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Communication, Thought, and Time

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Communication, Thought, and Time

Over at Slow Leadership, this week has been all about using your time. I don’t set out to give each week’s postings a single theme, but sometimes it happens that way.

It began with considering the relationship between time, action and thought in a posting I called Taking Your Time. Some people claim that jumping into actions and decisions without stopping to think is the right thing to do. They want you to put your trust in intuition: a vaguely-defined process below the level of consciousness that is somehow more accurate and powerful than thought or reasoning. I guess Freud started it, with his ideas of an unconscious mind, but even he never suggested such a process is better or more accurate than reasoning or logic. That’s believing in magic.

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Science has shown that human beings typically have a limited taste for the workings of chance and randomness. The human mind tries to reject the idea that things happen for no reason—by chance—and tries instead to discover, or invent, a cause to explain each observed effect. People point to cases when blind intuition (not the kind from informed experience based on long years of study and practice) seemed to work and ignore all the cases when it did not. Anecdotal evidence is always partial: it claims support for what is already believed, skips over any contrary evidence, and ignores the equally likely possibility that the times when intuition came up with the goods were due to nothing but chance.

If taking time to think is more likely to produce a sound basis for action than putting your faith in magical intuition, relying on evidence and proof is clearly a better basis for knowledge than emotions. That brought me back to one of my favorite thinkers, Bertrand Russell, and a post called Those Much-ignored Essentials: Time, Thought, and Proof. In today’s rushed, stressed, and pressured working environment, it’s easy to mistake emotional statements for rational arguments. The media, relying on sound-bites and 30-second news stories, rates anything that hits home hard and fast, however irrational, so we’re all coming to place far too much reliance on emotional “arguments” (which are no arguments at all, since emotional claims allow for no alternatives). It’s unfashionable, even heretical, to decline to accept “human interest” in place of hard news, or point out how much sentimentality there is in conventional beliefs about good and evil, but I do it just the same.

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Back to time and the necessity to slow down. I ended the week thinking about communication. If organizations stopped believing that improving communication skills is a panacea for every problem in the workplace, tens of thousands of consultants and trainers would be out of work overnight. In writing Taking Time Out to Listen, I didn’t quite go that far, but I did suggest that haste, pressure, superficiality, and anxiety—all aspects of today’s business environment that undermine the capacity to pay attention—might have more to do with problems of communication than any lack of skill.

The natural process of “tuning out” topics, values, and motivations you don’t care about is given a massive boost by pressure and lack of time, creating blind spots in your perception. As a result, much of what is being “broadcast” by others is filtered out before it even reaches your consciousness. We’re back to intuition and instant responses. If a topic doesn’t grab your distracted attention right away, it’s thrown in the mental wastebasket unread and unheard. And that’s a great way to miss things that later turn out to be important.

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The antidote is cultivating a greater willingness to open your mind and senses to unfamiliar topics, including those currently assumed to have little or no value. That takes time and attention. And so we return to the need for time: time to listen carefully, develop an open-minded and broad-based view of the world, and come to decisions through thought and reflection, not magical beliefs in the power of intuition.

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Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order. He lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his posts most days at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to build a civilized place to work and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership.

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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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