Emails, social media and mobile messaging applications can make your job easier and more productive. I can’t imagine a life without my smartphone (thank you Steve Jobs!). If you have ever lost your phone, you know what I mean.
We are currently travelling in Europe and my wife’s phone got stolen last week so we are sharing my phone for a few days. This is how we sound: “You are not working! You are checking Instagram again!!” (The way my wife can stretch out “again” into more syllabus than possible is particularly impressive.)
In my previous post “Task Switching Kills Productivity”, I discussed the cost of task switching. The mental resources required to change “context” from one task to another can drain our energy and cause unhealthy stress over time.
In much the same way, unfortunately, being “connected” all the time also comes with unwanted side effects (not to mention an angry wife). We waste time and attention on relatively unimportant digital distractions. This is bad for our productivity but even worse, it can lead to increased stress levels and serious health problems.
“Our smartphones whine at us like petulant children”
– Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
In fact, a small in-house experiment (commissioned by Porter-Novelli, the London publicists of Hewlett-Packard) on the negative effects of “always-on” technology, dubbed “infomania” showed clearly that technological distraction diminished IQ test performance by 10 points. While this effect is temporary, it nonetheless still distracts us from what should have been better performance at work if we are not distracted.
How do we fix this? In this week’s post, I will describe 4 easy steps to take control of all your digital interactions.
1) Off grid time
Psychology Professor Larry Rosen (HBR June 2015) recommends “off grid” time as a behavior principle to wean yourself from your digital devices. This basically means that you have certain time when you are not allowed to touch your digital devices.
I have tried this in several forms, and for me it works best to not check my phone:
- from 8pm every night until I’m ready with my morning program. (I have to admit that I was previously guilty of checking my phone several times a night…and would often reply to emails and other messages. I know, it’s crazy!).
- when I have my planned “focus time”. I try to spend 90 mins every morning to do things that are most important to build our business. According to Nigel Booterill and Martin Gladdish (authors of “Build your business in 90 minutes a day”), 90 mins is the maximum time you should spend doing any activity if you want to maintain performance to the best of your ability.
2) Schedule specific time every day to manage your inboxes.
One of my solutions has been to avoid checking emails and text messages other than on predefined time slots. I schedule three 20 minutes time slots every day to check my inboxes (emails, calls, messaging applications).
This is not as easy as it sounds. I have to control myself not to check my phone outside of these timeslots. If you manage to do this, you will see a real boost in productivity.
3) Use “Do it, delegate it or defer it” model
I use the “Do it, delegate it or defer it” model to manage all my inboxes:
- Do it – if it takes less than 2 minutes, I will reply immediately.
- Delegate it – if it takes longer than 2 minutes, I will ask myself if I am the right person to reply. If the answer is no, I delegate it.
- Defer it – If the action takes longer than 2 minutes and I’m the right person to reply, I have to defer it to another time.
I never spend more than 2 minutes to reply an email or a text message during these predefined time slots. I try to strictly follow the “do it, delegate it or defer it” model. If I need more than 2 minutes, I schedule a specific slot in my calendar.
4) Schedule specific time for social media
Social media is the most powerful form of marketing we have ever seen. At the same time, the success will not come without hard work.
I have started to schedule two 30 minutes sessions everyday for social media. I believe it’s important to stay connected and I found that this time is sufficient for me to manage my social media interactions (Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin and Twitter).
I have found that it’s very important to stick to my predefined timeslots. It can be very hard to resist the life that the social media machine has created for us. It’s easy to get caught up in a conversation, scrolling aimlessly through your friend’s post on Facebook or check your Likes on Instagram.
If you have to prioritize, keep in mind that social media is about building relationships with your target audience. You don’t have to have one million followers or get 10 000 likes on every post (if you are not a celebrity). What is important is that you build trust among the people that matter to you (friends, family, potential customers, business partners, investors etc).
Are you always ‘on’ but never really paying attention?
We can’t ignore the value of being “connected” and interacting with others. However, we must control ourselves so that we don’t blindly follow where our digital interactions take us. We have to be mindful about our purpose and be the master of our digital life. We also need to make sure that we get time to “disconnect” and reflect.
I would like to learn more from you. What are you doing to manage your digital life? I personally feel that I could use more tools to be more efficient. What tools are you using?