We have to have the latest and greatest gadgets. We have to be on the newest and coolest web apps. We have to be cutting-edge. But does all this technology really help with our productivity? I’ve found that there are days when I just have to back away from the bleeding edge if I want to get anything done, and despite how cool some of these toys are, I’ve found that ungeeking can up my productivity. There are a few specific ways to ungeek that I’ve found particularly useful, and I’m not talking about turning off your internet connection or cutting back on your time on Twitter.
1. Get a big paper calendar
If you’re working on anything involving more than just yourself, you need a big paper calendar. That includes organizing a house full of kids, starting a business, sharing an office, or anything else involving multiple people. And don’t think I’m talking about one of those sissy little wall calendars with spaces of less than a square inch to write in. You need enough room to write multiple notes for each day. Syncing electronic calendars is all very good, but what happens if your technology goes down — or if one of your ‘team members’ isn’t old enough to have unsupervised computer access?
2. Print off drafts
Whether you’re working on a sketch of a website or writing out a company memo, take a minute and print it out. No matter what kind of project you’re working on, seeing it off your screen can help you catch typos, think of new directions for your design and generally take a second look at your project. I’ve found that this technique is especially useful when I have writer’s block: when I can’t produce at the keyboard, I can often figure out something to write if I switch to pen and paper.
3. Ask for business cards
I don’t particularly like adding to the paper cluttering up my home and office. But pretty much anytime I go anywhere, I ask for business cards. I don’t do it to kick my networking into hyper-drive, though. After I leave the presence of the origin of the business card, I write down any next steps I need to take on the situation. For instance, I took my car in to get the oil changed. I got the card of the customer service representative and wrote down a note that I needed to put mark my calendar with a reminder to schedule the next change when it’s getting close. I carry my own notebook as well, but I like the context that business cards provide — if I just wrote appointment on the back of the card from the mechanic’s I know automatically that it’s something to do with my car.
4. Go into the bank
Rather than relying entirely on drive-thru or online banking, go into your bank on a semi-regular basis. Make friends with at least one of the tellers. It will pay off if there’s ever a problem with your account. Your favorite teller may not be able to make any problem go away — or may not be willing to — but if you’re friendly, she’s going to be more willing to send your case up the food chain to someone who can do something. I’ve had the same experience with tellers and cashiers: I’ve made a point of going to the same lady at my post office whenever she’s working. She knows how most of my packages go out and can get my mail handled in no time flat.
5. Do research at the library
Despite what I’d like to think, Google can’t find me every detail on every topic. Depending on what I’m researching, I often go to the public library. Many libraries maintain subscriptions to databases that cost quite a bit to access, but they also have plenty of offline information. I make a habit of chatting to one of the librarians about what I’m working on. They can often point me to references that I might not have thought of or show me connections between my topic and another that I never would have found searching for keywords on the web.
6. Go to a real show or concert
It’s awesome to have my favorite TV shows and bands available by flipping a switch. But I’ve gotten in the habit of listening to music or watching movies while multi-tasking, even when I’m supposed to be watching a show in order to relax. Actually going out to a show or a concert forces me to step away from work and my task list and actually get some downtime. Separating myself from the environment where I know I have stuff I could be doing can be the easiest way to guarantee that I’ve gotten enough of a break that I’ll be refreshed and ready to be productive when I get back.
Step away from the computer
There are some amazing tools on our computers that really can help us be more productive — but there is the occasional benefit from approaching a task without all that technology. It’s a matter of deciding if there’s a benefit in approaching a task in a way that might take a few extra minutes. Is there anything you choose to ungeek for? What makes it worth your while to go with a solution that might seem less productive?