In my previous role I worked for an international non-profit and, as part of my work, I occasionally traveled overseas. Recently, I was on a red-eye flight from Ghana in West Africa returning to the US. Once we got to cruising altitude and after the flight crew served dinner to the passengers, people were looking to sleep through as much of the remaining flight time as possible. I looked around and it struck me, as people tucked themselves in and closed their eyes for some rest, how many still had their backseat entertainment displays at full brightness. Did they not realize it could be turned off? Did it not even cross their minds that it was possible? Whether conscious of it or not, leaving the screens on would certainly impact both the amount and quality of the sleep they got (which honestly isn’t great to begin with, while flying). This probably happens in other settings…
You’re surrounded, but that’s ok
We all are impacted by technology in one way or another each and every day. Case in point, you’re most likely reading this article on your phone or while sitting at your laptop. Even people that try to avoid technology can’t help but regularly come into contact with it each time they buy their groceries, make a phone call, watch a show, or even drive a car.
Take a moment and examine your current environment. How many buttons, switches, knobs, screens, and speakers do you find around you? Inside or behind each one is at least some amount of circuitry and computing ability to make them work and, hopefully, better your life through their operation. To put it simply, in this modern world in which we all live, technology surrounds us. Additionally, depending on your age, the vast majority of this technology has come about during your lifetime that can result in some unanticipated side effects.
With so much technology around, consider how you engage with it. Technology and the many forms it can take can be exciting, bothersome, empowering, or devastating. Ultimately, with the wrong approach, it can impede your productivity, but with the right one, you can continue on your path to becoming Asian Efficient. Let’s dig into this further…
Accept vs. Affect
Much like the Fixed vs. Growth mindset discussed in the book Mindset by Carol Dweck, Ph.D., I believe that everyone has a default approach when it comes to engaging and utilizing technology. I refer to it as the Accept vs. Affect Mindset. You either simply accept how a technology/device/program works and do your best to accommodate the results or, alternatively, you do what you can to affect how they work and serve you. It’s this difference in engagement that ultimately determines if something helps or hinders your productivity.
What you may not be regularly realizing is that to one degree or another, you can change the things around you, the devices in your life, or the programs you use. You can, in most cases, affect them in some way to keep them from being distractions or impediments and, instead, better utilize them as the tools that they are.
Ok, but is this really a problem?
Of course, any individual inefficiency will hardly have a measurable impact on your work. However, the collective impact of dozens or even hundreds of inefficiencies day after day will absolutely add up to lost time, increased frustration, and less-than-ideal results. Instead, stop, examine, and consider the possibilities. Here’s a simple example that might be interesting to non-OmniFocus power users:
OmniFocus is a popular application frequently mentioned by the AE team for organizing your tasks using the GTD (Getting Things Done) methodology. Take the following textbook way to create a new task:
- Click on the OmniFocus icon in your dock to switch to it
- Click the File menu
- Select New Action
- Define the task and details (project, context, defer, and due date)
- Hit enter to save
- Switch back to your original application
- Reorient and resume your work
Not terribly complicated, but certainly not the most efficient. There is a better way. Were you aware that OmniFocus has a Quick Entry shortcut? While doing anything else on your computer, you can bring up a small screen to capture an item the moment it comes to mind:
- Type the Quick Entry shortcut keys (⌃⌥Space by default)
- Define the task and details
- Click save
Not only are there several fewer steps, but, by not taking you completely away from what you’re doing, you’ll be able to resume your work much easier as there’s less disruption. Realize how frequently this happens and you start understanding the compound effect of distraction and extra effort.
But I don’t get technology
Experience and comfort-levels can play a big role in whether you accept or affect technology. When I earlier mentioned how most technologies came about in our lifetimes, that isn’t exactly true for everyone. The Baby Boomer generation lived most of their lives without pervasive technology so it can be very easy to be unaware and unsure. At the other extreme, the Millennial generation has known nothing but, and seems to have been born with, an inherent interest in trying new things and learning all about them.
If you’re more Boomer than Millennial or even just new to technology, don’t feel bad. It’s quite fair to acknowledge and admit ignorance or uncertainty. When you don’t know if you can change something, let alone how to, it’s only reasonable to just put up with it. The challenge is to be aware of the situation, make an assessment, and then decide which approach to take.
Perhaps you’ve felt the pressure to use OmniFocus or similar task management application and, even after weeks of use, you still struggle and feel that you were managing better with your paper journal. Great! That’s the awareness you should embrace. Rather than accept your situation because you’re supposed to, you should instead be conscious enough of how it’s impacting you and make the right decision so you can further improve your effectiveness.
I want to help you become more aware of all the various tools, devices, and general infrastructure that surrounds us and to truly give some thought how it may be affecting you. It’s likely more than you would initially have thought. You know the flashing 12:00 of the office microwave in the distance? The one just enough in your peripheral vision as you look at your screen it frequently breaks your concentration? Do you just accept that as it distracts you countless times each day or do you address it by setting the time or reorient your workspace in a different direction?
How to overcome it
First, be aware
Ask yourself questions like:
- How is this thing affecting me?
- Am I working efficiently or getting frustrated, distracted, or derailed?
- Are there bottlenecks that are slowing me down?
- Is there a better way?
Look for repeat offenders
Thanh is a believer and advocate of the ‘3 times rule‘ which guides you to address anything that bothers you three times (or more). That is a very good starting point and can definitely apply to a device, program, or appliance you use regularly.
Does the program or device have a manual? Read it. You might learn of an option or capability you weren’t aware of or had forgotten. One easy trick is to use Google or YouTube to find out if others might have tips or ‘hacks’ that could apply. Lastly, never underestimate the helpfulness of people you know. Ask a colleague or friend that might have some experience to give suggestions. In the Dojo, AE’s private productivity training library with a community, members would often ask about apps or software before they purchase it.
Go low tech
Sometimes, the best and most productive thing you can do is turn them off, put them away, or even leave them behind entirely to work in a decidedly low-tech environment like the beach or park. You can opt instead for a more old-world solution. Computers are great, but a paper-based solution might serve you better. Additionally, an ‘analog’ method keeps the distractions of social media from encroaching on your focus time.
Bake it into your routine
When you do your end-of-day or end-of-week review, reflect on how you well you have been working. Set aside time to sharpen the saw of your various physical and digital tools.
How it works in my life
I’ve worked my entire career in IT. As anyone similarly in the profession can attest, IT folks need to always be comfortable with technology so I typically fall in the affect approach to things. Technology and tools are always changing and the job needs to keep pace. The good people even get excited about a new challenge and can be considered skills collectors as they build a catalog of knowledge to use in their jobs.
I’m also an ‘information is power’ kinda guy so I naturally will explore the nooks and crannies of a program or buttons and dials on a device. I want to see what capabilities it has or the settings that can be changed. It helps me determine how I might use it for the work I need to do or if, instead, I need to change how I work to fit with it.
One last example
I just replaced my phone. In setting it up, I could have restored from a backup, accepting the years and years worth of settings and accumulated applications. Instead, I decided to start from scratch and consider each application, each setting, and evaluate how it relates to how I work. It takes quite a bit of time when compared to the alternative, but I’ll be much more efficient in the long term after re-optimizing such a core technology in my daily life.
Now take it on
Hopefully, I have made a sufficient case that tools you use should be just that: tools. The better you can wield them, the better you’ll be. The task now is to examine your physical and digital environments with a critical eye. The ones that are simply obstacles to your efficiency? Don’t accept them, but instead eliminate or replace them so they stop slowing you down. The ones that help you? Learn how you can affect them so you can bend them to your will to make them even better.
- Look around your workspace (physical or virtual) for some gizmo or icon that catches your eye.
- Examine it. How have you simply accepted how it functions?
- How can you affect it to help you work better?
- Make a note to repeat these steps daily.
- Get more done and feel better about it.
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