Productivity Through Ignorance: The Broken Clock Theory
Earlier this week, I was working at my desk and looked up at the little clock in the right hand corner of my screen. It was before noon and while things were a bit busy… I felt like I was working at a pretty decent clip.
I went back to some emails, and to some planning notes.
I looked up again some time later, and thought “Wow, it’s still early.” Patting myself on the back for being such a productive dynamo, I put my head back down and continued to work.
Some more time later, I looked at the clock on my computer. “I can’t believe it,” I thought to myself, “I’m getting so much done today and it’s not even lunchtime yet. I can’t believe it’s only 11:40 AM.”
I wrote some more emails, and did some more planning.
When I finally looked up again, my stomach was grumbling. “I should eat something” was my thought, “but it’s still so early. I know I’m feeling hungry at the moment, but it’s only 11:40 AM and it’s not even…”
When I moused over the time, I got the rainbow wheel (the Mac equivalent of the PC hourglass). No nothing, just a spinner. Apparently my clock had frozen at some point earlier in the morning (likely 11:40 AM). When I looked around at a coworker’s computer… I found out it was actually 1:49 PM!
For a while, I cursed my misfortune and couldn’t believe that I let the day slip by me like that. But the more I stopped to think about things, the more I realized how productive I felt, how much more I felt like I had accomplished.
By ignoring the time, I remained focused on the tasks at hand, on the things I was working on. In the same way that Merlin Mann recommends ignoring the *DING*, I’m going to recommend looking at the clock a little less during your workday.
Now, I’m not advocating totally ignoring the clock. There are meetings you’ve agreed to, and those are commitments you’ve made involving other people’s time. By all means, keep your promises there. But try not to let the clock distract you too much from the here and now.
After having my clock freeze on me, all morning I felt like a powerhouse, like I was blowing through a ton of work. It was the first time in a long while that I had felt so positive about my accomplishments. Perhaps it was just me getting more comfortable with my new role in the company. But I strongly credit my feelings of accomplishment that morning to the fact that I was paying more attention to the work in front of me, as opposed to that little ticking clock beside me.
Ever since I listened to his “Living with Data” talk, I’ve since incorporated his suggestion to only receive email manually. It was a weird process at first, but now it’s absolutely part of my workflow… and I love it. I’m less stressed out about the flood of messages coming my way, and I’m able to address those messages on my own terms, when I’m ready for them.
I think I’ll try to see what turning off my clock is like at work next week. After all, I’ll have meeting reminders going off 15 minutes prior – so I won’t be totally in the dark. I wonder what having no clock is going to be like. I wonder if I’ll actually be more productive… or just feel more productive.