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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 July 8, 2020

3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

It is easy, in the onrush of life, to become a reactor – to respond to everything that comes up, the moment it comes up, and give it your undivided attention until the next thing comes up.

This is, of course, a recipe for madness. The feeling of loss of control over what you do and when is enough to drive you over the edge, and if that doesn’t get you, the wreckage of unfinished projects you leave in your wake will surely catch up with you.

Having an inbox and processing it in a systematic way can help you gain back some of that control. But once you’ve processed out your inbox and listed all the tasks you need to get cracking on, you still have to figure out what to do the very next instant. On which of those tasks will your time best be spent, and which ones can wait?

When we don’t set priorities, we tend to follow the path of least resistance. (And following the path of least resistance, as the late, great Utah Phillips reminded us, is what makes the river crooked!) That is, we’ll pick and sort through the things we need to do and work on the easiest ones – leaving the more difficult and less fun tasks for a “later” that, in many cases, never comes – or, worse, comes just before the action needs to be finished, throwing us into a whirlwind of activity, stress, and regret.

This is why setting priorities is so important.

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3 Effective Approaches to Set Priorities

There are three basic approaches to setting priorities, each of which probably suits different kinds of personalities. The first is for procrastinators, people who put off unpleasant tasks. The second is for people who thrive on accomplishment, who need a stream of small victories to get through the day. And the third is for the more analytic types, who need to know that they’re working on the objectively most important thing possible at this moment. In order, then, they are:

1. Eat a Frog

There’s an old saying to the effect that if you wake up in the morning and eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing that the worst thing that can possibly happen to you that day has already passed. In other words, the day can only get better!

Popularized in Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog!, the idea here is that you tackle the biggest, hardest, and least appealing task first thing every day, so you can move through the rest of the day knowing that the worst has already passed.

When you’ve got a fat old frog on your plate, you’ve really got to knuckle down. Another old saying says that when you’ve got to eat a frog, don’t spend too much time looking at it! It pays to keep this in mind if you’re the kind of person that procrastinates by “planning your attack” and “psyching yourself up” for half the day. Just open wide and chomp that frog, buddy! Otherwise, you’ll almost surely talk yourself out of doing anything at all.

2. Move Big Rocks

Maybe you’re not a procrastinator so much as a fiddler, someone who fills her or his time fussing over little tasks. You’re busy busy busy all the time, but somehow, nothing important ever seems to get done.

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You need the wisdom of the pickle jar. Take a pickle jar and fill it up with sand. Now try to put a handful of rocks in there. You can’t, right? There’s no room.

If it’s important to put the rocks in the jar, you’ve got to put the rocks in first. Fill the jar with rocks, now try pouring in some pebbles. See how they roll in and fill up the available space? Now throw in a couple handfuls of gravel. Again, it slides right into the cracks. Finally, pour in some sand.

For the metaphorically impaired, the pickle jar is all the time you have in a day. You can fill it up with meaningless little busy-work tasks, leaving no room for the big stuff, or you can do the big stuff first, then the smaller stuff, and finally fill in the spare moments with the useless stuff.

To put it into practice, sit down tonight before you go to bed and write down the three most important tasks you have to get done tomorrow. Don’t try to fit everything you need, or think you need, to do, just the three most important ones.

In the morning, take out your list and attack the first “Big Rock”. Work on it until it’s done or you can’t make any further progress. Then move on to the second, and then the third. Once you’ve finished them all, you can start in with the little stuff, knowing you’ve made good progress on all the big stuff. And if you don’t get to the little stuff? You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you accomplished three big things. At the end of the day, nobody’s ever wished they’d spent more time arranging their pencil drawer instead of writing their novel, or printing mailing labels instead of landing a big client.

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3. Covey Quadrants

If you just can’t relax unless you absolutely know you’re working on the most important thing you could be working on at every instant, Stephen Covey’s quadrant system as written in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change might be for you.

Covey suggests you divide a piece of paper into four sections, drawing a line across and a line from top to bottom. Into each of those quadrants, you put your tasks according to whether they are:

  1. Important and Urgent
  2. Important and Not Urgent
  3. Not Important but Urgent
  4. Not Important and Not Urgent

    The quadrant III and IV stuff is where we get bogged down in the trivial: phone calls, interruptions, meetings (QIII) and busy work, shooting the breeze, and other time wasters (QIV). Although some of this stuff might have some social value, if it interferes with your ability to do the things that are important to you, they need to go.

    Quadrant I and II are the tasks that are important to us. QI are crises, impending deadlines, and other work that needs to be done right now or terrible things will happen. If you’re really on top of your time management, you can minimize Q1 tasks, but you can never eliminate them – a car accident, someone getting ill, a natural disaster, these things all demand immediate action and are rarely planned for.

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    You’d like to spend as much time as possible in Quadrant II, plugging away at tasks that are important with plenty of time to really get into them and do the best possible job. This is the stuff that the QIII and QIV stuff takes time away from, so after you’ve plotted out your tasks on the Covey quadrant grid, according to your own sense of what’s important and what isn’t, work as much as possible on items in Quadrant II (and Quadrant I tasks when they arise).

    Getting to Know You

    Spend some time trying each of these approaches on for size. It’s hard to say what might work best for any given person – what fits one like a glove will be too binding and restrictive for another, and too loose and unstructured for a third. You’ll find you also need to spend some time figuring out what makes something important to you – what goals are your actions intended to move you towards.

    In the end, setting priorities is an exercise in self-knowledge. You need to know what tasks you’ll treat as a pleasure and which ones like torture, what tasks lead to your objectives and which ones lead you astray or, at best, have you spinning your wheels and going nowhere.

    These three are the best-known and most time-tested strategies out there, but maybe you’ve got a different idea you’d like to share? Tell us how you set your priorities in the comments.

    More Tips for Effective Prioritization

    Featured photo credit: Mille Sanders via unsplash.com

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