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6 Ways to Ungeek for Productivity

6 Ways to Ungeek for Productivity

    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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?

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    Last Updated on August 16, 2018

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system”.

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    The power of habit

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being six hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The wonderful thing about triggers (reminders)

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to make a reminder works for you

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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