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Fight Bad Cellphone Habits For Better Time Management

Fight Bad Cellphone Habits For Better Time Management

    In my recent NewHabits-NewGoals time management programs I have noticed a disturbing trend: now, there is always at least 10% of the class that is unable to comply with my request to turn off their Blackberrys or iPhones for the duration of the class.

    This needs to be put in context, however.

    None of the people sitting in my classes are emergency room surgeons, firemen or policemen. I am not delivering these programs in a war zone, during a hurricane or in the middle of a tornado.

    Yet, they find it absolutely essential to be checking their email every few minutes.

    When I ask the obvious question: “Why?” the response has always been a modified version of the following explanation given to me by a banker with a company headquartered overseas, in Canada. She once failed to respond to an email from Canada within an hour or two. She then received a call from her boss telling her that her lack of responsiveness had been noticed, and that he had been asked by someone in headquarters to intervene, and do something about the “problem.”

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    That this banker was an executive seemed not to matter. She was expected to constantly monitor her email at all times. Period. After all, hadn’t she been given a Blackberry?

    Welcome to the latest technique in micromanagement.

    For aspiring micro-managers, it’s easy: simply give the employee the gift of a Blackberry. Then, send them “important” emails at odd hours (5pm is a good choice.) When you don’t get a response within minutes, make a critical comment, and mention their need to improve their time management skills. Praise them for their responsiveness as they inevitably knuckle under in time, and thank them for becoming a good “team player.”

    For the manager, it’s a case of “mission accomplished.” The employee now understands how important it is to respond to email quickly. The desired behaviour has been put in place.

    We can thank the Blackberry for taking away the last excuse that employees had for not doing exactly what their bosses want them to do, immediately.

    However, what effect does this have on overall corporate productivity?

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    I remember a company I did business with that had a policy of not installing voicemail on their employee’s phones. (This was in the days before cell phones.) In their commitment to serve their internal and external customers, they insisted that whenever the phone rang, even for executives, that it had to be answered.

    This well-intentioned policy had the unintended consequence of pressuring employees to develop the bad habit of dropping whatever they were doing to answer the phone. Back then, they had no idea who the caller was as there was no caller-id provided. A call to a wrong number took precedence over whatever the employee was doing at the moment.

    While that ancient practice would make us smile and shake our heads, the new habit of checking and re-checking email over and over is even more destructive.

    While your phone might not ring every day, the same isn’t true for email — the norm is to receive not just one but several messages per day. An employee that must respond to email quickly must therefore check their email many, many times per day, just to make sure that something more important or more urgent hasn’t just been sent.

    To get at that item, they must read virtually all their email, just in case one of them is critical.

    The manager might think they are getting a responsive employee by giving them a Blackberry, and following the steps I described above.

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    In fact, they are turning their professional into a drone who is incapable of planning their day, and isn’t trusted to decide what to work on from one moment to the next.

    If the author of “Flow” – Mihaly Csikszentmihaly – is to believed, it takes an employee 20 minutes to get back to their most productive state after they interrupt themselves for any reason, including email.

    The professional becomes an unproductive drone.

    What drives this crazy state of affairs is a fear on the part of employees, who knuckle under a regime that they freely acknowledge is destructive because they are afraid of negative repercussions. Better for them to do the stupid thing they despise over and over again, than to be the odd one out who gets called up by their manager for having poor skills.

    Many companies who adapted electronic email devices have seen productivity drop and fear rise, as these bad habits become ubiquitous. They are beginning to ask themselves — how did we get to this place?

    A few are reversing it.

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    They are putting in place smartphone policies that limit their use to certain hours, and banning their use on vacations and public holidays. They are actually training their employees how to manage themselves in a way that expands the amount of “quality time” they spend at their desk each day, by teaching them how to get into and sustain the flow state. They are actively removing the requirement to respond to email by a given time, and are using the phone as a way to communicate emergencies, which is improving the quality of delegation, requesting and promising.

    In other words, they are actively turning the tables on bad habits that have sprung up around the latest technology, and taking charge of the fear-driven culture change that has become the norm in too many companies.

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    More by this author

    Francis Wade

    Author, Management Consultant

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    How to Fight Information Overload

    How to Fight Information Overload

    Information overload is a creature that has been growing on the Internet’s back since its beginnings. The bigger the Internet gets, the more information there is. The more quality information we see, the more we want to consume it. The more we want to consume it, the more overloaded we feel.

    This has to stop somewhere. And it can.

    As the year comes to a close, there’s no time like the present to make the overloading stop.

    What you need to do is focus on these 4 steps:

    1. Set your goals.
    2. Decide whether you really need the information.
    3. Consume only the minimal effective dose.
    4. Don’t procrastinate by consuming too much information.

    But before I explain exactly what I mean, let’s discuss information overload in general.

    The Nature of the Problem

    The sole fact that there’s more and more information published online every single day is not the actual problem. Only the quality information becomes the problem. This sounds kind of strange…but bear with me.

    When we see some half-baked blog post we don’t even consider reading it, we just skip to the next thing. But when we see something truly interesting — maybe even epic — we want to consume it. We even feel like we have to consume it. And that’s the real problem.

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    No matter what topic we’re interested in, there are always hundreds of quality blogs publishing entries every single day (or every other day). Not to mention all the forums, message boards, social news sites, and so on. The amount of epic content on the Internet these days is so big that it’s virtually impossible for us to digest it all. But we try anyway.

    That’s when we feel overloaded. If you’re not careful, one day you’ll find yourself reading the 15th blog post in a row on some nice WordPress tweaking techniques because you feel that for some reason, “you need to know this.”

    Information overload is a plague. There’s no vaccine, there’s no cure. The only thing you have is self-control. Luckily, you’re not on your own. There are some tips you can follow to protect yourself from information overload and, ultimately, fight it. But first…

    Why information overload is bad

    It stops you from taking action. That’s the biggest problem here. When you try to consume more and more information every day, you start to notice that even though you’ve been reading tons of articles, watching tons of videos and listening to tons of podcasts, the stream of incoming information seems to be infinite.

    Therefore, you convince yourself that you need to be on a constant lookout for new information if you want to be able to accomplish anything in your life, work and/or passion. The final result is that you are consuming way too much information, and taking way too little action because you don’t have enough time for it.

    The belief that you need to be on this constant lookout for information is just not true.

    You don’t need every piece of advice possible to live your life, do your work, or enjoy your passion.

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    So how to recognize the portion of information that you really need? Start with your goals.

    1. Set your goals

    If you don’t have your goals put in place you’ll be just running around grabbing every possible advice and thinking that it’s “just what you’ve been looking for.”

    Setting goals is a much more profound task than just a way to get rid of information overload. Now by “goals” I don’t mean things like “get rich, have kids, and live a good life”. I mean something much more within your immediate grasp. Something that can be achieved in the near future — like within a month (or a year) at most.

    Basically, something that you want to attract to your life, and you already have some plan on how you’re going to make it happen. So no hopes and dreams, just actionable, precise goals.

    Then once you have your goals, they become a set of strategies and tactics you need to act upon.

    2. What to do when facing new information

    Once you have your goals, plans, strategies and tasks you can use them to decide what information is really crucial.

    First of all, if the information you’re about to read has nothing to do with your current goals and plans then skip it. You don’t need it.

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    If it does then it’s time for another question. Will you be able to put this information into action immediately? Does it have the potential to maybe alter your nearest actions/tasks? Or is it so incredible that you absolutely need to take action on it right away? If the information is not actionable in a day or two (!) then skip it. (You’ll forget about it anyway.)

    And that’s basically it. Digest only what can be used immediately. If you have a task that you need to do, consume only the information necessary for getting this one task done, nothing more.

    You need to be focused in order to have clear judgment, and be able to decide whether some piece of information is mandatory or redundant. Self-control comes handy too … it’s quite easy to convince yourself that you really need something just because of poor self-control. Try to fight this temptation, and be as ruthless about it as possible – if the information is not matching your goals and plans, and you can’t take action on it in the near future then SKIP IT.

    3. Minimal Effective Dose

    There’s a thing called the MED – Minimal Effective Dose. I was first introduced to this idea by Tim Ferriss. In his book The 4-Hour Body,Tim illustrates the minimal effective dose by talking about medical drugs. Everybody knows that every pill has a MED, and after that specific dose no other positive effects occur, only some negative side effects if you overdose big.

    Consuming information is somewhat similar. You need just a precise amount of it to help you to achieve your goals and put your plans into life. Everything more than that amount won’t improve your results any further. And if you try to consume too much of it, it will eventually stop you from taking any action altogether.

    4. Don’t procrastinate by consuming more information

    Probably one of the most common causes of consuming ridiculous amounts of information is the need to procrastinate. By reading yet another article we often feel that we are indeed working, and that we’re doing something good – we’re learning, which in result will make us a more complete and educated person.

    This is just self-deception. The truth is we’re simply procrastinating. We don’t feel like doing what really needs to be done – the important stuff – so instead we find something else, and convince ourselves that “that thing” is equally important. Which is just not true.

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    Don’t consume information just for the sake of it. It gets you nowhere.

    In Closing

    As you can see, information overload can be a real problem and it can have a sever impact on your productivity and overall performance. I know I have had my share of problems with it (and probably still have from time to time). But creating this simple set of rules helps me to fight it, and to keep my lizard brain from taking over. I hope it helps you too, especially as we head into a new year with a new chance at setting ourselves up for success.

    Feel free to shoot me a comment below and share your own story of fighting information overload. What are you doing to keep it from sabotaging your life?

    (Photo credit: Businessman with a Lot of Discarded Paper via Shutterstock)

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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