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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.

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    Francis Wade

    Author, Management Consultant

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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