The following was originally divided between ten posts. I’ve combined them for better fluency.
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Sometimes the internet is the bane of my existence.
There’s always something more to check out; and it’s so easy and tempting.
I might find myself browsing so-and-so’s website, and then linking to another website, and another. I’m not learning or researching; these people don’t inspire me. I’m just curious. I’m creeping! Eventually, I’ll catch myself and realize, I don’t care about all this; I shut it down and return to the task at hand.
Does this sound familiar? Don’t you hate it when a one-hour task in front of the computer ends up taking two hours? This happens because we’re multi-tasking…or so we think. It’s actually physically impossible for humans to multitask. What our brains do is trick us into thinking we’re multi-tasking by switching our focus between tasks very rapidly. Once we’ve switched, it takes a second or two to regain the focus level we had on the previous task. Hence, our focus levels are always low and tasks take longer to complete.
There are ways to break these habits. Over the next month or so, I’m going to share some of my favourite time-savers. Some are very subtle, but others have significantly enhanced my time management.
Here’s time-saver #1:
All of my tasks are derived from my goals list. I’ve made a commitment to myself; nothing else matters except their completion. In this regard, sometimes it’s okay to be selfish.
Without a goals list, I’d be spending my time aimlessly. I’d be lucky to achieve anything significant. Even if I did achieve something, there would have been much time wasted.
My goals list tells me where to focus my attention
Time-Saver #2: Timed Tasks
One hour of good, focused work will be more productive than three hours of open-ended multitasking.
For this reason, my time spent on a task is never open-ended. Lately, I’ve been timing all my work-related tasks. I use a widget timer that runs on Dashboard. Once that timer starts, nothing else exists except the task at hand. Ideally, I won’t answer the phone, check email or even get up to get a snack. When it runs out, I quickly finish, clear my head and move on.
Personally, I try to blog for (no more than) one hour a day, transcribe for one hour a day, read for one hour a day and practice for four hours a day. These timed tasks and their daily limits are indicative of my priorities and my thresholds. It’s really important to know your threshold; once you exceed it, you’re likely being counterproductive and your time would be better spent on something else.
My Dashboard timer helps me organize my priorities, commit focus to all of my tasks and prevents me from overextending myself.
Time-Saver #3: The Facebook Feed
Considering my goals and priorities, most Facebook status updates are useless. The Facebook feed is littered with useless information. The problem is that Facebook has been designed so that checking useless feeds has become frequent and habitual. This causes distractions, multitasking and wasted time.
In fact, you may find my status updates to be useless. Here’s what you should do:
- Click “Hide” in the top right of my feed
- Then click “Hide Chris”
Of course, you can always click “Edit Options” at the bottom of the page to add friends’ activities back to the feed. You can also hide useless apps!
It’s a beautiful feature; I wouldn’t be surprised if Facebook removes it. But in the meantime, I’m not wasting as much time on Facebook anymore!
Time-Saver #4: Email
Luckily, I’m not one of those people who receive hundreds of emails every day. However, they can still be overwhelming, and teaching myself how to manage them has significantly contributed to my productivity.
I used to reply to emails as I received them. I thought it was best to get them out of the way sooner than later. I realized that although my inbox was always empty, I was multitasking and my other tasks weren’t getting the attention they deserved. I needed to fix that.
First, I turned off all “new mail” sounds, both on my computer and my phone. I needed to purge myself of checking my email habitually whenever I heard that sound. I will not be a slave to email! I also try to keep my email client closed while I’m doing work, otherwise there’s a visual distraction too!
Second, I try to only check/return emails once a day; bulk emailing takes less time. If I have 10 emails to respond to, it may take ten minutes. But if I’m multitasking and writing emails as I receive them, those ten messages would probably take double that amount of time.
I’ve also noticed that my email messages are getting shorter and more concise. Email messages longer than a few sentences require more time and thought for both the writer and the listener. I try to limit my questions to two per email and will pose them so that responses can be brief and effortless. Longer emails are okay, but they’re less effective as dialogue and of course, more time-consuming!
I welcome opportunities to reduce the volume of emails I receive daily. Using the phone is underrated! I never hesitate to pick up and dial if I anticipate an email conversation to last more than four responses.
If I subscribe to a mail service (for example Google Alerts and Artsjournal.com), then I opt to receive weekly emails. Daily emails clutter my inbox and lead to habitual checking.
Time-Saver #5 – Ping!
I stared using ping.fm in November. I would recommend it for anybody who uses more than one social networking site. With ping.fm, you can update them all at once from one central location! Currently, I use it to update my Facebook (profile and page), Myspace, Twitter and Delicious accounts but it supports many others.
Its versatility is impressive. There’s a slight learning curve, but should only take an hour or so to get the hang of. You don’t need to update all your sites simultaneously; you can update only your Twitter account if you want. You can tag your posts (for Twitter and Delicious). Updates are also accepted through email. If you use their link-shortener, you can access click statistics!
And it’s free!
Time-Saver #6 – Reading on the Internet
There is no shortage of items to read on the internet. Similarly to how I respond to emails (Time Saver #4), I never surf the net at random intervals during the day. Instead, I’ll reserve one hour every day (sometimes every other day depending on volume) to read any online articles that I may find interesting.
I bookmark all the links to interesting articles and save them to, a folder in my browser’s bookmark bar. At the click of a button, the articles are opened in my browser and ready to be read!
Sometimes interesting articles link to more interesting articles; I’ll save those and put them in the queue. But I won’t exceed my one-hour limit! Once the timer goes off, reading time is over!
Time-Saver #7 – Twitter Followers
I’ve run into the same issues using Twitter as I did using Facebook (Time Saver #3). In short, it can be a major distraction and most tweets are useless.
Most people are adding useless users to follow in the hopes that they’ll be followed themselves; that seems to be the Twitter etiquette. I started removing followers when I realized that I was only checking their updates habitually. I wasn’t even reading the updates. Just scrolling through them aimlessly so there’ll be less to check next time.
My intuition was right; it turns out that your number of followers doesn’t’ increase your connectedness (Read Anil Dash’s article on this). What’s the point of having 10,000 followers when only 100 are paying attention? Reverse that: What’s the point of following 10,000 users when you only pay attention to 100?
Unless you’re extremely disciplined, following 10,000 users will be a huge cluster of uselessness and wasted time. There’s bound to be hundreds of updates every ten minutes. How could you possibly keep up without multitasking? But if you’re reserving one specific time during the day for checking Twitter, doesn’t that defeat the point of using Twitter?
Maybe I don’t get it, but in the meantime, I’ve decided that I’m not willing to sacrifice my attention span for Twitter’s “increased connectedness.” With ping.fm, updating Twitter is effortless and some people like to use it to communicate, so I still use it (@chrisdonnelly99)!
I’m not worried about missing anything. If you say something noteworthy, I’ll hear it, but probably not through Twitter.
Time-Saver #8 – Delicious
At one time I was printing and filing all of my favourite online articles. Then I was saving each as a PDF, and keeping them on my hard-drive. Now I use Delicious.
Delicious organizes my links better than any file folder. You can easily tag, save and access them for future reads. I haven’t explored this feature in detail yet, but you can also add users to your network and share your links. This way, you can see what other users are reading and tagging.
It makes for a great place to find interesting articles on any topic (tag) of your choosing!
Time-Saver #9 – Evolution
Is the Internet making us stupid? (Link)
I was part of the first generation of kids that had internet available at home. If the internet is making anyone stupid, it’s me. But it’s not; I’m evolving and gradually learning to deal with how technology has transformed my lifestyle (for the good and bad).
These time savers don’t come out of nowhere; they evolve as my lifestyle evolves.
One thing that hasn’t changed is my desire to keep my priorities in check. As I adopt new technologies and a new lifestyle (however slight), there’s a transition period in which I try to balance the two (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve added and erased the Facebook application on my iPhone!).
It would be a mistake for me to assume that these time savers are practical for everybody. It would also be a mistake to insist one immediately apply these time savers to his/her lifestyle. That has to happen at his/her own pace.
In the meantime, perhaps these posts will help you realize your priorities and give you insight into some ways to keep them in focus!
Time Saver #10 – Application Catalogue
Unlike my previous time-savers, this one isn’t meant to decrease multitasking.
I’m frequently researching and submitting applications. Since 2006, I’ve submitted over 35 applications for various grant programs, scholarships, competitions, residencies and showcases all over the world (this doesn’t include countless press kits to jazz festivals, record companies and performing venues).
I’m getting better and better at shaping these applications to increase success rates; each successive one improves on the previous and takes me less time to complete.
I partially credit this to my habit of cataloguing every application I submit. Cataloguing makes it easy to recycle ideas and language from good/successful applications to enhance bad/unsuccessful ones. I often use the copy/paste feature to make minor adjustments to the language, tweak the structure and create more efficient, precise sentences. Even if the applications are for different things, there always seems to be something recyclable.
I don’t just save the project proposals; I save everything! For every Canada Council application I’ve submitted, I have the descriptions, budgets, mp3’s, acceptance forms and final reports. It’s definitely worth the effort, even if it only saves a single hour of mulling in front of the computer screen, waiting for ideas.
I’m also getting better at letter writing; I save those too!