Technology shouldn’t control you, you should control it

Samsung Galaxy NexusLast year, after being interrupted by yet another email notification alert on my phone, I decided it was time to take control of technology. I was getting interrupted and distracted “feeding” my smartphone every time it made a sound. Like Pavlov’s dog, I had been conditioned to reach for my phone every time the email notification alert sounded, even though I knew that the overwhelming majority of messages were not important or critical. I took the simple step of turning off notifications on my phone, which had a huge positive impact on my productivity.

Soon after, I discovered another hidden productivity killer, the Google Mail Checker extension for Chrome which shows how many unread email messages you have. It’s was a distraction for me, and as the number of unread messages grows, it pressured me into checking my mail. Maybe it’s a useful tool for some, but it was a tool that was using me instead of the other way around. Disabling this extension not only further improved my productivity level and focus but also reduced my stress level.

Basically, I had a problem, and I found out I wasn’t alone. Numerous people I spoke to over the last year came to the same realization and started reducing or eliminating their technology interruptions, too. Then, I saw a number of articles toward the end of last year from people within the tech community questioning the pervasive nature of technology and the addictive nature of our smartphones.

The first article that hit my reader was this one by Brad Feld titled “My Smart Phone Is No Longer Working for Me”. This inspired a post by Kevin Tofel at GigaOM titled “Is it time to wean yourself off of the smartphone?”. Yet another article by Om Malik appeared earlier this month entitled “Realtime & the off switch”. All three articles share the common theme of how taking control of technology, or your smart phone in this case, leads to a more balanced and focused mind, less stress, and greater peace. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by technology, I’d highly recommend reviewing all three articles.

The bottom line is this, technology isn’t going away, and we shouldn’t hide from it. But that doesn’t mean we should let it distract us, ruin our productivity or punish ourselves for using it. If you’re still letting technology control you, it’s time you start controlling it. Here’s some simple steps you can take to start down the rehab path:

  • Turn off as many notification alerts as possible on your phone. I’ve turned off everything except for calendar reminders (so I don’t miss meetings) and text messages (which I use for urgent messaging).
  • Turn off computer notifications, especially for email. Check email when you decide to, not when it tells you it wants to be fed.
  • When engaging with people either one-on-one or in a group, put your phone away. Stay focused in the moment. Not only will you get more out of the interaction, it also shows you respect your time with others.
  • Spend time away from your phone or computer everyday. Watch a movie or read a book. Embrace and cherish your quiet time.

I’ve used these over the past year with great success and plan to continue to use them in the future. I’m also on the lookout for more ways to reduce distractions to become even more productive and focused this year. Ideas are welcome.