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Reblogged:Newport on Habits and Workflows

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Writing at Study Hacks, Cal Newport draws an interesting distinction that can help clarify thinking about productivity. In "Habits vs. Workflows," he writes:

habits.jpg
Image by Drew Beamer, via Unsplash, license.
When most people talk about personal productivity, they tend to focus on improving the habits they deploy to wrangle their work. For example, batching email, or deploying time blocking to control the flow of their day (which, as longtime readers know, I highly recommend).

There is, however, another relevant layer: the underlying workflows that dictate what you work on and how this work is executed. For example, if you're a project manager at a consulting firm, and you spend much of your day emailing back and forth with your team members to get answers to questions from your clients, this behavior is an implicit workflow that dictates that asynchronous, unstructured messaging is your preferred method for extracting relevant information from your team. [italics in original, link omitted]
Newport indicates that these workflows could be more important than your habits in aiding or hindering your ability do "deep work" (i.e., concentrate on a problem uninterrupted for significant lengths of time). In his manager example, he notes that a couple of short meetings each day could greatly reduce the switching costs inherent in his current method of communicating.

This is a valuable point for two reasons. First, some workflows (like having to check email frequently) look like or can affect habits, and second, control or mitigation of problems caused by workflow might be very different from changing one's habits. Assuming your email habits are good, how you deal with an office workflow that entails lots of email will depend on your ability to change the workflow. If you're the manager, you can change to meetings, but if you're not, you'll have to resort to other strategies. (One of them might be to get someone in charge to try that strategy. Another might be to hide schedule meetings or appointments with oneself (Item 4) for deep work.)

-- CAV

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