One of the reasons I love technology so much is because it gives me greater control over how I allocate my time and attention.
That doesn't sound right. Aren't I the guy constantly talking about how much of the technology we use today seems to be making us incapable of concentrating on anything and constantly pulling our attention to and fro? Doesn't the whole "productivity scene" generally admonish us to be careful about how we navigate this world of information overload and constant connection that is driving us to distraction and unhealthy work habits?
While it may be true that aspects of our society and the technology that pervades it can make it hard to focus and do truly high quality work, there are components of it that are excellent tools for improving how we use our time.
Time-shifting is probably most commonly discussed in terms of television and the growth of TiVo/DVR. It refers to the ability to record live television and then play it back at your convenience. However, this basic concept can be expanded beyond the realm of TV and the living room. I'm a huge proponent in time shifting everything I possibly can because it allows me to take control over what I give my attention to and at what time. Without it, I'd constantly be at the whim of other people -- people who don't necessarily care about my goals and dreams for the future and therefore wouldn't be making decisions based on what's best for me.
Additionally, time shifting everything I can allows me to save certain activities for certain energy levels. It's a complete mismatch and inefficient use of my mental resources to do something that doesn't require much creative thinking or mental power when I'm feeling energized and creative. On the flip side, it's equally a waste of time to be forced to do something that requires me to operate on a high mental level when my brain is just completely fried. Time shifting unlocks the puzzle pieces that allow me to fit everything together in a much more logical way.
Here's what I time shift:
- Small tasks: I like to save up small tasks that are similar to each other instead of doing them throughout the day. For example, I'm constantly throwing ideas and snippets of thought into my task management software inbox throughout the day. I could immediately file them into the correct projects or Evernote notebooks but instead I choose to wait until the end of the day. It doesn't require a lot of thought to do this filing so I'd rather do it at the end of the day when I'm already tired instead of potentially interrupting myself doing something creative or difficult (like writing this article).
- Most TV: I already don't watch a lot of TV but the little bit I do I use streaming services so I can watch at the most opportune time for me, not when the networks decide to air it. The idea of letting a television studio decide when my leisure time is going to be is pretty repulsive. Luckily, I don't care about seeing things the moment they come out so I'm comfortable being a little bit behind until I can catch something on my schedule.
- Email: Email is usually a task that doesn't require deep thought or creative thinking so I'm careful to not let it creep into the times of day when I'm at my best. I want to save those times for writing, coaching, and other highly taxing tasks. Email can be saved for lower energy times. I also like to batch together emails I have to write and send them off together. In order to do this, I make sure I don't have any kind of notification active that alerts me to when new email comes in. I know I'll get to it in a couple hours and try to keep my focus on the work at hand.
- Reading news: I use Instapaper to save articles from the internet that I'd like to read later. People are constantly suggesting different things I should read throughout the day and it wouldn't make sense for me to read all of them the moment they are recommended. By using a read-it-later service I can shift my article reading to a time that makes more sense. I usually do most of my reading with Instapaper on the weekend or during breaks in my work.
- Social media: Instead of letting Facebook and Twitter notify me all day long I make it a point to only check them a couple times each day. That way I don't let them sneak into my most productive hours and I have something I can do when I'm feeling mentally fried. The idea that an acquaintance from high school could potentially interrupt my work with an update about what he had for lunch is insane. There is no reason to have notifications like that on.
Technology allows us to take the formerly static pieces of our day and adjust them more to our own liking. It allows us to personalize where and when our attention is shifted over the course of the day. Think carefully about whether you're making conscious decisions about when you do certain things or whether you're letting other people or companies decide where your attention is placed. Attention is the single most precious resource you have -- you're the one who should be in charge of it.
Photo by Stefan