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How I’m Getting a Smartphone, While Avoiding Crazy Habits

How I’m Getting a Smartphone, While Avoiding Crazy Habits

    What makes a smartphone “smart?”

    This may sound like a dumb question, but I have actually been asking it ever since I made a commitment to upgrade my time management system with the purchase of a shiny, new 2011 smartphone in January.

    Setting aside the question of the costs (which I understand can top US$2,000 per year when internet charges are included,) I am focused on discovering whether or not I can boost my productivity with an intelligent choice. In doing so, I realize that I could end up deciding to maintain the status quo: a cheap Nokia cellphone and an old Palm PDA.

    Important: this is a productivity effort on my part, not a shopper’s comparison.

    I have never owned a smartphone, and after seeing some of the ways in which they have been used and abused by their owners, I am wary. I don’t want to become another smartphone addict who can’t stop themselves from using bad habits daily. Instead, I have delayed purchasing a smartphone, and I have decided to ignore the advertisements in order to make a decision.

    So far, what I’ve gleaned about these devices has been interesting.

    One of the main lessons I have learned is that smartphones aren’t all that smart when it comes to enhancing an individual’s productivity. To understand why this is the case, let’s first define what I DON’T mean by using the word “productivity.”

    Convenience, not Productivity

    Many of the most recent smartphone innovations have more to do with convenience than productivity. For example, if I’m traveling on the road and need to take a picture, a smartphone could take the place of a forgotten camera. Smartphones have been continuously redesigned to replace electronic tools such as:

    – a camera
    – a DVD / video player
    – an mp3 player
    – a camcorder
    – a voice recorder
    – simple browser
    – an instant messaging system
    – an email and text messaging system
    – a GPS device
    – a cell phone
    – a radio
    – a gaming device
    – a laptop

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    It appears that smartphone manufacturers have focused their attention on cramming as many electronic tools as they can into as small a case as possible, which is has been an amazing thing to watch as a non-user. Even though the miniaturized, smartphone versions of these devices are usually not quite as robust as the original, it must be fun to be able to pull out a smartphone that does the trick every time, rather than having to lug a knapsack full of the technological gadgets listed. Friends and family should be impressed as I switch from one device to another as I sit on the beach.

    When a smartphone replaces a knapsack-of-gadgets, that must be a good thing. But is using fewer muscles and taking up less space the same as being more productive? Isn’t that really about a little added convenience?

    Convenience is not really what I’m after… I am more interested in being productive in the meat and potatoes kind of way: getting more done, making fewer mistakes, doing stuff cheaper, and pleasing those who are the recipients of my work. “Convenience” seems to be a lesser matter.

    Entertainment, not Productivity

    I imagine that with smartphone access to ebooks, music, pictures and videos that I’d always have a source of content to prevent me from ever getting bored. I’d always be able to escape some mind-numbing task, and disappear into something interesting and more captivating.

    Of course, you may not like it if you happen to be giving a presentation at the very moment at which I decide that I’m bored, and I turn to my device t osearch for something more interesting. Yet this is exactly what’s happening around the world as smartphone users drift to better quality entertainment in the middle of meetings, conversations, weddings, dinner dates… heck, I’ve even heard that people reach for them while they are lying in bed, or sitting on the toilet.

    A more entertained life has its advantages. The most recent research shows that jumping from one text to another floods parts of the brain with dopamine. (link here: http://abclocal.go.com/kabc/video?id=7397649) As welcoming as that sounds, it has little to do with productivity, unfortunately.

    Information, not Productivity

    If I were to leave for a business trip I imagine that while I’m in the taxi to the airport, I could check to see if my flight were on time. I could also see the news as it develops in the moment, plus watch stock prices, bond yields and currency fluctuations as they happen in the minute. A storm happening 3,000 miles away would be information that would be at my fingertips.

    It’s obvious that I’d be better informed, and I imagine that I could save some time with the information that I could use to decide to change my travel plans. But would that translate into greater productivity for me? Maybe a little, but it wouldn’t replace the information I could get from a phone call or laptop.

    Converting Down Time, not Productivity

    At the same time, a smartphone does seem to facilitate a particular thought that runs as follows:
    “Here I am sitting in the doctor’s office with nothing to do. I wish I could be doing something else instead, such as
    sending email / watching a movie / reading an ebook / surfing the internet / creating a video / purchasing a nick-nack on ebay, etc.”

    Smartphones make it easy for us to switch tasks from something that we don’t want to be doing to an electronic activity that we’d prefer to be doing.

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    Surely, that must be a good thing!?

    Maybe not for me. I have a neat habit of taking naps in doctor’s offices, or anyplace where I’m seated and waiting. I also like to meditate in quiet moments, and I just love the serendipity of finding an old magazine with an interesting article.

    Would I be less productive if I engaged in any of these activities instead of using my smartphone to IM a friend at work? Probably not.

    At the same time, I have been known to travel with my mp3 player and Palm PDA to locations in which I know I’ll be waiting for some time. Combining these devices into my cellphone, which I have with me all the time, would give me more choices around converting my down time. I could still take a nap, but I’d do it with my smartphone in my hand, knowing that I could be doing something electronic when I wake up.

    That’s a little more productivity… perhaps.

    Sex-Appeal, not Productivity

    In airport terminals all over the world for the past few weeks, people have been looking over the shoulders of those who possess the latest and sleekest gadget – the Apple iPad. I actually borrowed one the other day for a few minutes and it felt like an amazingly beautiful creation. Undeniably sexy. Used anywhere in public, it could hardly fail to attract attention with its design and functionality.

    Gaining other people’s attention and admiration, as ego-boosting as it might be, is not an increase in productivity, however.

    Real Productivity

    The cases mentioned so far address the hype that has been used in smartphone ads. What I have noticed is a very different vibe around these devices than the vibe that existed around other time management tools that I introduced in my daily life in past years.

    1991

    As a new employee at AT&T Bell Labs, I remember seeing the first DayRunners and DayTimers and thinking that I needed to get one of those. I ended up with the former, and there was no mistaking the fact that the system of folder, little pages and inserts was for a single purpose: productivity enhancement. They were not for entertainment, communication or replacing anything in the knapsack-of-gadgets in a cool and sexy way.

    Back then, having a planner showed that you were serious about being productive. (Or so we thought.)

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    1997

    When the Palm Pilot was made available in the mid-1990’s, I remember being relieved. Not only could I manage my most important information more securely (with multiple electronic backups,) but I could also carry that information with me wherever I went.

    As other software programs were released for the Palm, I saw them as interesting toys, but hardly the reason why the Palm existed in the first place. Like the DayRunner, the Palm was all about productivity.

    2010

    Now, I am attempting to make the next upgrade, but as you may have noticed, I am struggling to see what, if anything, a smartphone will add to my productivity.

    When I adopted the DayRunner and Palm Pilot, it was clear to me that the new habits I needed to adopt to make these devices work would help me to be more productive. In the case of the DayRunner I learned to:
    – bring my diary with me everywhere
    – have backup refills
    – browse OfficeMax for improvements
    – check my calendar before making new appointments

    With the Palm, I learned that I needed to:
    – synche it with Outlook and the Palm Desktop every 1-2 days
    – keep it well charged
    – travel with a charger at all times
    – always look for new software or hardware upgrades

    These habits were new ones, but they were worth the investment of time and energy because of the overall productivity gains. Looking back I can see that any upgrade to my time management system requires that a user develop some new habits in order to realize the necessary improvements.

    When I review each of these habit changes, however, I now realize that I was making upgrades to what I call the Fundamentals of Time Management: Capturing, Emptying, Tossing, Acting Now, Storing, Scheduling, Listing, Switching, Interrupting, Warning and Reviewing. Each of them is a physical action that is profoundly affected by the choice of tools that are used.

    For example, the DayRunner changed the way I did my Capturing, as I now almost always had a pad of paper with me. I also was able to upgrade the method I used to Store addresses and phone numbers, keeping the same pages for years at a time.

    When I bought the Palm, it also affected the way I did my Storing, as I could now backup all my information in several places and never have to worry about ever losing it. Also, having an electronic Schedule meant that I could do away with Task lists, Todo lists and Next Action Lists and make plans for time slots occurring days, weeks and months in the future, something that was too hard to attempt with pencil and paper.

    These two upgrades made sense to me in a practical way — they changed how I executed the 11 Fundamentals. Meat and potatoes productivity.

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    Now, in 2010, the more closely I look at modern smartphones the more confused I get, because I can’t clearly see the productivity advantage. I don’t want to waste my time and money on fluff.

    As I mentioned before, what really scares me is the fact that I might pick up some of the bad habits I have seen. According to the New York Times, the devices enable digital distractions, a modern-day addiction that is just as hard to break as any other.

    One company I know well even banned smartphones from the boardroom because its directors and executives could not control the addictive habits that they have developed. And I’m sure I’m not alone in having friends who continually interrupt meals, movies, conversations, meetings, play dates with kids, sporting events, etc. to pick up their smartphones in anticipation of a ring, beep or buzz.

    I am desperate to avoid falling into this trap, partly due to the etiquette and health risks, but also because they are so unproductive – the very opposite of what I am trying to accomplish with an upgrade. I don’t want to be distracted to the point where I don’t know what I’m doing.

    It’s not that I think that smartphones will always be useless. Far from it. I believe that the combination of several devices into one could be potent, but they will only become so when the capabilities of one device are combined with another to impact one of the 11 Fundamentals in a new and innovative way.

    For example, the calendar could be used to block certain kinds of interruptions, until I am ready to work on them during designated times for “Emptying.”

    If I could challenge smartphone manufacturers I would say:
    “Imagine a knapsack filled with all the gadgets now being squeezed into smartphones: a laptop, camera, mp3 player, radio, etc. Apart from the obvious convenience of a smaller size, how is the smartphone better?”

    If I can’t clearly answer that question by Christmas, then I’ll be sticking with the cellphone/PDA combination that I use today. I’ll be tracking my progress in making the decision on my website and I welcome your reactions, questions and ideas in the comments below.

    More by this author

    Francis Wade

    Author, Management Consultant

    How To Manage A Post-College Productivity Dip Why You Need to Understand and Accept Your Productive Type A Tendencies The New Lifehacking #7 – Why You Should Be Open to New Stuff, But Wary About Using It The New LifeHacking #6 – Staying Away from Harmful Gadgets The New Lifehacking #5 – Tricking Yourself into Making the Changes You Need

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    Last Updated on September 18, 2019

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes.

    I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

    One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

    Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

    The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

    And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

    What to Write Down

    Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

    Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

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    Dates of Events

    Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

    For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

    Names of People

    Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

    Theories or Frameworks

    Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

    Definitions

    Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

    Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

    Arguments and Debates

    Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

    This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

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    Images

    Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

    Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

    Other Stuff

    Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

    I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

    Your Own Questions

    Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

    3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

    1. Outlining

    Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

    Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

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    For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

    2. Mind-Mapping

    For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

    Here’s the idea:

    In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

    The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

    If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

    You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

    3. The Cornell System

    The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

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    About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

    You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

    In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

    You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

    The Bottom Line

    I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

    I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

    More About Note-Taking

    Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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