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A New Productivity for the Smartphone Era

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A New Productivity for the Smartphone Era

    About a year ago, I published a question in a Blackberry forum asking how the devices had helped to make professionals more productive.

    The responses I received were typified by the one that I remember the most: “I am more productive because I can check my email on  the train to and from work.”

    This seemed like a reasonable response at the time. As a person who gets a bit nervous when I have nothing productive to do, I could relate.  While I don’t take the train, the value of converting “down time” to productive time is a pretty attractive one.

    And apparently, I’m not alone.

    A recent  survey of 1 million users in 34 countries showed that 62% believed that their work productivity was “much better” due to new technology.  75%  consider the opportunity provided by devices such as smartphones and laptops to remain in constant contact with work as a positive development.

    Apparently, “productivity” has been redefined.

    According to our new definition, productivity has something to do with two things: converting “down time” to work time, and  being able to  “stay in touch” with what’s happening at work at all times.  This  kind of commitment used to be associated with  “Type A” executives, but nowadays anyone with the right tools can join in the fun.

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    “Fun” might be a strong word, but many of us like to find new ways  to be effective, and like to feel as if we’re getting better at  managing our time.

    However, what’s actually happening in the life of many  professionals is not amusing at all.  Their companies  have taken the opportunity given them by technology and the recession to convince employees to spend more  “down time” doing work.  At the same time, they send a subtle message that  “staying in touch” with work also means being available 24 hours  a day for 52 weeks of the year.

    Converting “Down Time” Nowadays, it seems, everyone with a smartphone has gotten into the habit of continuously trying to convert “down time” into useful, work time.  Here are some everyday examples of ways in which many professionals are converting their “down time.”

    • – a manager driving on the highway at 70 m.p.h. sends a text to his team  (while spilling hot coffee into his lap)
    • – an engineer in a meeting that’s going slowly, checks her email and replies (missing two action items assigned to her)
    • – an accountant watching his child play baseball on Saturday morning closes a deal in the fourth inning via cellphone (and lies to his  son about seeing him make his first catch ever)
    • – a supervisor attending 3 days of personal productivity training is unable to leave her smartphone untouched for more than 15 minutes (and later complains that  the trainer was ineffective)
    • – a consultant speaking to a client on the phone remembers that  he should have sent an urgent message to a colleague, and quietly does so (even as the client notes the sudden lapse in attention and interprets it as a lack of interest in continuing the relationship)
    • – a hard driving attorney once again takes his smartphone to the  urinal where he can multi-task (… and is noticed by his boss’ husband who happened to borrow his smartphone just five minutes earlier)
    • – a family cheers in unison when executive-Mom forgets her  smartphone at home 5 hours into the annual vacation (and falls into  despair when FedEx delivers it the next day)

    I recently asked a client: “How did your big presentation to the executive team go?”  She responded: “OK… but the CEO spent the entire hour on his (expletive)  Blackberry.”

    This was bad news for my client, whose project was now being viewed by the CEO as another chunk of his “down time.”

    If these are all examples of attempts to convert “down time” into useful time, take note of the way in which “down time” has been expanded.  This  is more than filling in the time that would be spent sitting on a train.  The habit has invaded every nook and cranny of our lives, sparing no-one, and costing us dearly.

    At this point, many of you reading are probably shaking your heads at  some of the poor etiquette on display.  I did the same, until I began to think of the mindset of the employees involved.

    All the habits listed above were developed by professionals who  were well intended — they were trying to boost their productivity by converting “down time” into something of value. Unfortunately,  once we humans are hooked on a habit, it’s hard to stop, and  we end up employing it inappropriately, much to the annoyance of others in our lives.  In that moment, the fun has disappeared and the habit has become an empty, automatic practice that does more harm than good.

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    The worse part is that in many companies, executives are leading  the way by example, as they are often the first users of these devices and the employees most likely to squeeze work into every available minute of their lives.

    They are also the ones who are unwilling to sever the connection between themselves and their colleagues, even for a few hours  each day.

    Staying in Touch With Work A friend of mine once told me the story of a manager of  rambunctious employee who was essential to the organization, but  frequently complained and threatened to leave.  In the space of a few months, he got married, bought a house and had a baby.

    After these happy events, his manager passed my friend in the hall on hearing the latest it of happy news and whispered conspiratorially: “I have him  now!”  In other words, with his new family and financial obligations,  the rambunctious employee was unlikely to raise more trouble, and  would probably settle into a comfortable routine of corporate  service with a steady eye on his pension, benefits and 401(k).

    The point of the story?  There are executives and managers who are blithely offering the gift of smartphones to their employees, and  in some companies it’s seen as a reward, and a status symbol.

    What many of them know, however, is that when an employee accepts the device, they are likely to join the group of the always-reachable, and engage in many of the behaviors that their higher-ups are practicing,  such as: – sending and receiving messages at 2:30 am – using weekends, vacations and holidays to conduct company business – implicitly agreeing to respond to all messages within a short time-frame – interrupting ANY activity to “find out what my boss wants”

    (If the stories told on YouTube and on blogs are true, then  _anything_ can be interrupted nowadays by smartphone use!)

    To put it in more Machiavellian terms, companies have found a way to take time and attention that employees used  to spend on their own, with their families and with their friends, and convert it to company time.  It starts with the gift of a  smartphone.

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    While I truly doubt that there is some master plan, don’t doubt for a minute that a manager doesn’t know the difference between her employees who are always-reachable from those who aren’t. Companies can make big gains in productivity by simply giving away smartphones to their employees, while ignoring the added stress that gets created.

    There are some companies that are noticing what is happening, however.

    Enlightened companies take a page out of the medical profession, which has long realized that it’s important to maintain  some kind of boundaries in their professionals’ lives.  Companies can put in place policies that clearly delineate  time spent “at work,” “on call” and “away from work.”   They recognize that these are three distinct modes that must be  enforced if employees are expected to function at their best.

    Most employees, however, find themselves in un-enlightened companies and  must make their own way, starting with 3 steps they must take.

    Their first step is to identify the unproductive habits in their time management system.  They can do the kind of analysis I describe on my website (www.2time-sys.com) to find the strong and weak spots.

    The second step is to create an improvement plan that outlines the habits to be changed, along with some target dates. This gives  them some realistic goals to heard towards.

    The third step requires them to create an environment to make the habit changes easier to effect.  Unfortunately, most  habits do not change easily or quickly, and the right blend of supports can make all the difference.

    Employees who have begun this personal journey need to make  a plan to enlighten the executive team.  Most smartphone use started with the CEO and her direct reports, and they are the ones who, in  all likelihood, introduced, for example, a culture of 24 hour  availability to the organization.

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    In an effort like this, employees need allies at all levels to  help demonstrate that bad habits  developed in the executive suite can wreak havoc when rolled out to an entire company.  (There  is a growing body of data available that can be used in this effort.)  In an intervention, executives can be asked to imagine an  all-company meeting in which half the attendees spend most of the  meeting on their smartphones, lost in cyber-space.  (Some would  simply argue that they are following the fine example of their CEO!)

    If the executive team can be convinced that these behaviors  are destructive, then the company can move to specify some  specific changes.

    For example, the US Federal Government has banned the use of  cell-phones by its employees while they are driving and conducting government business.  In part, that’s because of obvious safety reasons.

    From a productivity stand-point, however, it makes perfect sense. Other policies can be introduced to limit the use of smartphones and laptops during off hours, for starters.  (In some companies, turning off all messaging devices between 12:00 am and 6:00 am would be a major step.)

    Each company needs to look at its culture, as well as its  strategy, and phase in these changes in a way that makes sense. They need to allow for the fact that habit change takes time, and  that a new culture could not be born in an instant.

    The single employee who decides to change their company has a very difficult task on her hands, however, as she realizes that smartphones have done more to change company culture in the past few years than any vision statement or 2 day retreat.  She needs to appreciate that  some executives may decide that they like the way things are going, and don’t want to change a thing.   Those companies who take this route probably won’t see any  immediate fallout as employees cling to their jobs for fear of losing them, but they’ll  pay later.  At some point in the future, productivity will be impacted on a large scale, as employees burn themselves out and the bottom  line suffers.

    It’s much better to make the small, enlightened changes now, than  to wait until the cost is higher and the effort required seems to  be impossible to garner.

    All it takes to get started is one or two employees who are willing  to redefine what productivity means for themselves and their  companies, in favour of long-term results that are sustainable.

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    More by this author

    Francis Wade

    Author, Management Consultant

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    Last Updated on November 25, 2021

    Protecting Your Online Life With Secure Passwords

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    Protecting Your Online Life With Secure Passwords

    With all of the recent online services and companies falling under attack to hackers in the past few months, it seems only fitting to talk about password creation and management. There are a lot of resources out there discussing this, but it never hurts to revisit this topic time and again because of its importance.

    Password management isn’t necessarily a difficult thing to do, yet it does seem like a bit of an annoyance to most people. When it comes to password management, you will hear the famous line, “I don’t really care about changing my passwords regularly. I have nothing important online anyways.” Let’s see if you have nothing important online when your PayPal account gets taken over because you thought the password “password” was good enough.

    In my opinion, it is an “internet user’s” responsibility to make sure that they keep secure passwords and update them on a regular basis. In this article we will discuss how to make your online presence more secure and keep it secure.

    The easy fundamentals

    First thing is first; creating a strong password.

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    A strong password is a mixture of alpha-numeric characters and symbols, has a good length (hopefully 15 characters or longer), and doesn’t necessarily represent some word or phrase. If the service you are signing up for doesn’t allow passwords over a certain length, like 8 characters, always use the maximum length.

    Here are some examples of strong passwords:
    * i1?,2,2\1′(:-%Y
    * ZQ5t0466VC44PmJ
    * mp]K{ dCFKVplGe]PBm1mKdinLSOoa (30 characters)

    And not so good examples
    * sammy1234
    * password123
    * christopher

    You can check out PC Tools Password Generator here. This is a great way to make up some very strong passwords. Of course the more random passwords are harder to remember, but that is where password management comes into play.

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    Managing your passwords

    I know some people that keep their passwords in an unencrypted text file. That’s not a good idea. I suppose that if you aren’t doing much online and are decent at avoiding viruses and such, it could be OK, but I would never recommend it.

    So, where do you keep your strong passwords for all the services that you visit on a daily basis?

    There are a ton of password safes out there including KeePass, RoboForm, Passpack, Password Safe, LastPass, and 1Password. If and when I recommend any of these I always count on LastPass and 1Password.

    Both LastPass and 1Password offer different entry types for online services logins (PayPal, Twitter, Facebook, Gmail, etc.), credit cards and bank accounts, online identities, and other types of sensitive information. Both have excellent reviews and only differ in a few subtle ways. One of the ways that is more notable is that LastPass keeps your encrypted password Vault online where 1Password allows you to keep it locally or shared through Dropbox. Either way, you are the holder of the encryption keys and both ways are very secure.

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    LastPass and 1Password both offer cross-platform support as well as support for Android and iOS (LastPass even has BlackBerry support). 1Password is a little pricey ($39.99 for either Windows or Mac) where LastPass has free options as well as premium upgrades that allow for mobile syncing.

    Upkeep

    You should probably change your passwords for your “important” accounts at least every 6 weeks. When I say “important” accounts I am referring to ones that you just couldn’t imagine losing access to. For me that would be Gmail, PayPal, eBay, Amazon, all my FTP accounts and hosting accounts, Namecheap, etc. Basically these include any account where financial information could be lost or accessed as well as accounts that could be totally screwed up (like my webserver).

    There is no hard and fast rule to how often you should change your passwords, but 6 to 8 weeks should be pretty good.

    Alternatives

    You may think that all of this is just too much to manage on a daily basis. I will admit it is kind of annoying to have to change your passwords and use a password manager on a daily basis. For those people out there that don’t want to go through all of the hub-bub of super-secure, encrypted, password management, here are a few tips to keep you safe:

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    1. Create a unique and hard to guess “base password” and then a pattern to use for each site you logon onto. For instance a base password could be “Ih2BaSwAa” (this stands for “I have two brothers and sisters who are annoying”). Then you would add something “site specific” to the end of it. For Twitter Ih2BaSwAaTWTTR, Facebook Ih2BaSwAaFCBK, etc. This is sort of unsecure, but probably more secure than 99% of the passwords out there.
    2. Don’t write your passwords down in public places. If you want to keep track of passwords on something written, keep it on you at least. The problem is that if you get your wallet stolen you are still out of luck.
    3. Don’t use the same passwords for every service. I’m not even going to explain this; just don’t do it.

    These are just a few things that can be done rather than keeping your passwords in a management system. Personally, with over 100 entries in my password management system, I couldn’t even dream of doing any other way. But those out there with only a few passwords, having a simpler system may be beneficial.

    So, if you want to be a “responsible internet citizen” or you just don’t want to lose your precious account data, then creating and maintaining strong passwords for your online accounts is a must.

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