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How to walk the tech tightrope for maximum productivity

Productivity expert Daniel Sih says distractions and digital addiction can be minimised by setting up the right patterns and habits.

In a time where society is overwhelmed with social media and technology, it can be easy for distractions to take over and for people to reduce their productivity levels and performance.

However, productivity expert and co-founder of Spacemakers Daniel Sih believes we can effectively transform our lives and manage technology without going too far.

He told KnowHow founder Bushy Martin on the Get Invested podcast that in order to tackle this issue, people first need to reconsider their relationship with technology and understand the side effects of too much exposure.

“We need a paradigm shift. We need to totally rethink our relationship with the online world because we’ve entered into a relational contract with our devices and we haven’t understood what that contract is. We haven’t understood how our technological relationship shapes our mindset … How does digital power impact us? And so you need to understand why you are so attracted to your phone, even beyond the design of the tools and technologies which are highly addictive,” Daniel explained.

“It’s about recognising that if you have too much technology then you’ll experience the negative side effects, which are a loss of productivity, multitasking, distraction, a loss of happiness and health. So how do we enjoy the best of the online world, but then make sure that our habits and our patterns shape what we do? So we change our paradigm. We change our principles. So we orientate our life around true north principles that always work, including things like real face-to-face relationships, time for contemplation, time to really invest in things that matter and setting limits etc.”

For Daniel, the biggest part of finding this balance and increasing productivity is establishing the right patterns, habits and rhythms in all aspects of your life, and being aware of when something isn’t benefitting you for the long-term.

“For me, productivity is actually about designing the patterns in your life, and the things you do habitually lead you into a particular place and to a particular direction. You can’t necessarily guarantee the outcomes, but you can actually create patterns that lead to a representation of what you want to do,” he said.

“So I see that in the way that I talk about technology and the patterns of unplugging, and I also see it in the way in which I talk about making pace, so the productivity patterns like how do you get your inbox to zero? What are your patterns of processing your inbox? How do you get through a to do list? How do you plan your day? What are the patterns that shape your schedule? And I think we are really just an outworking of the patterns that we create in our life. They’re really, really important.”

Bushy added: “I’d refer to them as happy habits and rewarding rituals and daily disciplines. But it can be upper growth or downward growth depending on the habits that you adopt. So unfortunately for a lot of hardworking Aussies, they adopt some negative patterns … so it’s about becoming aware and becoming conscious of what those daily habits are that you currently adopt and deciding whether that is taking you closer to where you want to be or further away from it?”

But in order to build these healthy habits, Daniel said you need to make space away from technology.

“If you don’t invest in space, it won’t happen nowadays. We are now in an age where time away from technology cannot be assumed. For many of us, if we don’t intentionally create patterns or rhythms in our life where we turn off our phones or our devices, get off the Internet, get off screens, we actually may hardly have any time without them. And so therefore making space from technology in order to rest deeply and think fully and connect with loved ones or to pursue an art or to do things that are non-digital that bring health and happiness, that needs to be designed intentionally now. And so the first step is to create patterns and rhythms where you unplug to make space for the things that matter,” he said.

Daniel went on to discuss five key principles people can adopt to create this space. These are: Set limits, plan patterns, assign rests, cultivate community and embrace silence.

“We always need to create self-defined limits in our life, because we are finite people and you cannot achieve everything. And we do that across all aspects of life, whether it be relationships, whether it be speeding on the road, whether it be drinking etc. But we need to embrace the benefits of limits when it comes to online tech,” he said.

“Assigning rests before work is about the idea that rests in our day and age will also elude us if we don’t intentionally design and plan and learn how to rest. Most people think about learning skills for work, but we just assume that we know how to rest, and I think it’s almost the opposite. Nowadays we actually need to design rest, learn skills for rest and to put it first, and then allow our work to flow around it.

“Then, cultivate community is about the value of what embodied face-to-face community, and the research on that is tremendous. And the last one is embracing silence. So learning to live a contemplative life. And I think community and contemplation are almost two sides of the same coin. You need both to invest in self.”

However, there also needs to be a balance, for technology, when used correctly, is still crucial to stay productive. Therefore, Daniel said that people need to make pace, which is building your technology skills.

“Making pace are the other habits for learning tech skills and having technology. In order to be productive, you have to be great at technology nowadays for almost every job. So you can’t avoid technology and be productive,” he said.

“So I tried to work out what is the intersection between both. And what I found in the research is you imagine a curve. You basically need to be using technology and use it well, have great skills and be aware of how to integrate your technologies well in order to be productive. So it’s like more technology equals more productivity. But then you reach this plateau where if you keep using more tech, if you’re on screens more regularly, if you just keep orienting more of your life around the online world, then the productivity gains kind of plateau … and then you hit digital overuse. And this is where most of our society is heading, where you become less productive, you sleep less, you concentrate less, you feel you do more but you achieve less and anxiety, unhappiness, multitasking and all those negative mental and social effects come into play.

“So we need skills to make pace, which is learning to use tech. And we need skills to make space, which is pegging back our digital use and unplugging so we can truly live and work well.”

Listen to the full interview here.

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