The typical person switches screens once every 40 seconds in an eight-hour workday. And this costs us big time when it comes to our productivity.
But most of the time when we’re switching screens, big tech isn’t to blame.
Our internal discomforts — anxiety, stress, loneliness, boredom — drive our desire for a momentary reprieve by way of checking Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook, pursuing Inbox Zero, or responding to messages on LinkedIn.
However, we can get on top of these internal distractions simple — or not so simply for some — by becoming more self-aware.
We all have great days — days where we spent numerous hours in the zone, got a whole bunch of high-value work done, and finished our day feeling fulfilled and basking in an accomplishment-driven neurochemical cocktail.
But we have bad days too — days we spent too long staring at our phones, switching to email, mindlessly scrolling Instagram, touching up a Powerpoint presentation for the 17th time, and not getting any real, gratifying work done.
The key is to notice.
Notice the conditions surrounding your good days, and the conditions surrounding your bad days.
What kind of conditions?
Did you have a restful sleep last night?
Did you exercise, meditate, or do something else that gets your engine firing? Or did you start your day checking email for an hour from your bed?
Is it conducive to getting great work done?
Is it comfortable?
Do you have the tools you need to succeed (e.g. extended monitor and keyboard, uninterrupted wifi, natural light).
Is the environment relatively free from distraction and interruption?
Were you working from home, or from the office, or maybe from a cafe?
Did you eat something that provides you with sustained energy (e.g. low GI carbs), or are you prone to crash because you started your day with a high sugar snack, like a doughnut?
Are you working through a 16 hour fast? If so, your brain will be in a heightened state of alertness.
You might’ve had a pleasant deep conversation before getting to work, which left you in a great mood and gave you more energy to transfer to your work.
Similarly, you might’ve had an argument with someone you care about, or a colleague, or a client, and it has temporarily messed up your neural circuitry!
Perhaps you’re working on something that you are genuinely interested in, that aligns with your strengths, and that you find a sense of purpose in.
If you’re working on something where all of these are void, you might struggle to get started.
Perhaps you went to the gym, or for a long walk in nature today?
On the flip side, perhaps you’ve rolled right out of bed and onto your desk chair?
Perhaps you get your best work done early in the morning, in the afternoon, or late at night.
Almost half the population are night owls — they get their best work done about 10 hours after waking up.
Chances are you might be one of them and your 8AM start mightn’t be doing you any good.
Finally, you might have countless notifications popping up on your monitor and smartphone.
You might have 37 browser tabs open.
You might have your Inbox open on an extended monitor all day long.
But perhaps, on those more productive days, you’ve turned off notifications and closed all of your surplus screens.
Learning how to work is yet another one of those really important things we never learned in school, such as how to make decisions, how to learn, how to love, how to manage our emotions, and so on.
But when it comes to the school of self-awareness, our best teacher is observation and reflection.
The next time you find yourself in the zone, or struggling to get in the zone, consider writing down the extenuating conditions and circumstances, and if you do this over a period of, say, a month, you’ll no doubt identify trends that you can use to inform how you design your day and your environment.
For example, whenever I have a podcast conversation first thing in the morning — circa 7:30AM — it typically leaves me energized and confident. I like to transfer that energy and confidence into one of two things; writing, or making follow-up sales calls.
It’s a simple thing that can have a significant long-term effect on the quantity and quality of your work.
Steve Glaveski is on a mission to unlock your potential to do your best work and live your best life. He is the founder of innovation accelerator, Collective Campus, author of several books, including Employee to Entrepreneur and Time Rich, and productivity contributor for Harvard Business Review. He’s a chronic autodidact and is into everything from 80s metal and high-intensity workouts to attempting to surf and hold a warrior three pose.