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Cathy Davidson
Cathy Davidson

Three Easy Ways to Make Your Work More Efficient--And Help Your Body Too

My desktop doesn't separate "leisure" and "work." Does yours?

Birth of the vacation

Birth of the vacation

This was one of those work weeks where everyone I met had too much to do, too little time to do it, and way too many distractions to feel they were accomplishing goals easily, efficiently. "You keep telling us our ability to pay attention isn't the issue?" one colleague fumed at me. "You try posting this budget with HR problems brewing in one email thread and my neighborhood list serv exploding about an an alleged break in! I can't get a thing done today."

My coworker had a point. I was feeling the same way, trying to finish up a major report before leaving for a seven-day work trip. But my point in Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn actually isn't that it's easy for us to pay attention in the modern workplace. My point is that the workplace most of us inhabit was designed for a kind of work that no longer exists. And that has most of us feeling a little overwhelmed.

In a future blog, I'll write more about how virtually all the things we consider to be "work" or "school" or even "life" are rooted in institutions developed by the modern industrial world and designed to instill goals and methods suitable to industrial forms of productive work. People aren't born separating "leisure" and "labor." The "vacation" is a relatively recent human invention. We didn't always divide up "workers" and "managers" (although there are plenty of other power distinctions in human history). We didn't always separate the physical space of "home" from that of "workplace." Cavemen--or even our Founding Fathers--didn't have those particular forms of industrial division either. They've been around for about 120 years, and are accommodations to a new idea of industrial work that came with the steam engine, then the assembly line, then with the modern office.

The Internet scuttles all that. My desktop computer mashes up in one place, on one screen, all the worlds of leisure and labor and worker and manager and home and workplace that the industrial age so carefully divvied up into separate compartments and hierarchies of attention. My budget is due before I leave the office and Aunt Bessie is nagging that I promised to send her my banana bread recipe and she needs it, as she's emailed me a dozen times today, by 6 pm. Who wins? Boss or Bessie? Why doesn't the Internet to my office computer have an "off" switch?

That's the question I put to Aza Raskin, the brilliant young interface designer who, until he left to create his own start up company this past December, was in charge of human-computer interfaces for Mozilla Foundation, the open source web development folks responsible for your Firefox browser. It's used by 360 million people world wide, developed by a nonprofit, and took a quarter of the market share away from a giant no less formidable than Microsoft. The guy who knows how to make compelling design for Mozilla is someone who might know how to organize his own office more efficiently

It turns out Aza has lots to say about how to organize an office. Here are three things he does. First, he has three separate computers at work at any one time. One holds the code or other detailed work project he is doing at the moment but it's static. It has no connection to the Internet at all. Then, sufficiently far away that he has to physically move to another chair, he has email and Google, and all the World Wide Web at his fingertips. Finally, he has a third computer down the hall. This is his fun computer, with Facebook, the video games he likes, and other diversions ready any time he wants them.

Aza has lots of other hints too, and in a future post, I'll return to some of the other clever ones that I discuss in Now You See It. But, for now, this is a pretty good use for some of those old computers and handheld devices knocking around every office. It might work for you. Try it, and let me know how it goes.

About the Author
Cathy Davidson

Cathy N. Davidson currently codirects the annual HASTAC/MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning competitions and has published more than a dozen books.

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