Technology can be hugely helpful when it comes to communicating with colleagues and clients, speeding up document revisions, and finding information like a professional sleuth — but as most people experience, it also has a dark side.
In our always-on society, people answer work emails in the middle of the night, even if they’re on vacation. Chiming in on a project or sending a “quick message” to a client can be done while waiting in line for coffee, but even with these strategies, it can feel like you’re never fully caught up. And that sensation of running behind can affect productivity. But there are simple, small ways to get on track.
“Setting unrealistic expectations for yourself sets you up for failure,” notes Larry Kim, founder and CTO of Internet marketing software company WordStream. “Don’t be afraid to start with baby steps and work up from there.”
In order to be more efficient and productive, he says it pays to create better tactics around technology usage. Here are three that can help:
1. Turn off alerts: Depending on how you set up your smartphone or laptop, you may get notifications for a wide variety of applications, from email to social media messages. “It’s terribly tough to get into your Zen zone when your phone is buzzing every few minutes,” Kim says.
The first step is to shut the notifications off, and the next is to schedule a block of time to deal with all those emails and requests. This doesn’t have to be a large chunk of hours — in fact, it’s much easier if you create a brief window with a defined timeframe. For example, you might decide to answer emails during the first 10 minutes of every hour, and any email that can’t be handed in that time gets pushed to a larger afternoon block that you’ve set for yourself. Then, use your smartphone to set a timer of exactly 10 minutes. Although this “beat the clock” approach may seem anxiety provoking, it can actually feel like an exhilarating game.
2. Find an app that works for you: Not surprisingly, productivity tools abound in the app world, allowing you to schedule social media posts, save articles to read later, and keep all your passwords in one place. Two that are especially helpful for time management are Toggl and Yast.
Attorneys and other legal professionals are already familiar with tracking time to ascertain billable hours, so adding a simple app for other time management can be easy. Also, teams can use these apps, so you might run a small department on one of these apps in order to do reporting and project management.
Another popular app is Evernote, which allows you to create digital notebooks for keeping track of expenses, managing your calendar, planning trips, and keeping notes. Users often rave about how they only have to take photos of meeting briefs or receipts and the app will organize those into digital repositories.
3. Get help from IT: What stresses you out the most? Trying to catch up on email, or learning new tech systems? Maybe both? Whatever it might be, one top strategy is to ask for help — which is often as close as your nearest IT employee. It’s possible that you’re getting too much junk mail, which may require a finer mesh on your spam filter, or you need a one-on-one lesson in the big security protocols that IT just implemented.
Having employees embrace change by getting insight from IT is always welcome among technology professionals, says Jeremiah Talamantes, founder and managing partner of Minneapolis-based consulting firm RedTeam Security. “If your outlook is that technology is making you anxious or tense, there are ways to approach that,” he notes. “IT is there to reduce friction, so approaching them will help you enlist some powerful allies in your drive toward becoming more productive and less stressed.”
Most likely, even after implementing significant changes, you may still feel like you’re always on the run. But putting these controls around technology usage can be helpful for feeling like you’re running toward a productivity goal, rather than always trying to catch up.
Elizabeth Millard has been writing about technology for nearly 20 years. Her work has appeared in ABA Journal, Law Office Computing, Business 2.0, eWeek, and TechNewsWorld.