App-ly yourself: Using technology to maximise efficiency
Tom and Jerry had the right idea all along – if one hammer blow makes you crazy, two will make you sane – technology can be both cause and cure
The average human attention span has reduced by 4 seconds over the last 12 years, to just 8 seconds and scientists are pointing the blame square at technology – multiple devices, anything we wish to know at our fingertips, and the nagging alerts that we all pretend to loathe but that secretly make us feel important mean that we are used to constant stimulation, and can find it harder to focus, particularly for prolonged periods. Net result? Procrastination, distraction and inefficiency are rife – but what can be done? Tom and Jerry had the right idea all along – if one hammer blow makes you crazy, two will make you sane – technology can be both cause and cure.
The phrase “If you fail to prepare, you are preparing to fail” is trite and, let’s be honest, sums up everything hateful about the endless ream of self-help books. So let me put it another way, Arnie (and arguably Colin Farrell) is the only person with Total Recall, so if you want to keep on top of your workload, and be able to prioritise your time properly, you need to keep a list. Post-its, while cheerful and easy are easily lost and unlikely to be on hand at all times… unlike your smartphone.
To Do Lists
Apps like Producteev (my latest fetish) allow you to create To Do Lists either privately or to share them with multiple colleagues or friends. I share mine with my other half so I can “assign” him tasks such as “washing up” but you could also create a space to collaborate and manage joint work projects. The tasks can be general or assigned to one of various self-created projects – mine include “Bills” “Admin” “Holidays” as well as one for each of my work projects – and each project and task can be visible to only you, or to the other people sharing your space. You can set priorities, deadlines and assign tags so you can search and sort your lists according to whatever criteria you want. Best of all, it sends you alerts by mail when the deadline is approaching – so if my other half hasn’t ticked “washing up” off our To Do List by the deadline, I don’t have to nag him – Producteev will do it for me!
If you want something more scientific, you can try Pomodoro or Focus Booster (both iOS only) which are based on the theory, developed by Franceso Cirillo in the 1980s, that breaking your tasks into manageable 25-minute chunks with enforced breaks of 3-5 minutes between them makes you more mentally agile and efficient. Both apps allow you to list out your daily tasks, and then track your time as you work through them. Each task is broken into 25-minute chunks (“pomodori”) allowing you to optimise your concentration levels, and signalling you with an alarm when it’s time to take a 5-minute break. This app also provides excellent justification for all of you caffeine junkies – “naturally I don’t want to take a coffee break Mr Boss-man, but science (and my smartphone) is telling me that I have to”.
The second largest cause of inefficiency is distraction, or her more assertive cousin, procrastination. Yes, cat videos are hilarious. No, they are not a productive way to spend 2 hours each morning. Here to the rescue: AntiSocial and Freedom. AntiSocial blocks an automated list of sites it considers high risk (social networks, YouTube etc) but also allows you to customise the list by adding your own guilty pleasures. If that isn’t enough and you are proactively finding more “virtuous” sites to procrastinate on, you may need Freedom, which blocks all internet access completely for your specified time period. If you need to access the internet before the time is up you have to fully reboot your computer, which makes it doable, but irritating enough to dissuade you unless you really need it.
Of course these apps are not going to be enough if you are a truly committed procrastinator – you may find yourself suddenly cleaning your house, or tackling the pile of shredding you have been avoiding for months – but they will help to organise, remind and focus your brain to give you the best possible chance of a productive and efficient day – and if they fail – at least you’ll have a tidy workspace by the time you finish procrastinating!
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