Posted on

We Should Limit our Use of Technology

Holistic Time Management

The Shallows - Nicholas CarrTechnology is a beautiful and wondrous thing. We can shop online, do online banking, send electronic greetings to our family and friends, download music, watch movies on our laptops, dictate to our computers using voice-activated software, and read electronic books on portable handheld devices — among hundreds of other things, most of which were unavailable in our grandparents’ lifetime.

I see nothing wrong with reading e-books or performing any of the above activities with the aid of technology. But we should limit our use of technology. What will happen to us if we stop reading altogether and remain cocooned in our homes, infrequently meet personally with friends and relatives, and spend more time watching movies than interacting with our children.

Nicholas Carr, in his book, The Shallows: what the Internet is doing to our brains, claims he has noticed changes in his own reading. He loses concentration after a page or two, becomes fidgety, loses track of the story line and looks for something else to do.

Available for Kindle

The ability to focus is one of the most critical brain functions according to Barbara Strauch, author of The secret life of the grown-up brain. And this ability depends on the strength of our executive skills, which are currently under attack by the unrelenting impact of both technology and our fast-paced lifestyle.

Multitasking taxes the brain, and gets progressively worse as we age. Have you ever been distracted by a telephone call only to forget what you were going to do before the distraction? The other morning I found myself brushing my teeth with after-shave lotion! (But others might attribute this to senility.) Research indicates you can have several motor programs running simultaneously, such as steering a car, chewing gum and reaching for a cell phone; but you can only focus your conscious attention on one thing according to Shelley Carson, author of Your creative brain, because your brain thinks sequentially.

Available for Kindle

Our lifestyle seems to be changing to one of constant rushing to get more things done, and researchers studying people’s behavior at traffic lights have spotted people combing their hair, applying makeup, eating breakfast cereal, reading newspapers, talking on cell phones and even using laptops. To quote Barton Sparagon of the Meyer Friedman Institute in San Francisco, “Hurrying is a struggle against time — and that’s unhealthy.” And Faith popcorn, author of The popcorn report, claims “Speed-eating has developed into a fine art.”

Cramming more activities into a day causes stress, and stress causes sleeplessness, and lack of sleep causes impatience and the ability to concentrate (among the other ailments mentioned in my brief book, Sleep: a time management strategy.. It’s a vicious circle. Is technology to blame? No, we are to blame. We have allowed technology to manage us rather than the other way around.

Controlling technology and taking action to strengthen our brain-based executive skills, we can not only cope with the rapid increase in technology, information and speed, we can increase our productivity and our ability to manage our time and our lives as well.

Posted on

When you leave the office, the interruptions follow

imagesWe are ill-equipped to deal with the onslaught of interruptions introduced by technology. Our brain’s natural inclination is to react to them. We coped with this in the old days by isolating ourselves from interruptions by closing our office door, having our calls screened or intercepted or by going to a coffee shop where no one could contact us.

With the advent of the cell phone, e-mail, texting and portable devices, interruptions now follow us wherever we go. We are at the mercy of our own ability or inability to resist the urge to answer our smart phones, check incoming e-mail or respond to text messages.
The battlefield, where it is determined whether we will lose the quest for personal productivity, has shifted from our office to our brain.

Although technology is evolving exponentially, our brains are not. The allure of e-mail, according to one techno-psychologist, is similar to that of the slot machine: You have intermittent, variable reinforcement. You don’t know when you will be next rewarded so you keep pulling the handle.

There are different theories on willpower. Originally it was thought that willpower was like a muscle that was easily depleted. And research backed this up. But newer research also suggests we have as much willpower as we expect we have. If you believe you have the willpower to resist interruptions, you will have it. Sort of like the placebo effect.

This latter theory also seems to be backed up by research conducted at the University of Rochester as a follow-up to the marshmallow experiments of the 1960s. In the experiments of the 1960s, children were given a marshmallow and told that if they could resist eating it for a few minutes they would get two marshmallows. Those who resisted the longest, showing the greatest self-control, were more successful later in life.

The Rochester experiments involved giving one group of children old used crayons and telling them if they resisted playing with them, they would be given new ones. But they never received the new ones. Another group was told the same thing but the researchers made good on their promise of new crayons. When they all took the marshmallow test afterwards, the group with a good experience behind them resisted eating the marshmallow for 12 minutes. The other group, who obviously had lower expectations, lasted only 2 minutes.

Although our brain hasn’t evolved recently, perhaps it doesn’t have to. We already have a brain capable of resisting temptation – although it may need strengthening – and we can still do a lot to remove the source of the temptation.

Removing the source of temptation could involve turning off your handheld devices while you work on priority projects, keeping the paperwork, to do lists and other distractions out of sight while working on a specific task, and leaving your cell phone at home if you decide to work in a coffee shop. You could also do all your priority work in the same place — one devoid of distracting scenery, pictures or paraphernalia so your brain gets to associate that space with work.

Resisting temptation might involve not going online or checking e-mail before 10 AM, ignoring a ringing telephone when you’re talking with family and friends, and resisting any urge to buy electronic devices that you really don’t need. (After all, who really needs a smart watch when they already have a smart phone? It’s much more important to have a smart brain.)

Self-discipline or self-control, focus, attention, prioritizing and planning are essential if we are to remain effective in this digital age of speed. These are functions of our executive center in the prefrontal cortex area of our brain. That’s why I claim that the battlefield has shifted from the office to the brain. In the next few blogs I will be discussing how we can strengthen our cognitive skills, and in particular, these executive skills that are so critical to the effective use of our time.

Posted on

Is technology changing the way we think – and live?

brainmachineOne thought stands out from the writings of Marshall McLuhan in the 1960s –“The medium is the message.” Step ahead 50 years and that statement now seems prophetic. The medium is the electronic technology such as e-mail, and as we remain focused on the messages we receive, the medium takes over — impacting how we manage our time and our lives.

There is an expression I used for over 30 years: “We are so busy doing things that we don’t realize we’re not getting anywhere.” I’m sure I didn’t come up with this originally since it’s doubtful I’ve ever had an original thought in my life. But combined with McLuhan’s statement, it warns us that we should not be so focused on the beauty of the trees that we are unaware of the dangers of the forest.

Technology is a beautiful and wondrous thing. We can shop online, do online banking, send electronic greetings to our family and friends, download music, watch movies on our laptops, dictate to our computers using voice-activated software, and read electronic books on portable handheld devices — among hundreds of other things unavailable in Marshall McLuhan’s lifetime.

I see nothing wrong with reading e-books or performing any of the above activities with the aid of technology. But I do question what’s happening to us if we stop reading altogether, remain cocooned in our homes, infrequently meet personally with friends and relatives, and spend more time watching movies than interacting with our children.

Nicholas Carr, in his 2010 book, Shallows: what the Internet is doing to our brains, claims he has noticed changes in his own reading. He loses concentration after a page or two, becomes fidgety, loses track of the storyline and looks for something else to do.

The ability to focus is one of the most critical brain functions according to Barbara Strauch, author of The secret life of the grown-up brain. And this ability depends on the strength of our executive skills, which are currently under attack by the unrelenting impact of technology.

Multitasking taxes the brain, and gets progressively worse as we age. Have you ever been distracted by a telephone call only to forget what you were going to do before the distraction? The other morning I found myself brushing my teeth with after shave lotion! (But others might attribute this to senility.) Research indicates you can have several motor programs running simultaneously, such as steering a car, chewing gum and reaching for a cell phone; but you can only focus your conscious attention on one thing according to Shelley Carson, author of Your creative brain, because your brain thinks sequentially.

Our lifestyle seems to be changing to one of constant rushing to get more things done, and researchers studying people’s behavior at traffic lights have spotted people combing their hair, applying makeup, eating, reading newspapers, talking on cell phones and even using laptops. To quote Barton Sparagon of the Meyer Friedman Institute in San Francisco, “Hurrying is a struggle against time — and that’s unhealthy.” And Faith popcorn, author of The popcorn report, claims “Speedeating has developed into a fine art.”

Cramming more activities into a day causes stress, and stress causes sleeplessness, and lack of sleep causes impatience and the ability to concentrate. It’s a vicious circle. Is technology to blame? No, we are to blame. Because we failed to heed Marshall McLuhan’s warning that the medium is the message.

In my next blog I will describe how this is affecting our time, our health and our personal productivity, and what we can do about it.

Posted on

Holistic Time Management and Technology

The Best Things in Life are Free from Technology:
A case for holistic time management.

Holistic Time ManagementA heading of an article in the May 17, 2012 issue of the Toronto Star caught my attention – “Outsourcing Life.”
It’s true. We’re outsourcing all the enjoyable, time-consuming things that make us distinctively human – so we can free up time for the mundane, work-oriented drudgery that makes us robots to technology.

Why waste time in a leisurely shopping spree with a friend when you can get someone else to do it for you? Better still, don’t leave your computer – spend a few more clicks and a few more dollars and have it delivered.

Sure you enjoy gardening; but look at the time it consumes. Hire someone instead. And walking may be good exercise, but why walk when you can have the Internet? And don’t forget “laundry on wheels”, grocery delivery, on-the-spot car washes and the many errand services that will do all the running around for you. Play your cards right and you may never have to leave home again. You have an entertainment box, digital access to any place in the world, and 5000 friends on Facebook. What more could you ask for?

Think about that for a minute. We are indeed outsourcing our lives for the sake of efficiency. The ultimate efficiency would be not having lived at all!

Holistic time management is hanging onto the whole – doing things, sharing things, enjoying things, and experiencing the emotions that go along with them. At the rate we are “progressing”, soon all our laughter, enjoyment, grief, and feelings of love and affection might be outsourced as well.

Yes, I am hanging onto my paper planner – and my friends – and my hobbies – and my long walks. I buy my own groceries, make my own phone calls, visit my friends in person and waste time along with my family. That’s what life is all about. It’s not about cramming as many activities as possible into each hour or expanding the workday or being available to others 24/7.
Sure, even holistic time management involves productivity. But productivity to me is producing more of what’s important, meaningful and enjoyable to myself and others. I can’t see how racing the clock, being sleep-deprived, anxious and stressed-out, emotionally drained and not being able to enjoy everything life has to offer as being productive.

Outsourcing, multitasking and technology are not the cause of our problems. But, these things were meant to be used as we embrace life. Life was never meant to be used to embrace these things.

Read more articles on Holistic Time Management.