18 May 2016

Beware – Over-Use Of Technology Can Make You Less Productive

These days, technological advancements seem to be taking over the world. It affects our lives at home, the way we run businesses, our ability to cope in a non-wired environment, and even our sleep. To name a few, emails, social media, smartphones and apps have optimised the way we communicate with people. Unfortunately, these mediums can also serve as interruptions or “time stealers”.

Complications Instead of Simplicity

At a quick glance, many new “productivity” applications out in the market today appear useful. However, beware of making your “to-do” list more complicated. If something is already working, is it worth the time to tinker with all these so-called “productivity” products? Even though some applications and programmes can literally cut your time in half, others will lead you down the garden path.

I experienced this just the other day. A businessman I respect has come up with a tracking app to monitor your progress on goals and projects.

I decided to give it a try, but it just felt like too much double-handling. Ironically, I was in full flow with developing our new online course on Planning and Prioritising. It teaches the methodology behind making good time decisions so we can prioritise intuitively rather than relying on external prompts. (I’d love you to check it out and give me feedback – I’m very excited about getting it live.) I knew exactly where we were up to on the project, the simple communication systems my contractors and I had set up were working well, and we finished within the deadline. I didn’t need an app to tell me where I was up to, or to remind me to do things. The simple tried and true systems, some of them paper-based, were all we needed to keep track.

Another example is the diary system we choose. If you like your paper diary, stay with it. It’s far faster to write an appointment in a paper diary than to open a computer or diary section of your smartphone. If you’re using a diary that shows you a weekly or monthly view (I use a simple Day-Timer) it also gives you an instant snapshot of your commitments that you can’t see on a smartphone calendar. Many a time I’ve sat waiting with pencil in hand and a complete visual of every week and month open, while my friends or clients who rely on their phone diaries spend a minute or so flicking between screens to find a suitable gap.

However, if you’re at your computer all the time and/or you’re in an organisation where others constantly need to know where you are, electronic calendars make sense.

Choose the level of technology you need, not what others say you need. Their requirements may be very different from yours.

Email Is A Productivity Drain

Don’t get me wrong – I would hate to do business without it. But it is over-relied on.

So many people say ‘I keep my email programme open in case the boss/client/Very Important Person needs me’. I’m not suggesting that we ignore email, but it is a huge time-stealer if not managed well. Hardly any of us REALLY need to know that something has just arrived. If it’s that urgent there’s a telephone and a range of other ways to reach people.

What happens when you’re interrupted by a notification or email alert in the middle of an important task? After tending to the distraction, it takes most of us, most of the time, between 10 – 20 times the length of the interruption to get back on task. A 30 second interruption might take us 5 – 10 minutes to re-engage with the work we were doing.

The issue is the switching time. Jonathan Spira, author of the book ‘Overload! How Too Much Information Is Hazardous To Your Organization‘ says:

“Each time an individual switches tasks and tries to return to the previous task he has to go back in time and recollect his thoughts and recall exactly what he has done and what he has yet to do. Some repetitive work may be involved as well (e.g. redoing the last few steps.)”

Technology that demands your constant attention can do more harm than good. Do you ever go home really tired at the end of the day but feeling unsatisfied? Does your week ever feel like a marathon of unfinished tasks? Notice how often you are interrupted – or interrupt yourself – and how long it takes to get re-focused.

Two-Step Solution

An effective solution is to eliminate the distraction altogether. I’m not saying to get rid of your email accounts or stop reading about the latest business trends. Just turn off the notifications or put your phone on silent when you don’t want to be interrupted.

The next step is to set a schedule for when you should use those applications or devices. This can prevent your mind from aimlessly getting distracted. Adjusting to this method may be difficult in the beginning because we have all become used to tending to our devices every time it makes a sound.

Over time, you can be successful in managing the technology around your home or office. Expect to complete tasks more efficiently, and get the boost of productivity you’ve always wanted!


A version of this article also appears in Robyn’s regular NZ Herald Online column

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