Canadian Lawyer

August 2023

The most widely read magazine for Canadian lawyers

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44 Why productivity hacks won't help FEATURE PRODUCTIVITY won't fix things. "Often, the underlying issue is that there's this workflow that depends on ongoing email communication to get anything done," Newport explained on my How I Work podcast. "If you want systemic change, you have to replace your current workflow with something better. To what extent are you rearranging the deck chairs on the sinking Titanic when you're building a more complicated system for an underlying workflow that's just inevitably going to keep you overwhelmed or not have enough time to work on what's important." Change your communication workflow When Newport was appointed as the university's director of graduate studies, he saw the role as a chance to change his workflow around how he communicated with his team. Newport organized his tasks using a Kanban board, a simple chart to help visualize a project's workflow using the Agile methodology. At its most basic, a Kanban board has three columns: To Do, Doing, and Done. All tasks associated with a project start in the "To Do" column and gradually make their way across to the "Done" column. Newport added in a fourth column labelled "To Discuss." "I realized I could save a ton of email communication through having a 'To Discuss' column," he told me. Every time Newport had something that he needed to ask his department chair or program administrator or anyone else he was working with, he resisted the urge to just shoot off an email in that moment. Instead, he listed the topic for discussion on his board. "While sending an email in the moment HAVING SPENT the last few years researching, writing, and podcasting about the world of productivity, I've learnt that many people – myself included – love a good hack. A productivity hack promises us an easy way to achieve so much more in so much less time. For example, you might have read that batch-checking your email is far more effective than dipping in and out of your inbox multiple times an hour, as most of us do. You might have heard that using website- blocking software such as Freedom will help you stay focused on tasks and not succumb to digital distractions. While both strategies will help improve your productivity, the problem with hacks like these is that they can be like putting a Band-Aid on a gaping wound. If the way we work is fundamentally broken, hacks can only help so much before things come undone. If our inbox remains an over- whelming mess, checking it less won't fix the fundamental problem. Likewise, if you are suffering from digital addiction, website- blocking software may not actually help you overcome your addiction. Get to the root cause Instead of relying on hacks, try to get to the root cause of your productivity prob- lems. Often, this comes down to reviewing your workflow. Workflow is the underlying explicit or implicit system that specifies how your work gets done. Workflow refers to how tasks are assigned, executed, and tracked. For Georgetown University computer science professor Cal Newport, dealing with email overload is a classic example of how the underlying workflow is broken, and how hacks to stay out of your inbox Author and productivity coach Donna McGeorge has some advice on how to use your time more effectively at work to achieve your goals If the way we work is fundamentally broken, hacks can only help so much before things come undone

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