There’s a reason for why we look to increase our productivity through task and time management: we’re stressed. Handing such matters over to trusted systems frees up staggering amounts of brain capacity – yet there’s more to gain through in-task notes.Read More
There’s a perfectly good reason for why, even though we try our very best, we end up falling back on our brains when we try to remember something about something instead of just making a quick note of it. It’s called accessibility.
Are you Getting Things Done?
Disclaimer: unless you’re familiar with David Allen’s productivity methodology dubbed Getting Things Done, or GTD, you might lack some context for the theories laid forth herein. In brief summary, a key concept of the GTD is to note down every thought which may at some point either become either something you would want to remember or do something about – for then to process it later at an appropriate time and place.
As it happens, I fervently concur with Mr. Allen, as my view of this is that our brains are not storage facilities – they’re factories.
And it’s always with you. Nothing beats your brain for quick access to information – if only you were able to infallibly access every scrap of information you needed at any given point in time. Which I’m sure you’ve noticed is simply impossible. Our brains are good, old-fashioned analog tools which do an exceptional job of many things (although not simultaneously, despite our deepest desires to marvel at multi-tasking), but they’ll never outperform even a simple scrap of paper for the act of total recall.
Still, it’s so easy to try and store something there. Just like kicking off your shoes right inside the front door and throwing your jacket on the post by the stairs. It’s accessible. It’s easy. It’s quick. It lets us be lazy. And us humans really do want to be lazy – at least when it comes to things we don’t care very much about, which can be said about a great many recurring tasks and chores on both personal and professional levels.
It’s not boring
The second part of the reason is that it’s not boring to use our brains. It’s second nature in a way that taking notes will ever be – because taking notes is boring. Sweet Moses, it’s boring. In fact, you will most likely only learn to partially enjoy taking notes when you’ve been burned a sufficient number of times for not taking them.
And so, your brain becomes Plan B, since Plan A is less accessible, a little harder, a little slower and takes a little more effort.
Deep inside, though, you know Plan A is the one you should be using, so what can you do to stop from reverting to your brain? That’s easy enough, but it still requires some practice to make a habit: get yourself a smartphone with either voice recording capabilities or a note-taking app (preferably with a hardware keyboard for speed, if you can), and carry it in your pocket at all times.
Or, you could try a Hipster PDA, which may very well do the trick for you, but on a personal level I prefer the ability to synchronize the notes I take from my smartphone to a PC where I don’t have to manually copy them. Still, there’s no denying the charm of the Hipster PDA.Read More
Do you own a smartphone? What do you with it? E-mail? Gaming? Light browsing? Regardless of your variety of vice, I’m willing to wager that it’s consuming the small moments of pause in your life – just like it used to be for me.
Confessions of a smartphone sinner
I own a smartphone, and so do most other people I know. I also have been using it too much, which is symptomatic of everybody else I know who owns a sufficiently capable one – meaning it holds a large screen, a snappy processor and a a high-speed Internet connection.
It’s astounding, really, how I’ve found myself reaching almost instinctively for it at every possible opportunity to work, inform or entertain myself as opposed to doing nothing – even though I absolutely, positively love doing nothing.
Yes, I am able to do more of what I like to do because of it. Yes, it is a technological marvel that I enjoy using simply because I marvel at its abilities. Yes, it is immensely practical to have with me if the need should truly arise for its capabilities.
I want to break free
There is, however, a distinct difference between keeping it with me because I might need it and using it such a way that my brain is always spinning at full throttle, thus depleting my mental resources as opposed to letting them recharge by way of the small pauses of life which surround us every day.
Thankfully, I currently find myself in the category of repenting sinner – not quite cured, yet having progressed substantially from the state of addiction that I suffered for a couple of months after upgrading to the latest and greatest.
Now, I mainly do two things with my phone: I take notes (fervently, as my brain is most decidedly a poor excuse for a storage facility), and use it to look up reference information from a well-kept, well-synchronized OneNote repository.
Despite my severe inclination towards all things technology (I used to make a living reviewing consumer electronics), I’ve decided to reach a point where I just leave the damn thing alone unless I need it.
You should try it, too. After all, what harm could it do?Read More
Sometimes, declaring mental bankruptcy may be the only manner in which to escape an unsustainable level of stress – but for the most part, reducing stress is a matter of adhering to three simple guidelines.
Get it out of your head
If something is in your head, it is on your mind. If something is on your mind, it consumes your time, energy and attention. And, as the latter are finite resources, it is only natural that you become stressed when you have too many things on your mind. Furthermore, to quote well-known productivity specialist David Allen: “There’s usually an inverse relationship between how much something is on your mind and how much you’re actually doing about it.”
The natural solution, then would be to get things out of your head.
Your brain is not a storage facility, it’s a factory – and should be treated as such. Unless you can silence the hundred small voices crying out for attention in your head, you will never be able to focus properly on any given task, which negatively impacts absolutely everything you do without exception.
What is required to silence the voices is to move everything in your head – be it a potential task, something you should remember or something that might pique your interest at a later point in timne – into an external system. Your storage medium is irrelevant; choose a phone, paper or a PC depending on what best suits your requirements.
The only unbreakable rule is that you must trust the system utterly and completely, or your brain will maintain a process related to the item – akin to selecting copy, as opposed to cut, in your internal file manager.
With everything placed in an external system, your ability to gain a clear overview of what is on your plate increases by an order of magnitude. There are many complicated ways in which to sort and systemize your tasks, all of which should be avoided like the plague in favour of simply spending enough time with your current task load to let your gut decide whether it is sustainable and what your top priorities should be.
When you have reached this point, it is time to simplify. Anything that can be carried out equally well or possibly even better by someone else should be delegated. Anything with limited impact on your progress towards your goals should be sought eliminated. Ruthlessly. Repetitive or redundant tasks and meetings should be escaped unless they generate real value – which happens disappointingly rarely, and particularly so in large organizations.
I call it the death of passion by committee.
The goal here is not to become a minimalist for the sake of minimalism. Rather, this step of the process is intertwined with the next, which is reflection. They come together to allow for a constant evaluation and re-evaluation of what is important and what should be shed.
Finally, you need time to reflect. Don’t you think that it’s a bit odd that most of us schedule time to work and to play, but not to reflect? In simpler times, we often received a gratis dose of reflection courtesy of plain boredom, as we could find ourselves in situations where this was the only option available. Nowadays, there is always something to distract us, which detracts from our ability to focus on what is important to us in the long term. It’s a vicious circle, too, as the effects only worsen over time.
To counteract this, sit down with your calendar and consciously schedule time for reflection – and only that. As useful as small pauses in the hustle and bustle of daily life can be, there is no replacement for distraction-free time which is utilized for nothing other than thinking about the big picture.
The mere process of clarifying of goals tends to reduce stress levels by letting one realize that the effort is worth it – or, just as likely, decide that the opposite holds true with subsequent simplification through elimination as a result. Remember; there’s a difference between work and passion.
Don’t skimp on the amount of time; at least one to two hours twice a week represents a good start, and you will quickly realize whether you need less – or more. Personally, I also attempt four-hour slots recurring monthly to get an even better perspective.
The simple summary
Information. Omnipotent and omnipresent, the human species’ unquenchable thirst for it has propelled us beyond all limits of imagination – yet, it harbours an oft-overlooked potential for procrastination.
The perfect excuse
From the very moment we are bourne, the predominant task of the incomparable parallell computer which rests atop our spines is fixed: to execute a continuous acquisition of as much information as possible in order to increase the accuracy of our computed solutions for current and future situations where survival may depend upon the amount of knowledge available.
In essence, we are walking sponges – which works well in an environment where information is limited by nature, but less so when faced with the informational equivalent of a firehose.
Nowadays, our addiction to information may very well be causing us as much harm as benefit, in the sense that we spend time consuming and processing it, which impairs our ability to progress beyond our current state and towards our long-term goals.
Have you noticed how easy it is to slip into a little bit of light news reading, or perhaps extend the TV session a little longer than you intended, or even suddenly realize that it’s one o’clock in the morning and you really didn’t intend to be on Facebook that long – yet for some reason, you did?
If there ever was a true form of addiction, information would be it, and little evidence is required beyond the above mentioned. It is hammered into our DNA in such a way that it is crucial to our survival and as such serves as the perfect excuse for our behaviour – yet it is with information as it is with food: gluttony always comes with precarious side effects, which may not be immediately noticeable.
It’s all about the channels
How many hours would you say you spend every day consuming information of some sort? And, more importantly, how much of it holds true value to you? The problem we face today is the ease with which information can be obtained, which leads us to become distracted – and in many cases, enamored, with it. Regardless of type, information then consumes our time, attention and energy in such a manner as to leave these resources depleted for when we have meaningful things to do.
“A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention” -Herbert Simon
Let’s take a quick look at how many ways we can have our information delivered, shall we? First up: audio. You can talk to people, but that’s rarely a source for information unless you work as a journalist. A radio, on the other hand, can be left on all day in one’s car and office – and contrary to popular belief, it is by no means just “background noise”. For some people, even music could be counted in.
Then we have the written word, which comes in the shape of e-mails, text messages, instant messages and various other delivery mechanisms such as project management systems. Plus, there’s books, newspapers, magazines and even old-fashioned letters. In the multimedia department, we find television, movies and, of course, the Internet. News sites. YouTube. Facebook. Flickr. Twitter. MySpace. LinkedIn. And the list just keeps going on.
From time to time when news are slow, I see the media tossing the term Internet addiction around. This is rubbish. Nonsense. Poppycock. Hooey. People are not addicted to the Internet, they are addicted to information. The Internet is simply a delivery system – a series of tubes, if you will.
Activities with benefits
Chances are you already spend quite some time lingering aimlessly in the various channels of information delivery. Are you certain that the time spent consuming information is valuable enough to sacrifice spending quality time with children or a spouse, making room for some quietude, handling a few chores, cooking a high-class meal, having fun with a hobby or perhaps getting some excercise?
Here’s a little challenge for you: stand in front of a mirror, and tell yourself out loud that checking Facebook for the third time today is better for you than some light excercise. Oh, and good luck with that.
What is gained, then, from a reducing the amount of information which you consume? Key to the answer is the fact that information itself consumes time, energy and attention. Consider, if you will, the following example: if you are on your feet all day long, how ready will you be for a bit of soccer or a quick jog when the evening comes? Think about it.
You gain time, energy and attention, which can suddenly be applied with greater force and improved focus upon the activities which matter to you.
Beware, however, of indiscriminate reduction; information is vital to us, and a sufficient consumption will allow us to discover a myriad possibilities which could otherwise have been unknowns. It’s all about the balance.Read More