Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Time Management Tuesday: More Support For Working In Units. How Did I Not Know This?

Yesterday, Salon carried an article called Why Your Mind Keeps Wandering. The author reports that new research indicates the brain needs energy to stay on task. It uses it up fast, and when it's on its way to depletion, the mind starts to wander. As few as 12 seconds of thinking can wear out neurons that then start hunting for a couple of different types of energy boosters, one of which is stored up during the night. Another reason most of us work better early in the day?

The researcher quoted contends that everyone deals with these attentional issues. People with ADHD have greater attentional problems, people without it lesser. But we're all part of the spectrum.

How to Deal With This Lack of Attention?

The researcher behind the study suggests recognizing "that you have a finite attentional window––and structure your workflow to be congruent with that capacity. This speaks to how we’ve talked about how work is a series of sprints––and to be our most productive and most creative, we need to unplug throughout our workdays." Does this not sound like the Unit System, a time management strategy that involves working for a unit of time, then breaking and doing something else for a short period before going back to work?

Now, I realize that this research is very new. But everything I've been reading this past year and a half about breaking work time into segments isn't. The Pomodoro Technique, which uses 20-minute units of time, goes back to the 1980s. Why isn't this type of work method common knowledge?

Do We Break Our Time Up Unintentionally?

I wonder, myself, if, left to ourselves, many of us don't fall into some kind of unit-like system with our time, anyway. A family member who definitely comes across as a butt-in-chair (next week's topic) sort, admits that he stops working every 45 minutes to an hour in the morning to get coffee. The traditional American high school schedule was divided into 50 to 60 minute class periods. Early Puritans worshiped all Sunday morning, if not all day. In my experience, most contemporary church services shoot for an hour. Television programming? Thirty minutes to an hour. (Much, much less with commercials cut out of them.)

We seem to have some kind of instinctive knowledge of how much attention we can use at one time. Except for when it comes to work.

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