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Productivity, Relying on Technology & Redundancy

Productivity, Relying on Technology & Redundancy

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    Your computer crashes. It won’t start up again. What do you do? Nothing productive. The morning’s wasted, the technician comes and tells you that you need a new hard drive, and your afternoon’s gone too while you go shopping for a new one.

    There are a million variations of this scenario. We put ourselves in a precarious position when we rely totally and completely on technology to maintain our productivity systems and execute the tasks we set for ourselves with them. Technology gives personal productivity steroids; everything’s faster. Most of us can type faster than we write and using email as a form of day-to-day communication allows us to drastically reduce the number of disruptive conversations and phone calls we receive each day. So we learn to rely on technology, so much so that when it fails — and it does — we can be left speechless when asked the old question, what’s the next action?

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    Two years ago I was in such a position. My task management system was a text file stored locally on my computer. A computer that failed with disturbing regularity. It wouldn’t have mattered if I stored my task management system in a Google Doc; at the time I didn’t have another computer, nor an iPhone, and anyway, what if Google Docs went down?

    We need to learn to rely less on technology. And I don’t mean we should ditch our computers as the hub of our productivity system, but we need redundancy. Redundancy for the system, and redundancy for the situation.

      Redundancy for the System

      Redundant systems are systems that ensure that a problem with any single component does not cause problems for other components or the system as a whole. This is usually done by doubling up on components; either the same component in a different place (such as off-site backups), or simply the same component in a different medium that is unrelated to the first.

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      So you could keep copies of your task list on two computers and ensure they’re always up to date in case one of them goes down. You could depend on Time Machine (if you’re on a Mac) to provide this sort of redundancy for you, or keep a copy in Gmail or Google Docs, or best yet (if not somewhat obsessive), all of the above. Or, you could write the list down on paper and email a copy of your computer’s list to your phone.

      When it comes to computer-based systems, synchronization between multiple devices is a good start. But it’s also a good idea to keep a copy that doesn’t rely on electrons. Your power could go out for hours (the same day you forgot to charge your laptop and phone the night before). Anything can happen with these solutions, whereas if you’ve written or printed things out, the system is a lot less fickle. Someone you live with could accidentally throw your task list out or your house could burn down (in which case the last thing on your mind will be whether your task list is okay) but it’s much less likely you’ll lose access to both your online and offline copies at once.

      Redundancy for the Situation

      The other problem with relying on technology too much has to do with execution. Even if you’ve got your task list on a piece of paper once the power goes off, what do you do? Nothing, if you haven’t planned for it. One of the excellent tools that many productivity systems provide are some sort of variation of GTD’s Contexts, and they’re useful in exactly this sort of situation (among others).

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      In almost any project, there’s usually some task that can be done without the help of a computer — even if using a computer would, under normal circumstances, be the best way to go about it. The idea is that if you’ve got your contexts set up properly, when you don’t have access to a computer, you use a context set up for offline work. No Internet connection, switch out of your @internet context and into something else. If you’ve got a fair bit that can be done offline, just make an @offline context and switch to it when you need it. You can use multiple contexts on a single task, too. If your work should be done on a computer but can be done without one, you could attach an additional @offline or @nopower context that works as a secondary to the task’s usual context.

      It’s mostly a matter of personal taste as to how you set your system up to adapt to unexpected changes, but the bottom line is that you should plan ahead for these situations and be ready to go with a list of things that can be done in the meantime.

      Contexts is about having a productivity system to include and suit the environment you are in and the tools you have available. Consider technological failure of any kind as just another environment. Planning ahead for something to go wrong isn’t being pedantic, it’s smart, and it’s even got a name in the public relations world: crisis management. Any good public relations team will have a plan in place for a crisis so that if anything happens, they can move straight into action. There’s no reason you can’t do this with personal productivity.

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      It’s much easier for us than it is for PR guys; during your weekly review, while you set up new tasks, just scan through your list, and slap a context on anything that can be done offline. Easy — takes a minute or two longer than your weekly review usually does. You could go weeks or months without using it, but it’ll be well worth it when the time for technical failure comes. Instead of having your sense of the day’s work set off course by this “disaster” and sitting there with a confused expression, you’ll be back up and running in no time. That’s what redundant systems are all about.

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      Joel Falconer

      Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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      Last Updated on January 13, 2020

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

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

      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.”[1]

      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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      From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

      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 6 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.

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      Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

      Reference

      [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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