Do you remember the first time one of your friends began using a cellular telephone? I do. It was in college. The thing was huge. It required a separate battery pack and an antenna had to be mounted on the exterior of my friend’s car. It was big, bulky, but we all wanted one. Seeing someone have such accessibility to the rest of the world held an aura of freedom.
The awe that I once held of accessibility and freedom toward the cell phone has turned into a tether of enslavement for most people. As we fast-forward from the pagers and bulky cell phones of the 1980s to today, think of all that has changed. Smart phones and tablets, such as the iPad, have changed how we communicate. A few decades ago, the transfer of information to a pager was minimal. Now, I recently held a video conference from my cell phone while I was in a moving vehicle. As I’ve written about before, technological advances are both a blessing and a bane in our personal lives.
Technological advances are obviously a huge help for our overall lives. For example, I am personally thankful for a medical test called the Computerized Tomographic Angiography. It was the test that revealed that the cause of my mini-stroke was a dissection of my left carotid artery. Without that test, the doctors would have been baffled and I might not have gotten the right medical treatment. So, clearly, technological advances are good in the grand scheme of life.
The issue, however, that I believe needs to be addressed is how we use or are used by the everyday tech of life. One simple question is necessary to show why the subject even needs addressing: When going on vacation, how many of you check for a wifi signal within the first 15 minutes of being in your hotel room/condo/rental house? With the impending sense of doom caused by a bloated email account, many of us cannot help ourselves. Whether we are in the pace of a normal day or pretending to be on vacation, accessibility to the rest of the world — especially work — can create more problems than it solves.
Let me offer a few ideas about how to work smarter with our smart devices.
1. Be the master of your technology. We work on the theory that all of these gadgets will make life easier. Force them to do so. For it to happen, you must set up your tech well. Use autoresponders on your email account. Create a database of files that keep all of your work organized and at hand. Manage your files in the cloud. I like the services of Evernote and Dropbox.
2. Turn off most of your notifications. For years, my smart phone dinged each time someone sent me a message of any kind; email, DM on Twitter, Facebook message, text message, and on the list went. What I discovered is that most of the dings, bings, bells, and whistles could wait. Now, my smart phone makes a noise for only one type of notification. I’ve informed all of the people I work with how to get a hold of me if there is an immediate need. To be honest, all of the notification settings were a function of ego instead of efficiency.
3. Personal time should be personal time. In your schedule, you have certain off-days and vacation days. Take them. And, as much as it is possible, leave the tech behind. It is not to say that you should ignore an emergency that occurs at work when you are the key to fixing it. We should not abandon our coworkers in the midst of a crisis. But make sure that you are not responding to every little issue at the office when your brain and body need some rest. Know how to filter between those things that are a true emergency and what is simply an inconvenience for those back at work.
4. Set a schedule. Knowing when to power down is difficult for all of us who literally live with tech. Everywhere I go, a digital device accompanies me. So, I am trying to find time in my life where it all gets put away. For example, I know that when I get up in the morning, I should be in my Bible more than in my email account. To that end, I should leave my iPhone on the charger and have the Bible in my hand. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I fail. The same is true of my evenings. Winding down the day with reading or quiet conversations is a better choice for me than surfing a Twitter timeline. However you frame it, set a schedule about when technology is at the forefront and when it should be in the background.
5. Value people. One of the greatest ways to manage your technology is to choose personal interactions over digital ones. This can apply to all relationships. At work, there comes a time when email, online chats, and trading files simply will not do. It is just better to walk over to another person’s desk or pick up the telephone to call them. In our personal lives, technology is a huge blessing. Through video conference services, we can see and converse with friends that are anywhere on the planet. So, use it to your advantage. But all of the access also means that you will be tempted to stare at your phone during the dinner conversation rather than listening to your family talk about their days. Decide that the people in your life are more important than the projects in your life.