UnTech Yourself

By | May 10, 2007
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Technology can definitely make life easier. E-mail, rapid communication, RSS and the internet create vast opportunities for new information. But technology isn’t perfect. Adopting new technologies can have a sharp learning curve and many programs have unseen bugs and usability problems. Even more prevalent is this boost in information can cause overload, zapping your time in endless e-mails and feeds to read.

Breaking your paradigm of technology as a cure-all to every problem can open you up to other avenues for solving problems. Technology may be innovative and wonderful, but learning when to unplug the power cord can help simplify your life. Here are some ways you can untech yourself to simplify your life and get more done.

Internet Dieting

Internet, IM, e-mail and web-surfing can be very distracting, often without providing a lot of value. These empty calories often disguise themselves as necessary information but are just noise. Start a thirty day internet diet to reduce the total amount of time you spend connected to the net.

Notepads

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Turn off the blackberry and try using a paper organizer. It may not be as flashy, but it is amazing how effective they are for having basically two features: write and read. Keeping a notepad with you means zero learning curve, zero interruptions and only stores information not noise.

Television Blackouts

Television is full of stimulation. When television is good it can be entertaining, humorous, dramatic and a social activity. When it’s bad it is flashing lights providing distraction without value. You might want to experiment with cutting down on television, especially when you know in advance that there isn’t going to be any worthwhile programming.

Try cutting down your morning news and replace it with reading books or newspapers. The information will usually be more valuable and text is nonlinear so you can skip information that doesn’t interest you. Best of all most books don’t have commercials.

iPod Mute

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I’ll admit it, I love my mp3 player. Great for workouts and doing boring tasks it can add a bit of extra flavor to regular activities. But sometimes the constant noise and music can desensitize you to experiencing the world around you and cut you off from interacting with other people.

Try turning off the iPod periodically. Drive to work without any music. Try exercising with quiet. Try walking in silence when you are by yourself. Not only will this allow you to reconnect with what you are engaged in, it makes it easier for you to actually notice the music when it is playing instead of just having noise.

Read Books

Remember when books used to be made of paper? Cut back on your online reading and head to the library or bookstore and get something you can hold in your hands. Although some online reading is definitely better than books, if your entire library would consist of 500 word articles with flashy headlines, you probably aren’t getting a lot of depth.

Get Back to Nature

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Go out and spend a half hour in nature. If you live in a big city, at least look for a park or a relatively quiet area. Having a bit of solitude in a natural setting can often inspire ideas where everything is calm. Remember not to bring the cellphone or Blackberry!

Getting back to a natural environment can break away the endless distractions of life and give you some time to really think. I’ve had many of my best ideas on hikes and walks through nature. If you live in a highly technological world, spending a few hours or days can create even more ideas. I don’t believe that this is because nature has some mystical power but simply that it is often such a dramatic change in environment that it triggers new ideas.

Cooked from Scratch

Technology also appears in our food, even if it isn’t in the form of circuit boards. Having easy premade and tasty food can be great in a hectic lifestyle, but this kind of eating isn’t usually healthiest. Try cutting back on processed foods and making more meals from scratch. Most people say they don’t have time, but I believe it is really that they don’t know how.

Even if you aren’t going to be featured on Iron Chef anytime soon, try cooking a new meal from scratch. I’ve found that you can often modify recipes to be cooked in less time without resorting to tasteless and processed filler. You might want to set out an hour or two a week to experiment with a new recipe.

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Technology is a Tool

I’m not going to be joining the Amish anytime soon. I love the many ways that technology can make us more efficient and connect us with other people. But like any tool, you need to see where it’s limits are. If you find yourself becoming a technophile try unteching some areas of your life. You might find a little less tech can get a lot more value.

Scott Young writes about productivity, improvement and learning at his blog, here. You can subscribe to his feed here. Some of his popular posts include Habitual Mastery, Double Your Reading Rate and How to Ace Your Finals Without Studying.

At the start of the year, if you had asked anyone if they could do their work from home, many would have said no. They would have cited the need for team meetings, a place to be able to sit down and get on with their work, the camaraderie of the office, and being able to meet customers and clients face to face.

Almost ten months later, most of us have learned that we can do our work from home and in many ways, we have discovered working from home is a lot better than doing our work in a busy, bustling office environment where we are inundated with distractions and noise.

One of the things the 2020 pandemic has reminded us is we humans are incredibly adaptable. It is one of the strengths of our kind. Yet we have been unknowingly practicing this for years. When we move house we go through enormous upheaval.

When we change jobs, we not only change our work environment but we also change the surrounding people. Humans are adaptable and this adaptability gives us strength.

So, what are the pros and cons of working from home? Below I will share some things I have discovered since I made the change to being predominantly a person who works from home.

Pro #1: A More Relaxed Start to the Day

This one I love. When I had to be at a place of work in the past, I would always set my alarm to give me just enough time to make coffee, take a shower, and change. Mornings always felt like a rush.

Now, I can wake up a little later, make coffee and instead of rushing to get out of the door at a specific time, I can spend ten minutes writing in my journal, reviewing my plan for the day, and start the day in a more relaxed frame of mind.

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When you start the day in a relaxed state, you begin more positively. You find you have more clarity and more focus and you are not wasting energy worrying about whether you will be late.

Pro #2: More Quiet, Focused Time = Increased Productivity

One of the biggest difficulties of working in an office is the noise and distractions. If a colleague or boss can see you sat at your desk, you are more approachable. It is easier for them to ask you questions or engage you in meaningless conversations.

Working from home allows you to shut the door and get on with an hour or two of quiet focused work. If you close down your Slack and Email, you avoid the risk of being disturbed and it is amazing how much work you can get done.

An experiment conducted in 2012 found that working from home increased a person’s productivity by 13%, and more recent studies also find significant increases in productivity.[1]

When our productivity increases, the amount of time we need to perform our work decreases, and this means we can spend more time on activities that can bring us closer to our family and friends as well as improve our mental health.

Pro #3: More Control Over Your Day

Without bosses and colleagues watching over us all day, we have a lot more control over what we do. While some work will inevitably be more urgent than others, we still get a lot more choice about what we work on.

We also get more control over where we work. I remember when working in an office, we were given a fixed workstation. Some of these workstations were pleasant with a lot of natural sunlight, but other areas were less pleasant. It was often the luck of the draw whether we find ourselves in a good place to work or not.

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By working from home we can choose what work to work on and whether we want to face a window or not. We can get up and move to another place, and we can move from room to room. And if you have a garden, on nice days you could spend a few hours working outside.

Pro #4: You Get to Choose Your Office Environment

While many companies will provide you with a laptop or other equipment to do your work, others will give you an allowance to purchase your equipment. But with furniture such as your chair and desk, you have a lot of freedom.

I have seen a lot of amazing home working spaces with wonderful sets up—better chairs, laptop stands that make working from a laptop much more ergonomic and therefore, better for your neck.

You can also choose your wall art and the little nick-nacks on your desk or table. With all this freedom, you can create a very personal and excellent working environment that is a pleasure to work in. When you are happy doing your work, you will inevitably do better work.

Con #1: We Move a Lot Less

When we commute to a place of work, there is movement involved. Many people commute using public transport, which means walking to the bus stop or train station. Then, there is the movement at lunchtime when we go out to buy our lunch. Working in a place of work requires us to move more.

Unfortunately, working from home naturally causes us to move less and this means we are not burning as many calories as we need to.

Moving is essential to our health and if you are working from home you need to become much more aware of your movement. To ensure you are moving enough, make sure you take your lunch breaks. Get up from your desk and move. Go outside, if you can, and take a walk. And, of course, refrain from regular trips to the refrigerator.

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Con #2: Less Human Interaction

One of the nicest things about bringing a group of people together to work is the camaraderie and relationships that are built over time. Working from home takes us away from that human interaction and for many, this can cause a feeling of loss.

Humans are a social species—we need to be with other people. Without that connection, we start to feel lonely and that can lead to mental health issues.

Zoom and Microsoft Teams meeting cannot replace that interaction. Often, the interactions we get at our workplaces are spontaneous. But with video calls, there is nothing spontaneous—most of these calls are prearranged and that’s not spontaneous.

This lack of spontaneous interaction can also reduce a team’s ability to develop creative solutions—there’s just something about a group of incredibly creative people coming together in a room to thrash out ideas together that lends itself to creativity.

While video calls can be useful, they don’t match the connection between a group of people working on a solution together.

Con #3: The Cost of Buying Home Office Equipment

Not all companies are going to provide you with a nice allowance to buy expensive home office equipment. 100% remote companies such as Doist (the creators of Todoist and Twist) provide a $2,000 allowance to all their staff every two years to buy office equipment. Others are not so generous.

This can prove to be expensive for many people to create their ideal work-from-home workspace. Many people must make do with what they already have, and that could mean unsuitable chairs that damage backs and necks.

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For a future that will likely involve more flexible working arrangements, companies will need to support their staff in ways that will add additional costs to an already reduced bottom line.

Con #4: Unique Distractions

Not all people have the benefit of being able to afford childcare for young children, and this means they need to balance working and taking care of their kids.

For many parents, being able to go to a workplace gives them time away from the noise and demands of a young family, so they could get on with their work. Working from home removes this and can make doing video calls almost impossible.

To overcome this, where possible, you need to set some boundaries. I know this is not always possible, but it is something you need to try. You should do whatever you can to make sure you have some boundaries between your work life and home life.

Final Thoughts

Working from home can be hugely beneficial for many people, but it can also bring serious challenges to others.

We are moving towards a new way of working. Therefore, companies need to look at both the pros and cons of working from home and be prepared to support their staff in making this transition. It will not be impossible, but a lot of thought will need to go into it.

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