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UnTech Yourself

UnTech Yourself
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Technology can definitely make life easier. E-mail, rapid communication, RSS and the internet create vast opportunities for new information. But technology isn’t perfect. Adopting new technologies can have a sharp learning curve and many programs have unseen bugs and usability problems. Even more prevalent is this boost in information can cause overload, zapping your time in endless e-mails and feeds to read.

Breaking your paradigm of technology as a cure-all to every problem can open you up to other avenues for solving problems. Technology may be innovative and wonderful, but learning when to unplug the power cord can help simplify your life. Here are some ways you can untech yourself to simplify your life and get more done.

Internet Dieting

Internet, IM, e-mail and web-surfing can be very distracting, often without providing a lot of value. These empty calories often disguise themselves as necessary information but are just noise. Start a thirty day internet diet to reduce the total amount of time you spend connected to the net.

Notepads

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Turn off the blackberry and try using a paper organizer. It may not be as flashy, but it is amazing how effective they are for having basically two features: write and read. Keeping a notepad with you means zero learning curve, zero interruptions and only stores information not noise.

Television Blackouts

Television is full of stimulation. When television is good it can be entertaining, humorous, dramatic and a social activity. When it’s bad it is flashing lights providing distraction without value. You might want to experiment with cutting down on television, especially when you know in advance that there isn’t going to be any worthwhile programming.

Try cutting down your morning news and replace it with reading books or newspapers. The information will usually be more valuable and text is nonlinear so you can skip information that doesn’t interest you. Best of all most books don’t have commercials.

iPod Mute

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I’ll admit it, I love my mp3 player. Great for workouts and doing boring tasks it can add a bit of extra flavor to regular activities. But sometimes the constant noise and music can desensitize you to experiencing the world around you and cut you off from interacting with other people.

Try turning off the iPod periodically. Drive to work without any music. Try exercising with quiet. Try walking in silence when you are by yourself. Not only will this allow you to reconnect with what you are engaged in, it makes it easier for you to actually notice the music when it is playing instead of just having noise.

Read Books

Remember when books used to be made of paper? Cut back on your online reading and head to the library or bookstore and get something you can hold in your hands. Although some online reading is definitely better than books, if your entire library would consist of 500 word articles with flashy headlines, you probably aren’t getting a lot of depth.

Get Back to Nature

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Go out and spend a half hour in nature. If you live in a big city, at least look for a park or a relatively quiet area. Having a bit of solitude in a natural setting can often inspire ideas where everything is calm. Remember not to bring the cellphone or Blackberry!

Getting back to a natural environment can break away the endless distractions of life and give you some time to really think. I’ve had many of my best ideas on hikes and walks through nature. If you live in a highly technological world, spending a few hours or days can create even more ideas. I don’t believe that this is because nature has some mystical power but simply that it is often such a dramatic change in environment that it triggers new ideas.

Cooked from Scratch

Technology also appears in our food, even if it isn’t in the form of circuit boards. Having easy premade and tasty food can be great in a hectic lifestyle, but this kind of eating isn’t usually healthiest. Try cutting back on processed foods and making more meals from scratch. Most people say they don’t have time, but I believe it is really that they don’t know how.

Even if you aren’t going to be featured on Iron Chef anytime soon, try cooking a new meal from scratch. I’ve found that you can often modify recipes to be cooked in less time without resorting to tasteless and processed filler. You might want to set out an hour or two a week to experiment with a new recipe.

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Technology is a Tool

I’m not going to be joining the Amish anytime soon. I love the many ways that technology can make us more efficient and connect us with other people. But like any tool, you need to see where it’s limits are. If you find yourself becoming a technophile try unteching some areas of your life. You might find a little less tech can get a lot more value.

Scott Young writes about productivity, improvement and learning at his blog, here. You can subscribe to his feed here. Some of his popular posts include Habitual Mastery, Double Your Reading Rate and How to Ace Your Finals Without Studying.

More by this author

Scott H Young

Scott is obsessed with personal development. For the last ten years, he's been experimenting to find out how to learn and think better.

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Last Updated on September 10, 2019

How to Master the Art of Prioritization

How to Master the Art of Prioritization

Do you know that prioritization is an art? It is an art that will lead you to success in whatever area that matters to you.

By prioritization, I’m not talking so much about assigning tasks, but deciding which will take chronological priority in your day—figuring out which tasks you’ll do first, and which you’ll leave to last.

Effective Prioritization

There are two approaches to “prioritizing” the tasks in your to-do list that I see fairly often:

Approach #1 Tackling the Biggest Tasks First and Getting Them out of the Way

The idea is that by tackling them first, you deal with the pressure and anxiety that builds up and prevents you from getting anything done—whether we’re talking about big or small tasks. Leo Babauta is a proponent of this Big Rocks method.[1]

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Approach #2 Tackling the Tasks You Can Get Done Quickly and Easily, with Minimal Effort

Proponents of this method believe that by tackling the small fries first, you’ll have less noise distracting you from the periphery of your consciousness.

If you believe in getting your email read and responded to, making phone calls and getting Google Reader zeroed before you dive into the high-yield work, you’re a proponent of this method. I suppose you could say Getting Things Done (GTD) encourages this sort of method, since the methodology advises followers to tackle tasks that can be completed within two minutes, right there and then.

Figure out Your Approach for Prioritization

My own approach is perhaps a mixture of the two.

I’ll write out my daily task list and draw little priority stars next to the three items I need to get done that day. They don’t need to be big tasks, but nine times out of ten, they are.

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Smaller tasks are rarely important enough to warrant a star in the first place; I can always get away without even checking my inbox until the next day if I’m swamped, and the people who need to get in touch with me super quickly know how.

But I’m not recommending my system of prioritization to you. I’m also not saying that mine is better than Leo’s Big Rocks method, and I’m not saying it’s better than the “if it can be done quickly, do it first” method either.

The thing with prioritization is that knowing when to do what relies very much on you and the way you work. Some people need to get some small work done to find a sense of accomplishment and clarity that allows them to focus on and tackle bigger items. Others need to deal with the big tasks or they’ll get caught up in the busywork of the day and never move on, especially when that Google Reader count just refuses to get zeroed (personally, I recommend the Mark All As Read button—I use it most days!).

I’m in between, because my own patterns can be all over the place. Some days I will be ready to rip into massive projects at 7AM. Other times I’ll feel the need to zero every inbox I have and clean up the papers on my desk before I can focus on anything serious. I also know that my peak, efficient working time doesn’t come at 11AM or 3PM or some specific time like it does for many people, but I have several peaks divided by a few troughs. I can feel what’s coming on when and try to keep my schedule liquid enough that I can adapt.

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That’s why I use a starred task list system rather than a scheduled task list. It allows me to trust myself (something that I suppose takes a certain amount of discipline) and achieve peak efficiency by blowing with the winds. If I fight the peaks and troughs, I’ll get less done; but if I do certain kinds of work in each period of the day as they come, I’ll get more done than most others in a similar line of work.

You may not be able to trust yourself to that extent without falling into the busywork trap. You may not be able to tackle big tasks first thing in the morning without feeling like you’re pushing against an invisible brick wall that won’t budge. You might not be able to deal with small tasks before the big tasks without feeling pangs of guilt and urgency.

My point is:

The prioritization systems themselves don’t matter. They’re all pretty good for a group of people, not least of all to the people who espouse them because they use them and find them effective.

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What matters is that you don’t fall for one set of dogma (and I’m not saying Leo Babauta or David Allen preach these things as dogma, but sometimes their proponents do) until you’ve tried the systems extensively, and found which method of chronological prioritization works for you.

And if the system you already use works great, then there’s no need to bother trying others—in the world of personal productivity, it’s too easy to mess with something that works and find yourself unable to get back into your former groove.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

In truth, this principle applies to all sorts of personal productivity issues, though it’s important to know which issues it applies to.

If you thought multitasking worked well for you each day and I’d have to contend that you are wrong—multitasking is a universal myth in my books! But if you find yourself prioritizing tasks that never get done, you might need to reconsider which of the above approaches you’re using and change to a system that is more personally effective.

More About Prioritization & Time Management

Featured photo credit: Sabri Tuzcu via unsplash.com

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