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How Can We Banish Distractions and Channel Creativity?

September 11, 2013, 12:47 PM

I don’t know about you but I feel overwhelmed by email, but it turns out that I have no understanding of how much time I really spend on email.  I have no idea when I really do it or how much it permeates everything I do.  So what I’m looking at now is building a dashboard for myself to better look at how I’m actually spending my time, how much time do I spend doing email, how much time do I spend looking for things that I’ve lost on the net, how much time do I spend on Twitter, so on and so forth. 

I'm also interested in figuring out whether I am spending time emailing while I’d otherwise be at my most creative. 

I do almost all of my writing and thinking the first two hours of the day, often starting in the shower when I have long discussions with myself.  Interesting habit, very productive habit by the way.  And yet what do I do at the most productive time? I get sucked into reading my email, which is the worst use of my time. 

But there’s something mysterious, “Oh, did I get a message from XYZW, you know?”  And so you suddenly have to start learning a little bit of discipline that is much easier to learn if you start measuring.  You know, if you have these two fantastic, most productive hours - "Oh, my God, I spent one hour and 57 minutes doing e-mail."  This is a loss. 

So I think we need to look at our personal lives and how we can start becoming much more attentive to how we’re spending our time as well as the various ways to automate building some of this dashboard. 

How do I want to put some measurements for myself to see if I can channel my periods of creativity more effectively? I think that is a good place to start.  And then I think it’s an interesting discussion when you have your own work group to start asking how should we be measured.  

For instance, I wanted to make some very major changes at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center that I used to run.

PARC is a pretty famous place and when I started suggesting some changes I went in to one lab which isn’t probably the best lab in our research center and said, “Well, you know, I’d like to think about are there other ways to do things.”  And they looked at me and they said, “John, we are the best in the world, why change?” 

And I said, you know, that’s a really good question but we’re all scientists here, right?  And they said, yes, yes, yes.  How do we know we’re the best in the world?  How have you convinced yourself that we’re the best in the world?  And I said let’s change the question. 

How do you convince yourself that we’re the best in the world?  And that led to incredibly interesting conversations about how should we measure ourselves.  So flip the whole thing around and say, “Well, we have certain beliefs, why do we believe them?”

And then from there it is pretty easy to say, "Oh, you know, that matrix is pretty important; we don’t do too well in that matrix do we?  I said, “Well, this is your observation.”  And so you start to have a new kind of conversation in the workplace. 

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock



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