Tag Archives: Time 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!

Time Well Spent

Reading.  Time reading is never ill spent, even if I’m not too fond of whatever I happen to be reading.  Reading is a wonderful way to pass the time, to feed your mind, to learn, to escape…  Even if I manage to forget much what I read, it was still time spent well.

 

My former mother-in-law thought time reading in the middle of the day was just about the most decadent thing ever.  A person who was doing – cooking, cleaning, gardening, etc. – was spending time wisely.  Reading wasn’t doing in her book.  (And don’t even mention napping.)  I do agree with her that doing is productive.  But reading is productive as well.

DSC03769

Productive.  To produce, create, generate.  Time well spent should produce something.

 

I’ve mentioned here before that I am terrible when it comes to planning for myself.  Many weekends I wind up irritated with myself because I didn’t plan for this time away from work.  Plan to get things done, or plan for a little bit of fun.  I ask myself if those weekend hours are then time well spent?  At the end of each day I can point to ways that I was productive, though some of it repetitively so.  Such as errands and laundry, cleaning.

 

Work hours can be just as confusing when asking whether we are productive – if I got things done, but not necessarily the things that I expected to do, was it time well spent?  Was I productive?  What if you did exactly what you expected to do but didn’t get the result that you expected?  Was that time well spent, was it productive?

 

So much to do, so little time.  The time that we get here is finite, spend it wisely.  But was is time spent well when there is so much to do?

 

Reading.  I’ll spend more time reading and think about this more later.

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

How Much ‘Summer’ in Summer?

August is upon us and the back-to-school ads have started to appear.  Gardens are about to produce tomatoes and cucumbers galore.  Leaves on trees are looking a bit tired and worn here and there after shining in their green spectrum from early pale to later deep green.  We still have a couple more months to go before the plants all go dormant for the cooler months.

 

I haven’t taken a vacation, or even devoted a whole day to summer activities, but I have vicariously enjoyed those of friends and family on Facebook and in-person telling.  And I have thought about what constitutes a summer moment so that I don’t miss them when they occur.  In early June, I wrote this piece about summer and the importance of noting this season.

 

Summer isn’t just a season, it is an idea – a representation of things to strive for like relaxation and laughter with friends and family.  It is nostalgia in a different form than what the holiday season brings forth.  The sound of children laughing in early evening brings me back to those moments in long ago yards playing tag or chasing fireflies with a group of other kids.  The joy of still being up and out in the dark when we would normally have been tucked into bed.

 

Enjoying the idea of summer in adulthood takes effort, a deliberateness that wasn’t necessary in childhood.  First we have to be conscious that this effort is even required.  Summer was spontaneous in our younger years and we might expect this to continue, we might feel discontent when it does not.

 

For several years in the transition from child to adult, I didn’t think about summer much at all.  Perhaps because I was busy figuring out what being an adult meant for me.  Perhaps because I was doing this figuring out in California, where the seasons are subtle and mostly all have the feel of summer.  It wasn’t until my children were old enough to have a summer break in school, and summers had the same rhythm they had in my childhood that I started to think about what makes summer.

 

Then I was divorced with two boys and a full time job and I had to make sure they had a summer while basically foregoing one for myself.  Or so I thought because I thought of summer as long stretches of unscheduled time to explore and enjoy.

DSC03845

Now summer comes in moments, sips, or bursts.  And I enjoy them.

  • Time on a patio with family or friends
  • The hummingbird that visits the Rose of Sharon in the corner of my yard
  • Watching the tomato plants grow and tomatoes form
  • The firefly that hovered in front of the dog and I on a late evening walk
  • The dragonfly that reluctantly posed for this picture
  • The little boy gleefully whizzing by on his bike
  • The sound of lawn mowers while I still laze in bed on a weekend
  • Thunderstorms clearing the humidity from the air

 

How much summer is in your summer so far?

 

© 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

There Should be an App for That

(Please remember as you read today’s post that I have a dumb phone and I know exactly this much – 0 – about phone applications.  However, should anyone reading this decide that this is a viable idea and create such an app – you’re welcome.)

 

I’ve been to a few meetings and events in the past week or so that all start with some version of the announcement to turn off or turn down the beeps, bleeps, trills, rings and singing of electronic devices.  I dutifully turn my phone to vibrate each time because I do rely upon that verbal reminder to take this courteous action.

 

I’ve had a cell phone for about 12 years now, clearly not an early adopter.  My sister and brother-in-law got me into the mobile age by gifting a pay-by-month phone.  I left it in the box until the morning that it was predicted that a huge snowstorm would bear down on us later that day.  I picked up the phone – box, instructions and all – and activated it when I got to work.

 

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

(A year or so before that, I spent two solid hours inching past Woodfield Mall in a frustrating effort to get home during an evening rush hour snow storm.  I was the 2nd to last parent to pick up my kids at after-school care and due to the emergency situation was not charged the late pick up fee, thankfully.  I could have used a phone that night.)

 

I digress, I use the cell phone for communication not entertainment.  For it to be effective for inbound contact, I need to be able to hear it ringing.  I can count on one finger the number of times that I have successfully remembered to turn back on the sound after a meeting or an event.  I missed a call this past week that once again made me annoyed at myself.  And led to this thought about apps.

 

There should be an application that activates when a person turns off the ringer and then finds a way to turn the ringer back on after a period of time or a way to notify the phone owner that the sound is off.  Yes, this is not necessary for the folks who obsessively check their phones.  But I know that I am not alone in the way that I use my phone.

 

What do you think?

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Lazy Days of Summer?

I regularly read Mary Schmich’s column in the Chicago Tribune and one of her frequent themes is to remind herself and all readers as well to enjoy these brief summer days.  Despite a hefty work schedule that no longer breaks for the summer months.  It is so easy as we dash from air conditioned house to air conditioned car to air conditioned office to air conditioned store to air conditioned house to completely miss summer.   But we really earned this summer after the winter we just had.

 

summer is getting ready to burst open like this peony

summer is getting ready to burst open like this peony

I have been watching all of the plants come out of their dormancy, unfurling their leaves and sending out new shoots.  I enjoy the return of the leaf canopy on the streets that I normally drive (except my own which has been devastated by the Emerald Ash Borer, where all the trees sadly await a saw.)   I take in the changes of plantings as the dog and I walk our usual routes.

 

It is my intention to choose the patio option more often this summer when out with friends or family and enjoy the breeze, the rustling in the trees and the play of light.  (And try to stay in the shade.)  I’ve already managed to do this twice, which is a good start.  When meeting up with friends, I hope we pick outdoor options more – open air concerts are offered by several entities as one choice.

 

I need to dig out some of Mary’s old columns that I have kept to check for some of her suggestions.  I remember one had something to do with a stack of notecards, one for every summer day, and as the day ended she would jot down a summer-specific activity that she accomplished that day and move the card to a new pile.  As summer progressed the pile of blank cards shrank and the filled cards grew.  It is a nice visual way not to let the days of summer slip past unknowingly.

 

How will you enjoy a lazy day or two or three of summer?

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Long Weekend Coming

I just looked at the calendar and hurray we have a long weekend, for those of us who can take advantage that is.  A bonus day, a holiday, a chance for something other than ordinary.  Most of us who work in offices have had five solid months without a holiday break.  (I’ve always been a bit bemused that the work calendar is weighted so heavily with holidays at the end of the year.)

 

photo credit: Wikipedia

photo credit: Wikipedia

I used to slog through these first months of the year, hanging on to my PTO days just in case they would be needed.  And then I read the best advice, I’ve forgotten where, that we should take a day off every couple of months as a mental health day if for no other reason.  Perhaps to attend to all the stuff that builds up; the phone calls, the need to research, and my favorite – a day off to plan for the next day off.

 

Because here I am rejoicing about this long weekend and realizing that once again I haven’t planned for it.  I haven’t made any arrangements.  And a holiday Monday is no time to try to make any of the phone calls that have been piling up.  Like to the dentist – I really need to make a dentist appointment.  And find a roofer – I’ve been putting off getting a new roof for a couple of years, but I really have to stop procrastinating.

 

Well, it is too late to do some things to make these extra weekend hours count, but it isn’t too late to figure something out.  Plus, I imagine that I am in good company.  Really good planners are shaking their heads at the rest of us, this is a fact, but so many of us could use a personal assistant to keep us on track.

 

We’ve earned this bit of down time.  I hope that everyone gets to enjoy it in some meaningful way.

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

A Workday in Increments

5:49 am – Oh no, no, no.  I still have 11 minutes to sleep.  Shhh…

 

6:49 am – Breakfast done, half-way through my morning ablutions.  I want to make sure to have time for some extra stretching since my back is a little tight.

 

7:49 am – Nearly done with my morning commute.  Slow & steady is winning the race this morning, that guy who raced past me first chance he got is now back behind me as we merge.

 

8:49 am – Phone tag isn’t nearly as much fun as tag was as a kid.  Maybe he’s an email person.

 

9:49 am – Oops, almost forgot about my meeting at 10.  Do I have everything that I need?

agenda

10:49 am – After meeting catch up and if I’m lucky I can sketch out some of my to-do’s while they are still fresh in my head…

 

11:49 am – Come on lunch, I’m hungry.

 

12:49 pm – Next meeting coming up.

 

1:49 pm – I am not sleepy, I am not sleepy

 

2:49 pm – I won’t think that our team might wrap up the week well, I won’t jinx it.  I definitely will not say it out loud.

 

3:49 pm – A nice stretch of time to do some project planning.

 

4:49 pm – Finished planning, only 11 more work minutes to the week and then weekend.  Don’t want to wish too hard for these next few minutes to go by fast, that seems to have a bad effect on the weekend and its Monday again before I know it.  A little email clean up and Monday prep should just about fit.

 

5:49 pm – Hmmm, what to do about dinner?

 

6:49 pm – Once again I have failed to do any planning for the weekend.  Wonder if anyone has any free time?

 

7:49 pm – So nice that it is still a little light out at this hour, longer days feel so overdue this year.

 

8:49 pm – A little newspaper reading, a little TV watching…

 

9:49 pm – Best moment of the weekend, I can turn off my alarm and wake up on my own tomorrow and Sunday.  Here’s to a great, restful and yet purposeful weekend for us all.

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

What’s for Dinner?

Thoughts on dinner have been trending in my mind.  My son, now the primary cook in our house due to his culinary interests, has been involved in other things these past few days meaning that I am coming home after work and fending for myself.  At Toastmasters earlier this week the Table Topics were all about tables and invariably dinner was part of it too.  And I have been remembering my changing role in dinner activities over my lifetime to date.

 

The 50’s cliché was the male breadwinner coming home to sit down to the family dinner cooked from scratch by his lovely wife all dressed up including pearls.  I’ve experienced some of this ideal in different ways and can see benefit.  When I was growing up mom and dad both put high importance on having a family evening meal.  Mom did the stay-at-home thing which included dinner from scratch for most of my childhood.  She didn’t have much interest in cooking per se, but she did have enough interest in healthy eating.  Her forte was conversation, the exchange of ideas once we were all at the table.  Even once she was working and going to school, we managed to keep the family meal going.

 

One of my son's most recent creations.

One of my son’s most recent creations.

I became a stay-at-home mom cooking the dinners from scratch, ready when my husband came home and before we had to head back out to whatever event or practice my boys had going.  I had a greater interest in cooking than my mom had shown, along with an equal interest in the exchange of ideas while we ate.  Feeding our minds and bodies, as well as feeding the family bond.

 

Even after becoming a single mom working a full time job, I felt it was highly important to keep up the tradition of a sit-down, scratch-cooked dinner.  The actual cooking part wasn’t so important, but the shared experience and time together was something that I could give my boys.

 

And now I would be hard pressed to find the energy and mental capacity to whip up a dinner every night.  I am happy to leave this task to my son who is caught up in the magic of creating maximum flavor experiences with food.  When he isn’t otherwise occupied at dinner time.

 

Being a ‘foodie’ is trending now along with an interest in fresh, sustainable ingredients.  The shared familial experience, the flow of talk and ideas doesn’t seem to have the same esteem though.  Dinner might just be another meal that we squeeze into our day, perhaps not one that even two people in a family have at the same time.

 

How do you feed your mind, body and the family bond these days?

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

What is it This Time?

The White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland scurries into the story early on, frantic and muttering to himself that he’s ‘late for an important date’.  If there is a human anywhere who cannot relate, I would love to find out the secret for not ever being late.  (Perhaps it is to never have appointments or dates?)

 

public domain image of The White Rabbit

public domain image of The White Rabbit

Well, he scurries about in my thoughts sometimes as I juggle the various parts of my life.  It often seems to be the transitions from one aspect to another that are most difficult to time just right – leaving home for work, leaving work for an afternoon appointment of one kind or another.  Getting to work on time seems to be quite difficult for everyone at one time or another (the disruptive weather this winter over much of the US as case in point), but for some it seems to be darn near impossible every day.

 

There was a teaser announcement on the news the other day that they would be doing a story on employee excuses for being late to work on a later broadcast (must have been a slow news day) and that got me thinking.  As a boss I have had employees who have struggled with timeliness and as a person I have had moments of untimeliness.

 

I don’t think that I’ve been given any really interesting stories for tardiness from employees, nothing is coming to mind since I heard about this on the news.  Perhaps it is because I’ve never demanded explanation.  ‘Sorry that I’m late’ mostly suffices for me.  If it becomes a pattern, we’ll talk – but it will be focused on solutions like changing your routine, possibly changing your start time, not on why.  Reasoning is important, excuses are a waste.

 

As an employee I have had two instances that were a bit out of the ordinary and they occurred about a year apart.

 

The first was after my mom had died and since I wasn’t sleeping very well at that time, I wasn’t actually late just nearly so.  I woke up that morning thinking of a particular photo of my mom from the previous Christmas so strongly that I had to find the picture.  I could not start my day until I had that one and only that one photo with me.  My responsible side argued that I didn’t need the photo to go about my work day and I could find the picture after work.  But the pull was too powerful, grief demanded that I get my hands on that picture.  I did find it, I put it in an envelope in my purse (I carry it still) and got on with my day.

 

On the morning of the second example, I was mentally ready for work – I was currently without a direct boss and reporting to the senior manager and I wanted to be sharp.  I pushed the button for my garage door, it went up an inch or two and stopped.  I pushed again and it went down.  I pushed again and it whirred, but did nothing.  Uh oh.  I pulled the door up manually and it slammed back down (I found out later that the springs were shot.)  Hmm.  My boys were already at school.  How could I get the car out of the garage?  I called friends, family to find someone to hold the door open while I drove the car out.  Time became short and I had to call the senior manager to explain that I couldn’t get my car out of the garage.  I even thought about flagging down a stranger and asking them to hold the door open – I was getting desperate – when a friend called back and was able to come over to help.

 

What is your weirdest or best excuse for being late?

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

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