Tag Archives: Information management

Technology: Making it a Tool and not a Distraction!

My sister-in-law originally posted this great piece on her own blog – Nicole Lynskey Technology: Making it a Tool and not a Distraction! – and I thought it worthy to share while I ponder my own first post of the year.  I agree with her that technology is a boon and a potential impediment to the rest of our life.

Technology can be a wonderful tool.  How much easier it is to find your way around a new city with GPS.  How cool is it that you can see the face of a loved one while you talk to them from a 1000 miles away.  But technology – Facebook, TV, smart phones, email, texting – can also be distracting or even addicting.

 

What is the technology that you find distracting?  I have friends that have killed off their Facebook accounts because they found that it eats up too much of their time.  And I have Facebook friends who post so often it makes me wonder how they ever get anything done.

 

Mine is not Facebook. I don’t do farm animals games. If you post more than once a day, I will most likely just read the first entry.  For me Facebook is an awesome tool; it is a place where I’m connected to my community. I hear about deaths and births and dog birthdays and news headlines I would otherwise miss. I’m Facebook friends with cousins I have only met twice and relatives in Norway.

 

That is the thing about technology, whether it is Facebook, the T.V., your smart phone, an iPod, Twitter, or email.  It has the potential to be a tool.  And it has the potential to be a distraction or even an addiction. In one study, they found that some knowledge workers were checking their email up to 30 times an hour. In another, some college students reported that they were on their smart phones up to 10 hours a day.

 

My technology addiction of choice has always been T.V. At 9PM, when my day ends, I love to turn on re-runs of shows like Star Trek. This is brain dead zone for me. I learn nothing about the world. I simply escape. And when I watch, it is as if I have been sucked directly into the T.V.  When Major Kira of Deep Space Nine cries, I cry. When Commander Sisko laughs, I laugh. Luckily, I have limited free time and so this addiction remains somewhat small. The average American (shockingly) watches something like 35 hours of TV a week, or 5 hours a day. But while my TV time is minimal, I do find it gets in the way.

 

Now, many have decried the evils of T.V. But it can also be a great tool. I have friends who watch T.V., and use it to learn and discover. They watch NOVA and documentaries.  They seem to have no problem turning it off and doing something else.

 

So why can technology be so addicting?  There are a couple of places I would point to:

 

The Distractibility Factor.

The first is that technology has a high degree of distractibility. Think about those knowledge workers checking their email every two minutes. Email can be fun. It can feel a little like a popularity contest: Oh! I wonder who has responded to me! It can be obsessive: Did he answer my question yet? Did he answer my question yet?

 

Or think about Facebook. How many times have I gone into Facebook to check information on an event and then suddenly I’m off reading posts. Then, 10 minutes later, I “come to” and think “what was I trying to do?”

 

Avoidance

The second thing I’ll point to is a certain darkness inside of us that can be hiding out.  In the last few weeks I’ve been instituting no-TV-Tuesdays.  The first thing I came up against was the question of who am I, what do I like to do to relax, if I am not watching my nightly show.  There is a bit of a dark spot over my soul, that, in watching TV, I can escape. In the absence of the TV, there is quiet. In the quiet of my heart, what is it that I don’t want to hear? (Like, for me, the devastating things that happen on this planet. Or the question of what it means to be closer to 50 than to 40. )

 

So, in turning away from our technology addictions, there is also an opportunity to look more deeply into our own psyche and ask if there is something we are avoiding.

 

What can we do to curb our addictions?

Here are a few suggestions:

 

  1. Get clear on the purpose of the technology for you. Is it a tool for learning? Is it for connection? In what ways is it a tool for you and in what ways a distraction? For example: when I use Facebook I am super clear that I am there to connect with people. That’s it. I don’t do anything else. And that helps me use it well.
  2. Take a look at that question: Is there something I’m avoiding or hiding out from?
  3. Create a little holiday from your addicting technology.  By just opening this little window of no-TV-Tuesday, I have come to see other possibilities. There are books I want to read. I could listen to Public Radio. (How could I have forgotten!?) When I do watch TV, which is still to often for my taste, it is often with more of a sense of choice. I could watch TV. Or I could take a bath or I could turn on the radio.
  1. Use a timer. I find this to be a really effective tool for me. I set a timer for how long I want to focus on a difficult task. During that time, I ban myself from email & Facebook. And I also set a timer for how long I plan to be in a distracted state. For example: maybe I give myself 15 minutes to check email, look at Facebook and generally browse the internet.

 

What about you? What are your addictions and what are your solutions? Let me know!

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Collaborative Writing

Writing is supposed to be done alone in a cold garret somewhere.  The writer tortured to some degree by the blank page.  Characters, storyline, theme development all taking up a great deal of space in the writer’s thoughts.  Is that still the image?

 

How about the place of the reader?  Should a writer develop ideas based solely on personal interest and preference, or in some consideration of the potential reader?  Particularly in this medium, which is so immediately public.  And yet, only so much so as the blog’s SEO commands.

 

public domain image

public domain image

I used to wonder about writing as part of a group.  I did take a play writing course in high school where we often worked in teams on pairs.  Sometimes this led to better pieces and sometimes to drivel. How does the division of labor work out?

 

I warmed to collaborative writing in the business environment.  It helped that I came across a writing partner with similar sensibilities and a more developed (at the time) methodology.  One or the other of us would usually take a first stab at writing the first draft after a brief discussion of need or intent and then we would sit together and hone it.  Move sections about, sharpen wording, tighten the message so that there was plenty of white space.  White space is very important in business writing.  In the early days, I thought that she spent too much time honing.  But I learned better editing.

 

I came to realize that my interest in fiction was actually useful in this writing environment.  Story is necessary here, too.  Not as in making something up, but in creating a clear arc; keeping the focus of the piece clean.  Every detail isn’t necessary, in fact too much detail is detrimental to keeping the reader engaged in the message.

 

We are writing about this issue.  This is a bit of the background for why we are writing.  This is the solution.  The adage to start in the middle has merit here, captures interest.  Keeps things moving.

 

A strong conclusion – with a call to action.  Here is what we want you to do with this information.  In business writing the reader is highly important, if not properly considered then the message may fail.  Collaboration of minds and writing styles can make the effort more effective.

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Here You Go

Problem solving has been an important part of my job description for as long as I can remember.  I like to put on the detective hat and sift through things to find the parts that are important, put them together in the right configuration and arrive at a solution.  Sometimes it’s pretty straightforward to figure out and sometimes plenty about the situation is a bit ambiguous.

 

There is one thing about problem solving that got old a long time ago, but is part and parcel of the problem solver’s lot in my experience.  It is the person who makes it a habit to hand over partial information, or fragments here and there in multiple email or phone messages.  They want you to solve it, but they can’t be bothered to try to put anything together in any sort of cohesive single place.

 

public domain image

public domain image

I’ll take the person who isn’t sure what they want or need kind of problem over the person who dumps a mess every time.  Most times.  Every once in a while I use the big mess as an excuse to be left alone to puzzle it all into something coherent.  But mostly I see it as a different facet of rude.  That person’s time is more important than mine.  (Though I concede that there may be other ways of looking at it…)

 

Sigh.  Focus on the boost that I hope to get upon resolution and not on the drudgery of slogging through the junk. This is why there are stories of the really good stuff one can find hidden in junk.  Think of ways to prevent the junk dump from repeat offenders.  Get caught up in the chase for the best solution.

 

Don’t be a here you go, dump and run person.  Please.

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

How Many Things Can Your Mind Juggle?

Back in my early adulthood, I thought I was overwhelmed when I had a couple of issues at the same time; say one personal and one work issue.  Mind boggled.  But I slowly adjusted and found that I could handle a couple of different issues at the same time and maintain regular stuff as well.

 

Then I had kids and had to mentally juggle my stuff, house stuff and their stuff.  Sometimes I missed a few balls, but I did pretty well because there became an ebb and flow to activity that followed the school year.  My mind could rest a bit here and there.

 

I’ve had periods, sometimes years, when I had to adjust to constant mental juggling, without the relief of that ebb in activity.  Mostly I think I met the challenge.  Often by letting less important things fall to the wayside for a bit.

 

I was told once, by someone who should know, that our minds are suited to holding 7-9 thoughts or ideas in short term memory.  Any more and something has to go to long term memory or get dropped off the mental cliff.

 

public domain clip art

public domain clip art

So this idea of time management (and information management) is more than being in the right place at the right time with the right tools, it is conquering your short term and long term memory capabilities – because I know plenty of people, particularly women, who are trying to shove 25 items into their short term memory and feeling frazzled as a result.

 

I just rewrote my current to-do list of reasonably important tasks, appointments and such.  (Yes, still using pen and paper because that act helps me to keep everything clear.)  I am scheduling a roof replacement that has been on my list for about 3 years.  (The contractor said he has seen worse roofs, but I don’t want to get backed into that corner so getting this off my list will be a relief.  The next heavy rain won’t make me cringe.)

 

A few things were completed and didn’t have to be carried over onto the new list.  And a couple of things came up in the intervening time and had to be done without even making it onto the official list.  I remembered a few things that should have been on the last list, but got lost in the nether regions of my mind.  Plus a few new things.  So the list is longer and looks like I haven’t gotten anything done.  (Sigh.)

 

How many things can you mind juggle?  And do you live with the constant sense that you are forgetting something?

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Why Write?

I was raised to think, not just do.  This thing happened to me, mom.  Why do you think it happened like that?  What can you do about it?  The balance is to think and then do, or you get analysis paralysis.

 

This is at least the third version of a piece that I revisit periodically ever since I stumbled upon this exercise.  The first version was read by me and the person at Poets and Writers magazine who rejected the submission.  The second was posted on my original blog as Why I Write.  It seems like every other person is a frustrated writer these days.  Some people are attracted by the potential for fast money, so it behooves those of us who persist at the craft to think about why we do what we do.  And since we are writers, thinking usually means writing.

 

Writing is permanence in a disposable world.  Committing words to paper – electronic or actual – requires a bit of thought beyond letting them spill from your mouth and moving on.  Which doesn’t mean that a writer can’t do the written version of misspeaking, mind you.  That’s why we need editors.

 

For every attempted act of communication there is equal opportunity for misunderstanding and discord as there is for understanding and agreement.  Written communication allows the opportunity for more deliberate consideration of intent and word choice to appeal to the ideal audience.

 

We learn very early, probably as our first conscious thought, that we have to figure out how to communicate.  Our needs are simple but urgent – food, sleep, a fresh diaper.  But babies have little means to get their point across and then they start to decode the sounds that they hear as words with attached generally accepted meanings.  Ah, communication begins.

 

We spend the rest of our lives communicating, whether we actively think about it or not.  Most often through oral communication, but we have to learn that pesky written part too.  (It is fascinating that for as many people who claim interest in writing, a large number of people groan at the idea of using writing as a means to communicate in business.)

 

Spoken words can fade in the memory, or morph into something entirely else than originally intended but written down they can become information that can be referenced again and again.  Imagine being given multi-step instructions verbally and then having to recall step 6 or so, some time later.  If you have this ability, I applaud you.  I can create a mental list of 4-5 things that I need at the store, recite it all the way and only manage to remember that there were supposed to be 4-5 things in my basket when I actually get to the store.

 

The act of writing, itself, helps the brain to remember the point more clearly.  This is why we are taught to take notes in school.  Typing the thing has some power, but not nearly the power as picking up a pencil or pen and putting it to paper.

 

public domain image

public domain image

Written communication reaches more people with exactly the same message than through word of mouth.  (Remember the game of telephone?)  This doesn’t mean that the message will be interpreted the same by all recipients, but at least it was the same message at the beginning.

 

I wasn’t sure what would come out when I decided to revisit this topic today, it appears to be more general and less personal than the other efforts.  Who knows how it will turn out next time.

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

A Subjective, Conditional Experience

Surveys in women’s magazines have such strong allure because they can tell us, once we calculate the results, where we fall on the unique but still comfortably in good company range.  Of course we want to be seen as a valuable and distinct individual, while not in any way too out-of-the-ordinary.  We need concrete, objective definitions for the boundaries then.

 

But life doesn’t work that way.  Plenty of us will do the normal things as we progress through adulthood – find a steady job, pair up and create our own family, settle down with a house and within a community.  But the details will vary wildly and so those concrete definitions of the boundaries get complicated.

DSC03746

We don’t want to be ‘wrong’ – not make the wrong decision, or somehow not right and therefore not fit in.  Except that survey is just based on someone else’s opinion of what is right, on conjecture.  Or on an agglomeration of averages – a high percentage of people picked this school or that profession which must make them more right.  But right for whom?

 

My mom came across Margaret Mead as she experienced college in her 30s and 40s – when I was in grade school and high school.  She became enamored of Mead’s assertion that one should have a different spouse for the different stages of adulthood (Margaret’s way of proving her own path as the right one, perhaps?) all the while being proud of keeping her own long term marriage intact as she set about increasing her intellectual range.

 

Mom admired a lot about the unconventional choices of others, but she stuck to the conventional ones.  Dad was conventional through and through.  And they raised us to think for ourselves, with a high awareness of rules, mores and convention.

 

These ideas are much bigger than a single blog post, and this post has wandered in a direction that I didn’t originally intend.  I keep coming back to these themes – value, self-definition, individuality – because they are rich and varied.  I am fascinated by the conflict inherit between the draw of conventionality (and acceptance) and the determination of each person to be unique.

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Fragmented Experience

I was recently at the Salesforce1 World Tour in Chicago (they had Buddy guy play, which was awesome) and they used this marketing term while discussing customer experience and a light bulb went on for me.  Fragmented experience – that got tucked away for future mulling.

DSC03817

Having spent a few years in customer service/care/experience (whatever the current lingo), I am sensitive to providing clear, accurate and timely information and assistance to customers in a cohesive manner.  As a consumer for even longer, I am well aware of how many companies fall far short of this goal and I have had way too many fragmented experiences from the customer perspective.

 

(ATT – take heed!  A couple of months ago I called them to ask a question and the automated message said to contact them through their website for faster service.  When I hung up and tried that, the website told me to call them.  Yes, really.  Maybe not a fragmented experience per se, but I thought for a minute that I was in one of Dante’s circles of hell.)

 

So, what is a fragmented experience?  Any time when you get only bits and pieces of what you are after using one method of contact and you have to expend a lot of effort to achieve your goal of all the information or service that you are after.  Too many companies seem to do this on purpose to make people give up, which often results in a disgruntled customer who is paying more than they probably should.

 

I probably shouldn’t single out ATT for my fragmented experiences, but that is the one that is coming to mind just at this moment.  I’m sure that I could gather plenty more with a quick poll of my friends.  Sadly.

 

Plenty of companies in recent years have ignored the percentage of their employees who felt disengaged because the company saw no compelling need to address the issue.   Some of the same companies have allowed fragmented customer experiences to be the norm because they knew inertia would allow them to retain a large portion of these disgruntled customers.  What if that starts to change?  What if younger, hungry companies start to show customers a truly better experience?

 

What is your most egregious fragmented experience?

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

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