Almost a year ago, I wrote these words, “Technology has reached the tipping point for me, it moved from a help to a hindrance.” The plethora of adrenaline and endorfin inducing mobile apps, 24×7 news, notifications, alerts and updates, drip fed my brain and hindered my “deep work and deep thoughts.” In Cal Newport’s new book titled, “Deep Work” he posits that most knowledge workers need concentration and substantial time, dedicated and uninterrupted, to produce their best work. He argues that a lot of technologies and open office layouts today inhibit creativity, “deep work” and “deep thoughts,” and are the very things that are most highly valued, and one of the key differentiators between humans and robots.
Newport argues that we must understand and optimize the conditions that enable our brains to work best. To sum up his argument, constant drip feeding technologies serve to prevent deep thoughts and deep work, our most valuable assets. He recommends that we restructure our working environments, schedules, times, activities and technology uses to provide substantial “deep thought” times so we can maximize our brain’s thinking.
A phrase I like to use is, “Just because technology can do it, doesn’t make it useful.” Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge fan of technology and have dedicated my career to understanding, teaching and using it, but we must all realize that technology has not been designed to maximize our brain’s potential. Often technology is designed to replace or degrade our brain’s function, or to appeal to our addictive vulnerabilities. Have any of you, like me, lost themselves in a computer game, and then realized it was 4 AM? I did that when Doom first came out decades ago. I realized early on my brain was vulnerable to these games, and banished them from our home ever since, at least until Angry Birds came out on my iPhone and I welcomed back 4 AM.
In our professional life, it is so easy to let our email inbox and calendar invites become our boss and dictate our day’s focus. Do any of us really believe this is the most productive behavior? Does our inbox recognize our priorities, goals, focus, deliverables and ambitions? I don’t think so, so then why let it boss us around?
If we added up all of the mobile apps we have on our phones, then list all the possible alerts and notifications they each can provide, plus add in how many emails, messages and updates we see, and then add our social media and news feeds, it will literally be hundreds or even thousands of distractions daily. Do these distractions make us more productive or efficient? I don’t think so.
In 2017, we need to reevaluate technology and take back our brains and purpose. We should be guiding our technologies, not the other way around. Technology needs to disappear into the background, while productivity and purpose should be our siren’s call. We have approximately 700,000 hours between our birth and our death. About 350,000 of those hours are spent in our careers. How many of those hours do we want to waste on technology enabled distractions? I first published some of the following list nearly a year ago, but I needed the reminder, and perhaps it would be helpful for you as well. I propose the following:
- Our schedules and activities must reflect our purpose and goals, not our inbox and social media feeds.
- We must recognize what activities offer value, and what activities do not.
- We shouldn’t have to read through hundreds of useless email messages to find the three necessary to complete our job. Communications need to change and email must disappear behind a veil of utility and productivity.
- Someone emailing us, does not mean we need to respond.
- We shouldn’t have to check dozens of different locations, apps and websites to communicate with our work colleagues and friends. All of these various collaboration and communication platforms need to disappear into a consolidated and efficient aggregated solution like Slack.
- Communication technologies should disappear into the background, and the quality and utility of the message improved by technologies.
- Email and meeting driven schedules must disappear, in favor of schedules that honor purpose and deliverables.
- Prioritizing thinking time and mental productivity and dedicate the time they deserve.
- Scientists agree that the creative parts of our minds work better at different times of the day. Those times need to be reserved, blocked and honored on schedules, to optimize productivity.
- The requirement to develop, store and retrieve dozens of different passwords and user names must disappear. The ability to accurately authenticate a user must become more efficient and secure.
- Trivial messages and alerts from hundreds of different sources arriving 24 hours a day must disappear. Trivial messages and an urge to immediately respond must not be allowed to intrude on our thinking, creating, planning, sleeping, loving, relationship building, driving and the handling of dangerous equipment.
- On-premise IT solutions, hardware and apps that serve to distract from the business, and offer no additional business value, competitive advantages or market agility must disappear into the cloud.
- The 200+ mobile applications on my iPhone must disappear into an artificial intelligence engine that will access their functionality and assist me even before I ask.
- Mobile applications that are not personalized, and are not contextually relevant should disappear. I don’t care what you sell, if I am not interested, or it is not relevant to me, I don’t want to see it.
- The routine process work I do on my computer must go away. Intelligent process automation should be pushed down to individuals. An AMX mobile app should process my expenses without me. It should only alert me to exceptions, not the routine.
- Technologies and the use of technologies that hinder creativity, productivity and innovation must disappear.
In the lifecycle of any technology, there is a time when we should be enamored and distracted by how it works, but these times must quickly pass and the technology should disappear into the background. I propose that digital technologies should improve and optimize our brain power, and make the human experience richer, deeper and more purposeful than ever before. This year, I am more committed than ever to making technology work for me, not against me, by being less intrusive and distracting. What do you think? Message me.
Follow Kevin Benedict on Twitter @krbenedict