Working Productivel – Oh, Look a Text!

Bob powered through a 14-hour work day without any breaks. Bob multitasked like a champion. Bob only accomplished half of what he intended. Bob is tired. Don’t be like Bob.

Do you ever notice how, by some sinister joke, your 14-hour work effort has produced minimal results? This disheartening end-of-day conclusion has become the status-quo in the modern work space, often demanding Herculean efforts and around-the-clock availability. At the heart of work demands is one constant need – productivity.

Employees often feel pinned between a lack of time and a need to be effective, pressuring them to accomplish tasks in tandem. In fact, human beings tend to pride themselves on their ability to divide their attention. Why focus on a single task, when you can do five at once?

These juggling acts are formally defined as (Alzahabi, Becker, & Hambrick 2017):

Task switching – the performance of two or more tasks in series. This category includes task interruptions and resumptions. You know, like when you’re in the middle of coding and your phone pings…then your e-mail pings….then your slack pings…what were you doing again?

Multitasking – the performance of two or more tasks simultaneously. 

What seems like an innocuous sharing of your attention between two or more tasks actually causes 50% more time to be spent on each (Veazie, 2016). Even distractions as short as three seconds long can double the number of errors employees make in their work (Veazie, 2016).

Why does your brain become such a slow poke? One factor is dual task interference. Multitasking requires both tasks being held in your working memory at the same time, and while practice can improve your talent of dividing labor, we are all limited by our brain’s processing capacity (Feuer, 2016). Picture patting your head while rubbing your belly in a circular motion at the same time… while also balancing a spoon on your nose.

Similarly, task switching has its own “switch costs”. Jumping between tasks requires effortful transitions as you enter one and exit another. Every time you lose focus or become distracted, your brain has to take time to re-retrieve this information (Alzhabi, Becker, & Hambrick, 2017). Before you can listen to a book, you first have to find it on Audible!

Once you've decided to switch tasks, you might be thinking you’re ready for some serious focus. Not necessarily. It takes time and effort for your brain to let go of something it was previously working on, and until it does, it will loudly interfere with your efforts in the present (Alzhabi, Becker, & Hambrick, 2017). Like when you stub your toe and then immediately try to have a deep and meaningful conversation with your significant other.

Since both task switching and multitasking lead to slowed responses and higher error rates, here are some things you can do to stay on your A game:

1.     Minimize interruptions

I know, I know, you need to be connected at all times, but responding reactively to e-mails and texts create a false sense of productivity. It pulls your attention away from your more important tasks at hand.

I challenge you to try 15-minutes of zero phone notifications, email alerts, instant messaging, or self-interruptions of checking your social media. This means you have to silence your phone, place it face down, and close any e-mail tabs and chat groups. Follow this with an intentional two minute time-block to check in with your digital distractions before jumping into the next distraction-free zone.

DO NOT PANIC: disconnection will feel uncomfortable. With practice, you'll increase your focusing capabilities (Stringer, 2017).

2.     Cue your brain

Plan before you start, either in the evening or the morning before you get to work. Think about which tasks are important and what you’ll need to do to accomplish them. Block off your best guess of what these time commitments will be in your calendar. 

This exercise primes your neural pathways so that they can retrieve the relevant task data more efficiently when you need it, shortening your mental preparation time (Alzhabi, Becker, & Hambrick, 2017). Reactivity is draining; shift into forethought.  

3.     Schedule breaks

Your brain needs down time to process and recover, ideally stretching its legs every 45 minutes. This means you should be taking a break of 5 to 10 minutes, at least every hour (Burchard, 2017). An effective break hack is changing postures. Standing up and walking around will also increase blood flow to your brain and boost your brain power.

Bob planned his day. Bob checked his e-mails five times at work. Bob worked 14 hours and took 14 breaks. Bob got a lot done. Did Bob smile? Be like Bob.

Blog by Kayla Noodelman: productivity pro, digital diva, full-time therapist

Edited by Robin Noodelman: computing connoisseur, distraction-inclined dramatist, part-time editor


Alzhabi, R., Becker, M. W., & Hambrick, D. Z. (2017). Investigating the relationship between media multitasking and processes invovled in task-switching. Journal Of Experimental psychology: Human Perception And Performance, 43(11), 1872-1894. Doi:10.1037/xhp0000412

Aufschnaiter, S., Kiesel, A., Dreisbach, G., Wenke, D., & Thomaschke, R. (2018). Time-based expectancy in temporally structured task switching. Journal Of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception And Performance, 44(6), 856-870. Doi:10.1037/xhp0000494

Burchard, B. (2017). High performance habits. Hay House.

Feuer, M. (2016). The ‘Survival of the Fittest’ mentality. Smart Business Akron/Canton, 25(8), 51.

Koch, I., Poljac, E., Muller, H., & Kiesel, A. (2018). Cognitive structure, flexibility, and plasticity in human multitasking – An integrative review of dual-task and task-switching research. Psychological Bulletin, 144(6), 557-583. Doi:10.1037/bul0000144

Kushlev, K., & Dunn, E. W. (2015). Checking email less frequently reduces stress. Computers in Human Behavior, 43, 220-228.

Kushlev, K., Proulx, J., & Dunn, E. W. (2016). “Silence Your Phones”: Smartphone Notifications increase Inattention and Hyperactivity Symptoms. CHI ’16 Proceedings of the 2016 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 1011-1020.

Rana, M. (2015). Positive psychology and its importance at workplace. Indian Journal Of Positive Psychology, 6(2), 203-206.

Stringer, H. (2017, September). Boosting productivity research identifies small changes that lead to big improvements in performance. Retrieved June, 2018, from

Veazie, J. I. (2016). The Number One Productivity Killer. Health Care Collector: The Monthly Newsletter For Health Care Collectors, 30(1), 4-6.

Weurm J, (2017, March). (Dis)Connected Psychologists’ research shows how smartphones are affecting our health and well-being, and points the way toward taking back control. Retrieved June, 2018, from

Photo via Unsplash

Clarity Like an Overpriced Diamond

Advice regarding the importance of clarifying your life goals seems to be as ubiquitous as Netflix binges.  We all accept the need to determine some meaningful end destination, so that we can navigate how the hell to get there. Wise advice from Yogi Berra quotes, “If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up somewhere else.”

Seems simple enough. Why is it then, that we so often feel utterly uncomfortable in our skins as we walk through life? That so many people experience painful emotions along the journey? The culprits of self-doubt, inadequacy, and insecurity often leave us feeling afraid, shameful, and anxious.

Hacking Berra’s words, I say, “If you don’t know who you are, you might become somebody else by the time you get there.” I'm talking about a little something mental health advocates like to call self-concept clarity (SCC).

SCC is the ability to confidently and clearly define a specific set of self-knowledge: your self-beliefs, self-values, and self-traits (Ritchie, Sedikides, Wildschut, and Gidrun, 2011). It is the process of regulating the comparison between your current self and future goal self. More than that, it provides you with a stable framework for how to act with people and things in the world and can let you do this with intention and a greater sense of control (Ritchie, Sedikides, Wildschut, and Gidrun, 2011).

SCC is important because as it increases, so do other fun things, like:

-       meaningfulness in life

-       life satisfaction

-       self-esteem

-       capacity for positive emotions, such as joy (Ritchie, Sedikides, Wildschut, and Gidrun, 2011; Shin, Steger, and Henry, 2016).

Ritchie, Sedikides, and Wildschut (2011) conducted a study that concluded SCC also mediates the relationship between stress and subjective well-being. This means that with certainty of identity comes a stronger base of support for your mind and spirit. You'll become less vulnerable to the mean-spirited back-handed remarks of those around you. Like a Marvel superhero, the stronger your SCC, the more impervious you'll be to life's stresses.  

People naturally grow and change as they accumulate different experiences and are affected by them. So, take some time to identify your strengths and weaknesses. Take some time to figure out what matters most to you. Repeat. You likely have different values today than you had two years ago. This is a periodic and lifelong process of intentional reflection.

You might be thinking, “Sounds quite excellent. Got any quick tips?” Indeed, my friends, I’m so glad you asked. Here are two of my favourite tactics for intentionally generating some SCC, with a little TLC* on the side.

*Tender love and care, not the band. Please do not go chasing any waterfalls.

1.     Three to be

We all have multiple versions of ourselves that steal the spotlight at different times and contexts. Scroll through your inner rolodex and think of a favourite version of yourself from the past, consider your current character strengths, and imagine your best future self.

Looking at these versions of you, pick three traits that you want to be at the heart of your personality. Let these three words become your clarity checkpoint. 

Consider these traits before choosing your actions as well as using them to reflect upon how you navigated through the day. This enables you to step into your best self with intention, so that you can figure out how you want to engage with others and respond to different situations (Burchard, 2017).

My current 'three to be' are calm, kind and smart. I find it helpful to use a timed reminder with these traits listed on my phone to refocus myself  throughout the day. 

2.     Invoke your integrity

When life’s challenges cause you to feel insecure, take a minute to affirm your values. Don’t let Sally Sassy-Pants make you feel stupid when she speaks to you with holier than thou condescension.   

Remind yourself of who you are and of the things that are important to you. With them in mind, think of a time when your actions reflected those values (Hendrikson, 2018).

These are moments of integrity that you are proud of, and these memories will help ground your best character in the present so that you can determine the action or response that is right for you (Hendrickson, 2018).

Understanding who you are, what the world is like, and how you fit in the world and interact with it is invaluable (Shin, Steger and Henry, 2016). Listen, it’s great that you have some life direction and that you want to be somebody. Let’s just make the ‘who’ of that equation more specific, so that the ‘how’ of getting there matches your insides.


Blog by Kayla Noodelman: inward investigator, nimble navigator, full-time therapist.

Edited by Robin Noodelman: clarity chaser, grounded gamer, part-time editor.


Burchard, B. (2017). High performance habits. Hay House.

Hendrikson, E. (2018, March 16). What to do (and Not Do) When You Feel Insecure. Retrieved from

Kusec, A., Tallon, K., & Koerner, N. (2016). Intolerance of uncertainty, causal uncertainty, causal importance, self-concept clarity, and their relations to generalized anxiety disorder. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, 45(4), 307-323.

Ritchie, T. D., Sedikides, C., Wildschut, T., Arndt, J., & Gidron, Y. (2011). Self-concept Clarity Mediates the Relation between Stress and Subjective Well-being. Self & Identity, 10(4), 493-508).

Shin, J. Y., Steger, M. F., & Henry, K. L. (2016). Self-concept clarity’s role in meaning in life among American

Photo via Unsplash

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