We now live in a constantly and increasingly connected world.
Aside from the much-feted ‘internet of things’ – which will usher in sentient fridges replenishing our chilled food supplies, smart clothing regulating our body temperature, and driverless cars ruling the roads – the world of work is also being transformed at a breakneck pace.
As new software platforms and technology evolve to allow us to engage in a world of work like never before, collaborative working now thrives in a way never thought possible even a few years ago.
Tools like Microsoft Teams and Slack provide a digital playground for workmates to seed and build ideas. The goal of this seamless blur of connectivity is to drive us on to greater and greater heights. Working smarter. Working seamlessly. Working better.
A recent commercial for Slack presented a dizzying vision of the working world in which we now operate. A world in which we juggle babysitting kids, Amazon deliveries, and cheeky bowls of cereals, all whilst powering through the relentless actions and responsibilities from our jobs – pinging in with machine-gun regularity from the screen of desktop PCs or our phones. The underpinning music track for the ad is reminiscent of a fairground waltzer, accelerating out of control and about to fling its riders helplessly and violently into the big blue yonder.
It got me thinking. Is seamless connectivity something to be wholeheartedly embraced across all aspects of work? I believe the answer to that is no. Pause is needed. Pause. For thought.
Now, not for a second would I take the Luddite view towards technology. I run a tech PR agency so it’s absolutely not my thing to sit like an analog King Kanute holding back the tide of progress. But there is definitely a case for holding back the tsunami of messages and notifications on Slack, email, mobile, and all our other platforms from pinging away with breathless regularity.
Whilst the English proverb proclaims that “an idle mind is the devil’s workshop”, I would argue that we need to try and get some respite from a mind being overloaded by the constant hum of today’s working environment. A hum that is pervasive wherever we are, as remote working becomes the norm for so many more of us and the tentacles of technology seek us out wherever we are. There is no hiding place and little respite. We don’t need to “go to work” anymore. Work is always there, in our pockets, on an app, and over the nearest WiFi or mobile connection.
There is a clear downside of being constantly connected through new technology. In my mind, it is vital for all of us – especially creatives and marketers – to find time to be idle in order to really allow ideas to flourish.
The enabling power of connectivity and increasing relentless nature of our lives makes it harder to find the space to allow good ideas to seed, incubate, and grow. In this ‘always on’ world, we must make time to regularly turn off the taps and make a conscious effort to carve out this sort of time for themselves.
Many writers have focused on this topic and there are countless books offering nuggets of wisdom on how best to approach the challenge of optimizing our relationship with work. “Mindfulness” is a buzzy topic among many who find the treadmill of today a draining and often less productive road to travel. In fact, it’s big business and analysts of the ‘meditation market’ forecast an 11.4% average yearly growth in the USA alone, reaching $2.08 billion by 2022.
One overarching truth is that we are all wired differently and, whilst many pieces of advice will work for some, they won’t necessarily work for all. With that caveat, there are, I believe, some simple pieces of wisdom that do often find a common denominator.
In the excellent ‘Hyperfocus: How to Work Less to Achieve More’, Chris Bailey explores how we should take a step back from the distractions of the modern working world. “Disconnecting”, he says, “is one of the most powerful ways to spark new ideas.”
“Constant connectivity is one of the worst distractions to our productivity” and to properly get the best out of ourselves, we need space.
Studies show that we can, on average, work for an average of 40 seconds in front of a computer without distraction or interruption. And needless to say, most people just cannot be effective in completing tasks with those peppered interventions.
So, how do we carve out time for the idle mind? Well, whilst it’s impossible to give a definitive blueprint to that but here are a few common approaches that might help:
Yea, I know it’s an obvious one, but it’s also one of the hardest ones to do. Step away from your computer. Make a conscious and single-minded decision to come away from your digital workspaces to allow ideas and inspiration to flow away from the constant hum of connectivity. Often a pen and blank piece of paper can rejuvenate your approach or spark new ideas in a manner that banging away on a keyboard never can.
Many of us work as part of a team and are used to the dynamic of always being there ‘on tap’. Let your colleagues know that you are switching off and stepping out to focus on a project or an idea. That will counter the occasional guilt of becoming unavailable whilst also carving out some creative thinking space.
Lose your phone
Often the greatest distraction is the smartphone. Placing it out of sight or out of the room altogether when you are focusing on a project or idea will shut off unwanted interruptions.
Recognize that everything is not urgent
Work never ends. There will always be something to replace what’s at the top of your to-do list. Ruthlessly discriminate when looking at what needs your attention.
Multitasking is not always a virtue
Often when we multitask, we are just juggling a number of tasks that don’t always need to be done right now. Step back and focus on a key task for delivery rather than moving forward with a bunch of actions that in reality can wait.
Break your routine
A regular pattern of work can soon become a rut. Challenging your brain with a new environment or a different approach can pay dividends. Don’t be afraid to disrupt the normal – be that moving to a different place to work or talking to a different person about a challenge.
Understand your brain
We’re all wired differently. Take time to understand when, where, and how you are at your most productive, and then nurture and build on that. It may be your surroundings, time of day, or even who you’re with that sparks your productivity.
There are many other tips and habits to unlock your productivity but, for me, the overriding thing to do is step back from the constant rattle and hum of our connected workplaces.
Pursue some space for an idle mind. Regardless of what they say about the devil.
Cover image source: Mitchell Griest