While stuck in O'Hare on Saturday, I wrote a post about personal productivity as related to "email overload" and rounded up some tips. (Written while being stranded at O'Hare airport due to flight cancellations does not always allow neurons to connect ....) After posting it, I remembered the phrase - "Social Productivity" that I read in one of the final chapters of "Connect: A Guide To the New Way of Working on the Web" by Anne Zelenka. I didn't have the book with me and couldn't quite remember exactly the details, but googled a bit and found this post from her personal blog about productive multi-tasking.
Then I got a track back from the email dashboard blog that rounded up all posts that responded to the New York Times article about information overload. It pointed to a post from Stowe Boyd called "Information Overload, Schmoverload" that suggested the article was another attack on connectedness and whole brain attention.
"The old school thinking is about individual productivity: but the social revolution has moved past that into network productivity, which entails connectedness and social meaning. The personal hit on productivity is real, but it's not a cost: it's an investment; and the juice is worth the squeeze."
Stowe goes on to clarify that personal productivity is not the way to measure the benefits of social tools and coins a phrase "network productivity" - perhaps better described as "network effectiveness" which in my mind consists of the Three "R's" of network weaving (relationship building, rewards, and reciprocity) -- all of which involve tasks that take time. Stowe Boyd says much better:
As we have moved from hierarchical, top-down, centralized work -- think Henry Ford's assembly lines or the pre-Internet global corporation -- to networked, bottom-up, edgewise work personal productivity has been trumped by network productivity. Network productivity is the effectiveness of a person's entire network: contacts, contacts of contacts, and so on.
Connected people will naturally gravitate toward an ethic where they will trade personal productivity for connectedness: they will interrupt their own work to help a contact make progress. Ultimately, in a bottom-up fashion, this leads to the network as a whole making more progress than if each individual tries to optimize personal productivity. (Trust me, its provable. I studied queuing theory in graduate school.) I call this Boyd's Law, by the way.
Perhaps more importantly, the willingness to assist others leads to closer social connections, and increases the likelihood of reciprocal behavior, where an obsession with personal productivity does not.
He also talks about the value of "disconnecting" - to focus on the other tasks - but suggests that our bias should be towards being connected.
My argument is not really about the downside of missing something flowing by the torrent of information everyday, nor is it about being a busy little bee working like mad on some sort of modern information assembly line. It is about the psychological, spiritual, and work benefits of connection. Note that for these to hold, people will have to learn to be much more judicious in the determination of who -- and how many -- they will connect with. The willingness to swap personal productivity for connection is just that: it is an ethical choice that asserts that the bonds of connection, today and over time, are more important -- not just abstractly, but in the most concrete way -- than making headway on this piece of work, right now.
He also builds an argument for multi-tasking or rather the overhead of multi-tasking.
Yes, it is true that moving from one full brain task to a different full brain task has a high cost of participation, especially for some one who doesn't transition from task to task on a regular basis. However, learning to operate in a flow mind state, where partial attention is being paid to "partial tasks", can lead to the transitions costing less at each interruption.
I'm reading John Medina's Brain Rules. There is a whole chapter on attention and it covers multi-tasking and Medina observes that multi-tasking is myth because the human brain is not capable of focusing on more than one thing. He outlines the process that we go through when "multi-tasking" - it is more like rapid attention shifting between tasks. (Shift Alert, Activate Task 1, Disengagement, Activate Task 2). He says the brain does these four steps in sequence each time we shift from one task to another. That's why people loose track in the middle - now where was I? when switching tasks.
He suggests that those who appear to be good a multi-tasking actually have good working memories, capable of paying attention to several inputs at one time. According to the research that Medina points to - it takes longer to complete a task -- so there in lies the meaning of what Stoww Boyd was saying about participation in his piece.
So, I'm wondering where the sweet spot between personal productivity and networked productivity comes into play? More on this in the comments to this post. I also twittered this question and got some thoughtful responses:
While I know what you are getting at, I feel connectedness and productivity needn't necessarily be at either end of a gtd continuum
I think of it as appropriate balance between input and output.
I am wondering how nonprofits may (or may not) appreciate the value of networked productivity. In a recent article over at NpTech News called "Twitter: Networking on the Run"
But the best "value proposition" of Twitter, one that seems to be shared by many of Twitter's early adopters, was summed up by Cloward. "I'm better at my job because of Twitter, because I have access to a wide network that I didn't before. I can ask questions, get them answered, share information, and get feedback. The reason why organizations send staff to conferences is to 1) gain knowledge, and 2) network. Twitter lets me do that every day."
All this leads me to ask:
- Does your organization value or understand the concept "networked productivity"? Why or why not?
- How do you balance networked productivity with personal productivity?
- What is the value of "disconnecting" and do you think your organization has a bias towards connectedness or disconnectedness?