how to be more productive

How to be more productive: your virtual workspace

Author: Sergio Van Pan

In the future, you’ll be able to connect our brains directly to computers, just like to a remote server, but without a Graphical User Interface. For now, you need an interface, not only on the computer’s end but also on the brain’s end. And both require tuning to achieve top productivity results. This is Part III of our Ideal Work Environment guide.

To interact with a computer, the brain uses eyesight, motor centers, and working memory. And if the computer’s settings aren’t correctly calibrated for these systems, efficiency problems arise. To avoid them, you need maximum compatibility between both interfaces. This can be achieved by using the ‘deep work’ methodology, introduced by Georgetown University computer science professor Cal Newport.

Vision: remove distractions from the screen

Our eyesight is generally very resource-intensive. 30% of the neurons of the cerebral cortex are dedicated to our vision. To put that into perspective: only 8% are dedicated to our sense of touch, while only 3% are dedicated to our hearing.

If you were to simply close your eyes (and turn off this insatiable faculty for a short while) you would be able to remember the details of a recent party 44% more accurately, and you’d be able to pass a creativity test better.

Imagine how much you could increase your productivity if you reduce the extra load on the visual centers of the brain while working on your computer. Studies show that the absence of additional visual stimuli reduces the energy consumption of focused work and increases its duration by one and a half times.

How to be more productive? Use the ‘Via Negativa’ or subtraction principle that economist Nassim Taleb recommends. The idea is simple: sometimes, to solve a problem, you need to remove something, not add something else. So, what visual interface elements can you painlessly ‘remove’?

Try turning off pop-up notifications for e-mails and social media.

Set a plain wallpaper without pictures that divert your attention.

Think about whether you really need a clock, a calendar, a widget with a news feed, or a weather forecast on your desktop while you’re working.

Motor centers: how to focus better

Having a different app for every part of the job seems like a good idea until you find out that according to statistics, you waste 30 minutes or more on switching between your apps. The problem isn’t just wasted time. You also lose focus. Often, you need to find the app first, then navigate its interface, and sometimes you can’t even remember why you opened it. The most drastic solution to this problem is to simply uninstall unnecessary apps, according to productivity expert Tim Ferris.

For instance, do you really need an email client? You can always check your mail in the browser. But there’s also a more flexible approach: replacing dozens of separate apps with a universal one, which includes everything you need. The best option is a smart browser that provides access to online services, editing software, calendars, task managers, and web applications.

how to be more productive
The future of online work, as we see it, is in integrating desktop apps with your browser. In Sidekick, apps can be instantly added or removed, depending on your tasks, giving you full control over your virtual work environment.

Working memory: avoid multitasking

We don’t only waste time and divert our attention when switching between applications and windows. Productivity’s main adversary is multitasking. The challenge is that the brain can’t perform two cognitive tasks at the same time. It only creates the illusion of multitasking by seamlessly switching from one task to another, but this ‘imperceptibility’ doesn’t come without its consequences.

It takes about 23 minutes to refocus back on a primary activity after being distracted by another. This phenomenon is called attention residue. Essentially, attention residue is when the brain continues to pursue a previous task to bring it to its logical conclusion. This means that we don’t have enough resources to distribute for our essential tasks.

According to RescueTime statistics, we switch between tasks more than 300 times a day. So, if you were to look into your brain’s task manager, you’d see many of these background operations consuming your working memory and increasing your stress levels.

For ‘single-tasking,’ you can take advantage of the nudge theory. The point is to create conditions in which the desired action becomes the most convenient and natural choice. Traditionally, sales items are placed on shelves so that they are easier to notice and easier to reach according to this very principle.

You can create your workspace in Sidekick for each project, removing everything that isn’t relevant to your actual task, turning off notifications, and allocating time for deep work in Sidekick’s environment. Your working session can be saved and reactivated at any time, and the entire toolset can be used for focusing and refocusing.