now, this episode that I’m talking to you with, I have a bullet-pointed list so I don’t miss out on any of my high points. That’s a system that works for me.
The third type of learning we’re going to talk about is the kinesthetic learners, and these are people who find that physically moving helps you to process your ideas and thoughts. If you’re the type of person who is maybe listening to this podcast right now while exercising, or if you’re someone who finds it easier to retain information using flashcards, like in college, did you use flashcards to memorize
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information, you’re most likely a kinesthetic learner. Now, technology tends to be a sedentary activity. It’s not something that requires a lot of movement, so it’s not conducive for those people who are kinesthetic learners and learn through actions. When you have paper, you’re flipping through the pages, you’re picking up the actual book itself, and writing. Those are all keys for kinesthetic learners.
So, I know you might be asking yourself, “Ah, but what about typing?” right? Typing is different. It’s not the same as writing, because it’s such a repetitive task. It doesn’t have the same impact on your brain that writing does. Writing requires different movements from your fingers and your hands, whether it’s the swoops and the swashes or crossing Ts or adding the tails on your Gs. It does something different in your brain than the repetitive action of typing on a keyboard. I think it’s really important to learn about your learning style, because it really does help you be more productive, because you’re going to find the strategies that work best for you.
Again, that’s the whole idea behind this podcast, is finding the strategies that work best for you, in particular. Really, regardless of your learning style, you really want to make sure that you’re able to focus at the task at hand. Attention span is really, really important for productivity and getting your things done. In today’s day and age, news is limited, a lot of times, to 140 characters. Conversations take place in the form of emojis. Our attention span is actually shortening from using so much technology.
Now, I came across this study, which I thought was fascinating. I thought it was really interesting, first of all, because it was put forth by the Microsoft Corporation. Obviously, Microsoft wants us to use a lot of technology, but what they found was that this digital lifestyle has made it really difficult for us to stay focused. Our human attention span has shortened in the past 10 years from 12 seconds to 8 seconds. In the past 10 years, we have shortened our attention span a third of what it was before. Maybe four seconds doesn’t sound like a lot to lose, but what if I tell you this: humans now have less attention span than a goldfish. A goldfish has nine seconds. We now have eight. That’s a pretty frightening statistic, right? I thought that was really interesting, because that’s from Microsoft.
What’s happening is that when you’re going through your day, your brain is automatically consuming, and filtering, and sorting through information. Whenever you’re using technology, it’s doing that at a rapid pace. This Microsoft report found that those people who were using technology were finding it difficult to filter out the irrelevant stimulus, so you were more distracted by multiple streams of media. You have different levels of thoughts, and so your brain is having a hard time really filtering through those when you’re using technology.
Most of your thoughts end up being ignored, because your brain’s not filtering them out really adequately. The ones that are being ignored the most are the ones that are considered not as important, which is actually the creative insights and the problem-solving thoughts. Those end up being filtered out by your brain just as a quick way to jettison information out of your brain.
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During writing, your brain is occupied with that act of writing itself, so it’s preoccupied with creating a flow around what you’re writing. This is enough that the brain is occupied. It cannot filter out all the other thoughts, so writing can help unveil these other thoughts, these creative solutions, and these underlying issues that they would be filtering out or setting aside if you’re using technology. Because writing is a physical action, it engages a totally separate area of your brain does than technology. Because you have to really search to find the right words to actually write, it forces you to be more succinct with your thoughts, so your thoughts go from being abstract to being a physical thing sitting before you.
The other issue we have, because we know attention span is really important, is the distractions that come along with technology. The pings, the beeps, the buzzes, and the interruptions that are going on non-stop. Research has shown us that it takes about 23 minutes to hit a groove and to really get focused in on a task and to do our best, highest quality work. Each time we’re interrupted, that clock stops and it restarts. If you’re consistently being bombarded by these whistles and these notifications, you’re not able to reach your peak potential when you’re working on the task. We’ve taught ourselves a little bit to be kind of like Pavlov’s dog. Every time the phone or the computer tweets or it beeps or it buzzes, we stop and we take a look. I do this myself, and I have had to work really hard to break this habit. Especially when driving in my car, if my phone is going off, I have to really work to not pick it up and take a look.
We talked about this back with monotasking, that we need to shut off our distractions and come away from technology when we’re trying to focus. Back in episode 10, we talked about what we needed to do to be able to get this really focused time. This is why technology hurts us when we’re using it as our sole planning tool. We have to physically turn it off or shut it up to get anything done, and it’s disrupting our flow so we really cannot hit our highest level of consciousness.
Not only does it beep and it poke at us, but it’s filled with all these other distractions. It’s got social media on there. We’re getting texts that are constantly pulling us from the task at hand, versus having something like a notebook or even a notepad that is dedicated to that one task of thinking. You’re not going to be pulled away with so many distractions. It’s going to allow you to monotask and, therefore, do a little bit better work.
Now, with this onset of widespread technology and distractions and our shortening attention span, these are all issues that we have found, but the biggest problem, I think, is that because of technology, we are sleeping less. The bigger problem is our quality of sleep has diminished, as well. Many of us have probably heard about how the blue light that’s emitted from the screens reduces the production of melatonin, which is the hormone that controls our sleep and wake cycles. Two hours of exposure to light from electronics can suppress your melatonin by 22%, by almost a quarter. This is why many of us find it harder to fall asleep and harder to stay asleep, especially if you’re doing planning late in the evening.
We’ve all heard that a good night’s sleep is the key to a happier and healthier day, but I really found it interesting that the University of Rochester did this study
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that uncovered evidence why our brains really need us to sleep. Your brain is really fascinating, right? It creates these toxic proteins as a byproduct of the activity that’s going on in your brain, so while you’re awake and you’re thinking, your brain is kind of letting out these little toxic proteins. It’s like a little toxic waste dump, I guess, in your brain, and that clogs up the works. The good news is while you’re asleep, your brain can go through with its own, I guess, cleaning mechanism. I don’t know how it works, but what it does is it helps clean out that toxins.
Now, if you’re not sleeping enough, it cannot remove these toxic proteins, and those remain in your brain cells, wreaking havoc and impairing your ability to think. Caffeine is not going to fix that. Skipping sleep is impairing your brain function across the board. It’s slowing down your ability to process information and to problem solve, killing your productivity and creativity, and catapulting your stress level.
Now, I think it’s really important to lower your stress level and enjoy a full night’s sleep, so I actually encourage the activity of running an evening brain dump. I think when you write things down and get it out of your brain, it frees up your thoughts and allows your brain to quietly begin shutting down for the night. I’m going to be talking more about this in our next episode, in episode 12, with my own planning habits, but I really wanted to talk about how this type of exercise is really beneficial. If you’re typing it in on your phone, you’re going to end up more awake. Yeah, you’re going to be less stressed, but you’re going to be wide awake.
So, we want to get some benefit from this process, and we need to get away from using our computer screens so we can get away from that light that’s resetting your brain and tricking you into staying awake. Some people wonder, but isn’t using technology faster? Doesn’t that mean you’ll be less stressed? It goes back to that argument we’ve talked about in other episodes about being effective or being efficient. We really want to be effective with our planning and our thinking, because that, at the end of the day, is actually going to be faster. It may surprise you that writing out your ideas and thoughts and plans is actually faster than technology. There’s no fun noises that go along with paper planning, but being able to see the page laid out before you does something very different to your brain.
We already know that the act of writing actually carves it deeper into the [synapsises 00:17:13] of our brain, and typing on the keyboard has the opposite effect. Throughout these episodes of this podcast, we’ve shared lots of studies from places like Harvard that prove that results are consistently higher when goals and plans are written versus abstract thoughts and actions like typing. Our brains and our memories are a little bit like leaky buckets, so being able to physically flip through a journal or a notebook to see your previous notes is actually faster and easier than doing a search function on your computer. What that does is it jump-starts your brain in that planning and productivity activity. Again, that kinesthetic movement attached to these thoughts helps you work a little bit better, because it’s going to jog your mind, and jog your memories, and get you to that higher level of thinking much faster.
The question is what is the solution? We’re talking today about how technology is not working for you. Should we throw away our smartphones and throw our computer out the window? Sometimes when you’re on vacation and you can’t get away, it definitely feels that way, but that’s not really an option, right? We need to find ways that we can use technology, because technology is very beneficial, but we want to find ways that we can use technology and traditional forms of planning together to create our own customized system. That is really what we’re going to be tackling and talking about in our next episode.
We’re going to be talking about ways to create harmony in your planning to make you feel more successful and to feel happier and to feel more productive. I really believe there is a way that you can use technology, because we don’t want to walk away from it. It really can help us in so many different ways, but we need to find ways that we can use it in conjunction with traditional forms of planning in order to unlock our peak productivity.
Next week, I’m going to be answering my most frequently asked question. People always ask me, “How do you plan?” They want to know how I plan out my day, because obviously I’ve created my own customized system. So, I’m going to be walking you through that as we discuss ways to make your planning work for you. As always, I truly believe that if you can find the systems and you can figure out what are the ways productivity can work best for you in your life, that is what’s going to make you the happiest, and that is what’s going to allow you to find that harmony in your life that I think is so important.
Now, I would love to hear your thoughts on how technology is working for you or how paper planning is working, so feel free to connect with me. You can always find me at inkwellpress.com. I’m on social media under the username inkWELL Press. You can find me on Twitter, and Facebook, and Instagram. I’d love to have a conversation with you and hear about the ways that maybe technology is not working for you and even some of the ways that it is working. I’m really excited about next week, because I think that this is the start of you creating your own customized system, and that is so exciting. I cannot wait for next week. So, until next time, happy planning.
**This transcript is created by AI, so please excuse any typos, misspellings and grammar mistakes.
Tanya Dalton is female productivity expert and keynote speaker. Her talks on habits, goals and time management are inspirational and actionable.