Using Tech to Make Your Life Better

All last week I was out of the office on a business trip.  Now usually when I travel like this, I basically write off the week as not really getting anything done.  Instead I focus on what I’m traveling for, then just plan on catching up when I return to my desk. But this week was different; I found myself staying very closely involved with the day-to-day throughout the week.  And I’m not just talking about a few emails or random text messages. I’m talking about trading log files and error message screenshots on my cellphone while I’m standing in line to board a plane, things like that. It’s really impressive about the state and capability of technology today, if you choose to use it.

I’ve heard a particular concept several times, to be honest I can’t remember where, but it’s essentially the same idea.  One specific anecdote on this concept is that super productive people tend to wear the same clothes over and over, to the degree that some people just buy lots of the same items and wear the same thing all the time.  The 2 big notable examples are Steve Jobs’ turtlenecks and Mark Zuckerberg’s hoodies.

The idea is that your productivity, and to some extent your mood and satisfaction, stem from the aggregate sum of many small things.  So for example, if you are walking around with 10 million things in your head, like Remember to schedule that meeting/Send that email/Tell that person something/Find that document, then this can distinctly affect your mood.  You’re really affected by so many small decisions stacked up in your brain all at once.

So what do these two things I’ve mentioned have to do with one another?  Well, I feel like technology has finally reached a state where, if you choose to utilize it, can greatly help address the management of all these small things.  

There’s a couple of things that I make frequent use of to make my life easier, to manage my workload:

  • Reminders / Task List

The simplest use case, one that I use extremely frequently, is making use of some sort of SaaS-based todo list, which has voice management and cross-platform synchronization.  Its is amazingly freeing when I’m in the car or walking down a hall and I can just say, “Siri/Alexa/Cortana, remind me later this afternoon to email Joe.” Once that’s done, I can let that thing in my head just float away, like a light breeze, confident that I will be reminded later to do that thing.  Add this up over the course of a day, and the lessening of that cognitive workload is enormous. This greatly affects my energy level and my mood.

  • Voice Recognition Authoring

One thing I’ve noticed in my life pattern is that when I wake up and get going in the morning, it seems like my creative juices are all flowing.  I found myself during my morning commute composing in my head entire emails, articles, blog posts, and so forth. For some reason, that quiet time in the morning combined with the freshness of a new day meant my brain was firing on all cylinders.  The problem was, hours later when I finally got to sit down I’d usually forgotten all those amazing things I was going to say. I experimented and discovered that something as simple as loading a word processor on my phone and using a Bluetooth microphone, I could just compose out loud all that content to a document for later.  Even though the formatting obviously needs lots of cleaning, the fact that I am able to get all the ideas and structure down is huge. I would say that more than half of this blog content is created exactly this way.

  • Switching from Email to Chat

I remember one day, fresh out of school, the funny realization that snail mail was considered “too slow” and everyone relied on email.  I found in my daily duties that sending emails turned out to be the newer, faster way that people communicate. If you had a big document to share then sure, you printed it and shipped it.  Nowadays, it has shifted again. Email is considered “too slow” and people prefer IM or chat. But if you have a big document to share, then sure you attach it to an email and send it that way.  It’s probably already shifting again, where IM will be considered “too slow” and some of these voice-on-demand messaging systems will become more widely used, and sure if you have a big document to share you’ll send an IM with a cloud-based link.

I’m a strong believer in velocity, in frequent and small iterations.  Considering that so much modern work requires collaboration, small and frequent chunks of communication such as chat messages is a huge timesaver.  It has gotten to where composing and sending an email, just for one quick question, is no longer the preferred and simplest way to move quickly.

One word of warning: don’t be 100% daily connected to your IM/chat.  You need “quiet time” to focus on creative or deep thought work. I frequently tell people, its ok if you say in advance “going dark for 3 hours” then disconnect, and we all just accept that and respect your concentration.

Another word of warning: don’t let text communication replace some voice or face-to-face (even by video) communication every now and then.  It’s too easy to misunderstand intent and tone in text, and so you need to stay in mental sync with the people you need to communicate with.  As crazy as this sounds, this is where things like emoji can actually help.

By learning to use these types of technology effectively, I’ve found that not only does it help my productivity but it can also greatly help my happiness and mood.  By relieving my brain of less-important cognitive tasks, it lets me focus on the important things I want to think about, and not having all those small things in the back of my head makes me a much happier and relaxed person.

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