In last year's Forbes article, "How To Get Even More From Your Technology: Turn It Off", Kevin Ready makes the case that in order to overcome the evils of our technology, we should walk away or turn it off.
He's not wrong about the evils, and occasionally walking away or turning it off creates a much needed techno-break. However, I believe there's a far more valuable answer: Get control of your technology!
Don't let it overwhelm and distract you. With a few rules for wrestling it under control and modifying your behavior, your tools can be useful and productive, not your enemy.
At Priority Management Associates, we teach people to take the following approach:
Assess it - Learn it - Control it - Work it
Assess it - Does the tool meet your needs?
I've been guilty more than once of buying an app that I thought was cool, with absolutely no idea what the usage would be. Look to pull your tools together anytime possible into a system of tools where each has its purpose; linkage and synchronization are planned for in advance.
Example: I use OneNote for brainstorming ideas, planning small projects, capturing blog ideas/notes and logging my meeting notes. I don’t overlap those duties with other tools or else I'll be confused about which tool I used when I need to retrieve information.
Learn it - Do you know the tools' capabilities?
It's painful and it takes a little effort, but investing the time to learn the app or software is critical. How many times have you looked over someone's should and realized you had missed a key function of your software when they did something you didn't know was possible? The first time someone showed me the speed keys CTRL+ C, X or V, I felt so foolish for all the time I had wasted clicking COPY, CUT and PASTE.
Try not to learn your tech tools from the "techie" perspective, but instead from the "day in the life" perspective. How will I use this in my world? When we teach people how to get their inbox under control in Outlook, IBM Notes or Gmail, it's always amazing to me how few people have taken the time to set up rules or even the folder organization for maximum success.
Control it - Are you using settings and defaults to proactively curb bad behaviors?
I use my alarms on my cell phone and Outlook calendar religiously throughout the day. These curb my bad habit of getting so in the weeds on tasks that I lose track of the time investment vs. the priority. If I estimate that it will take me thirty minutes to write a section of an article, then I set an alarm for that time or push it up against a meeting so I can't go over. I also use rules and sorting in Outlook to focus on critical email before I even think about looking at newsletters or journals.
Getting caught in LinkedIn or Reddit might be another kind of distraction for some people. Consider using "StayFocsd" app with Chrome to limit your time on these more distracting sites. I love the personalizing feature so you can limit your time on your guilty pleasures and then get back to work.
Work it - Do you have a consistent process for using it?
So once you have the right tools, set up for productivity with settings and defaults maximized, it's time to consider your behaviors. Duh, dun, dun, dun!
That's right. Are you working with the tool consistently? Are you flagging emails some days, creating tasks with them on others or just using your inbox as a to do list on others? That behavior will undermine your success every time. Pick a process and stick with it long enough to know if it works for you. No excuses.
For example, in our WorkingSm@rt classes, we teach 4 D's sort process (Delete, Delegate, Do, Decide) for triaging the inbox and I stick with it even when everything else might be falling apart. If you have fallen into skimming your inbox for important stuff and replying to it like you're picking food off of a buffet, you will have things slip between the cracks. It's inevitable and it's not the technology's fault.
Ok, climbing down off my soapbox now. Just don't give up on your technology. There's a wealth of value in your tech tools if you use them effectively and I've seen the difference it can make in people's work, businesses and lives.
Join the PMA team for one or both upcoming one-hour webinars that focuses on increasing your productivity.