The 21st century provides an array opportunity, technology and a level of connectivity which didn’t even seem possible just 40 years ago. The Internet offers everything from lectures on Quantum physics to scantily dressed Instagram models selling everything from makeup to fast cars. The modern age is an economy of attention. It’s the most valuable “commodity” in the modern world. Social media is pimping the same commodity, our attention like it’s Black Friday in Walmart.

A study conducted on smartphone addiction and productivity reported lower productivity and higher techno stress (stress due to the use of technology) with an increased rate of smartphone use (Duke and Montag 2017). Smartphone for most people is the primary tool to access social media and the addiction to the dopamine response is something you are almost designed not to be able to resist. So how do we change this? How can we resist the temptation? The trick is to find a better, healthier and a productivity-inducing distraction. Distract yourself from the distraction. Let me share with you the work-space hacks you can apply TODAY to be more productive.

The Enhanced Pomodoro

The Pomodoro is a well-known learning tool popularized by “Learning how to learn” course on Coursera. I suggest you check it out. Procrastination seems to be the biggest reason for engaging with any distraction. The reason we procrastinate is usually because the task at hand seems to be monstrous and instead of dealing with the monster we choose to ignore it. We all know how that works.

The trick is to divide your productivity spans in 25-minute bites followed by a 5 min break which involves some kind of light physical exercise. You can go for a brisk walk, play arm wrestling with a coworker, have a pull-up bar and do some pull-ups etc… you can be creative, choose your hobby. The act of a 5 active minute break does 2 things. The physical workout gives you a rush of endorphins which serve as a mood enhancer forming a positive reinforcement loop. It further taps into the diffused learning, which is shown to provide breakthroughs in people with professions ranging from a computer programmer to an artist.

Telephone Lock-down

Obviously, one of the best solutions you can implement is left the phone locked up somewhere. This is a very effective solution, but people seem to not like that option.  This, in my opinion, is the best solution to employ during study sessions and meetings. The time of the meeting is shortened, and efficiency is increased. Unfortunately, the number of people who will actually use this strategy is far too low, hence I have a more glamorous and scientific strategy mentioned ahead.

Hungry and Caffeinated

Ancient Greeks were known for their long council meetings after a whole day of fasting. It is now confirmed from research in time-restricted eating that you can gain mental clarity and enhanced cognitive ability after 16-20 hours of fasting (Duke and Montag 2017; Mattson and Wan 2005). Combine that with the effects of coffee you can turn yourself into a hyper-efficient machine for about 3 hours (until you eat). There are also several other health benefits of time restricted eating but that’s for some other time.

The way I found it the easiest is when I have my last meal of the day at around 8 pm and not eat until 12 noon the next day. Once I wake up I will drink a big glass of water with a pinch of salt in it, as you tend to lose water and salts while fasting. I like to do some exercise around 9 am and have a  medium cup of black coffee. It is important that it is black with no fats or sugar added as fats & sugar most definitely will break your fast. I will continue to work like a machine till 12 and then have my late brunch. I wrote my whole MSc thesis on this protocol, worked no more than 3 hours a day and managed to finish my thesis 1 month in advance. There is plenty of research and tons of videos about intermittent fasting which I suggest you take a look at.

The 21st century provides tools for innovation and productivity like no other time in human history but it is a double-edged sword which can very effectively distract us from the important things in life. It is up to us to be vigilant of the things that really matter and device strategies and design environments that remind us of our true priorities.

–By Ashwin Phatak

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Duke, Éilish, and Christian Montag. 2017. “Smartphone Addiction, Daily Interruptions and Self-Reported Productivity.” Addictive Behaviors Reports 6 (December): 90–95.

Mattson, Mark P., and Ruiqian Wan. 2005. “Beneficial Effects of Intermittent Fasting and Caloric Restriction on the Cardiovascular and Cerebrovascular Systems.” The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry 16 (3): 129–37.