Texting While Talking: Why Do We Do It?

Time management textingYou’re having a conversation with a loved one, colleague, or friends. Suddenly, you notice their gaze turn down to their lap or table. They continue to nod at what you’re saying, but you’re aware that they are distracted. Pretty soon, you see your competition: a smartphone, it’s screen glistening in the sun, almost as though it’s mocking the fact that it has now replaced you as the focus of this person’s attention. I call it Communication Distraction, and it’s not OK.

When we try to do two things at once, our attention is split and we aren’t focused on either of the tasks at hand. People are starting to realize that multitasking isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, but for some reason we don’t really think of texting as multitasking…or trying to do ANY two forms of communication at the same time for that matter.

Typing an email while on the phone, texting while in a meeting, both of these scenarios are examples of multitasking, and they are both rude! Not to mention the fact that distracted communication is not effective and therefore, not good time management.

How do we prevent Communication Distraction? Be more aware of your communications. Focus on the conversation you’re having and who you are talking to. When you find yourself a victim of Communication Distraction, you don’t need to return the rudeness, but perhaps you say something like, “Did I catch you at a bad time? I’m sorry, I can try again later if you’re busy right now.”

We can work together to help prevent distraction and make communication more personal again.

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Does The Phone Go Next To The Knife or Fork?

Time management for dinnerWe use technology to speed up our lives, but does it end up slowing us down instead? We have coffee machines programmed to turn on when we wake up, apps to find the quickest route to our destination, email so we can quickly communicate with the world, etc…We use all of this with the assumption that it’s making our lives faster, but I read an article this week that challenged that notion in an unexpected way.

It Started With a Picture…

This week, we celebrated our anniversary dinner at a trendy restaurant. When the delicious food showed up, I did what any self-respecting restaurant patron would do…I took out my iPhone and snapped a picture. After all, in two years how would I remember that I ordered a scrumptious kale salad if I didn’t take a picture of it? My husband chuckled and sent me the following article: Slow Service Demystified

The nutshell version of this article is that an NYC restaurant was getting complaints about slow service, so they checked surveillance footage to see what was going on and it turns out, the customers were wasting time and distracted with their phones, which stretched out their dining time.

My Own Observations

Now, I’m not one to believe everything I read on the Internet, so who knows if this situation actually happened, but it has made me do a double-take at restaurants. True or not, I’ve noticed that my use of a phone does significantly lengthen my dining time, and not in a relaxing meaningful way, but rather in a distracted way.

I take my phone out to snap a picture…and then notice that I have an email…and then I want to check in on Facebook…and then check my phone a few times to see if anyone has commented on my check-in…and then notice an article on my USA Today app that I haven’t read…and pretty soon my food is here and I hadn’t even noticed.

I Promise!

If I’m going to linger at dinner, I want it to be because I’m enjoying good food and company, not because their WiFi is slow. So, I’m making a vow to start enjoying food and stop making my cell phone a permanent place setting. I encourage you to do the same!

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In Defense of the Paper Calendar

Time Management Paper CalendarGrocery store check-writers.
90 year old ladies who don’t use email.
That one person who isn’t on Facebook yet.

I have been compared to all of these people because of one simple fact: I carry a paper calendar in my purse everywhere I go. I use my smartphone to message my friends, purchase my lattes, tell me directions, and accept credit cards, but when it comes to my deadlines, I rely on good ‘ol fashioned paper and pen. When people discover this, they are shocked. “Emily,” they say. “You write a time management blog. Why on earth do you use a paper calendar?” Allow me to explain…

The short answer: It works for me.

As a time management speaker, my goal is not to tell you what I do and convince you it’s best. My goal is to help you find what works best for YOU and have the dedication to stick to that plan.

The long answer: I’ve chosen to stick with my paper calendar for three main reasons:

1. Flexibility

I like to be able to write some things big and some things small. Some things get stars, others don’t. Some repeated events just get a line through the whole week. My formatting options are limit-less.

2. Big Picture

Many of the phone calendar apps out there make it difficult to see your week at a glance due to the screen size. When I open my paper calendar, I can see all the week’s deadlines at once. It gives me a good “big picture” idea of what I have in store.

3. Retention

I find that I remember things more if I write them rather than type them. Perhaps it’s because I type pretty much everything else in my life and when I write something in pen, it stands out.

The biggest drawback:

Sharing. I’ve almost switched to a digital calendar many times because it is easier to share my schedule with others. To get around this, I keep a Google calendar with shared events that others need to see, and then transfer them to my paper version. Duplicated work? Yes. Inefficient? Possibly. But so far, the extra few seconds of transferring those deadlines has been worth it.

So, fellow paper fans, raise that pen high with pride! No longer should you be labeled a “technophobe” or “dinosaur.” You’re just doing what works for YOU and that is all that matters.

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Photo credit: Freedigitalphotos.net

Would You Survive the 24-hour Smartphone Challenge?

I am addicted to my smartphone. There, I said it. Every time I pull it out of my purse, I feel like a 5-year old on Christmas morning. I slide my finger across the unlock screen in gleeful anticipation of finding this oh so fabulous symbol:Time management gmail

So many fun and exciting things could be waiting behind that tiny icon. Will it be a new gig request? A new book sale? Somebody commenting on my witty Facebook status? Or perhaps just a solicitation from a store I shopped at once and never plan to visit again. The possibilities are endless.

My Challenge

When I need to focus, I put this magical device out of reach so it won’t be a distraction, but recently I’ve noticed that it’s started to distract me during non-work activities as well. When I found myself scrolling through Facebook in the middle of Yoga class one evening, I knew I had to do something! I needed to prove to myself I could stand to be less connected to the technology in my life. That’s why I decided to spend 24 hours away from my smartphone. Here’s how it went:time management email

6:35am: Wake up. Immediately grab for my phone to check my email. Try to rationalize why it would be fine to put the challenge off to another day. Realize that’s exactly why I need this in the first place. Remain resilient.

9:00am: Realize I still need to check my email today. Get out my laptop and spend 30 minutes doing that. Realize it was far more efficient to do it all at once rather than gradually over the course of the whole morning.

11:30am: Get frustrated with work. Almost crack and pick up the phone. Stay tough and keep working.

12:15pm: Feel the desire to “check-in” on Facebook and let everyone know what a lovely lunch I’m having with my husband. Realize that nobody really needs to know that, and I’d rather focus on having a great time… without my phone.

2:00pm: Want a coffee and wonder if there is a Starbucks around. Try to justify the use of the phone because technically the GPS feature wasn’t what I was trying to avoid with this challenge. Realize I don’t need to spend the money or the calories. Avoid the coffee.

4:30pm: Get a text message. Debate whether texting should be included in the ban. Call the person back instead. Personal communication for the win.

7:45pm: Need to unwind. Pull out phone to scroll through the news. Figure I’ve made it this far, so maybe I can quit a little early. Stop myself. Pick up a magazine instead. Print journalists around the world rejoice.

The point of this blog is not to say we should not utilize our amazing communication tools. I’m going to go back to using my phone: email, texting, web browsing, GPS, etc…I will not, however, forget the importance of disconnecting every once in a while. Just because we have the ability to be constantly connected to everything, doesn’t mean we should. Sorry smartphone. I’m going to pretend you’re “dumb” every now and then.

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3 Reasons the New Gmail Compose is Great for Time Management

Time Management EmailIf you are a Gmail user, you found that your inbox looked a little different last week. Gmail rolled out a new interface that changes the way you compose messages. Instead of using the whole screen to compose a message, a small “compose box” now pops up in the bottom right corner.

I (along with the rest of the world) enjoy complaining about even the most miniscule adjustments to popular free websites, so this monumental change to one of the most basic functions of Gmail sent me into a bit of a panic. However, after living with the new compose box for a few days, I realized it’s actually helpful to our time management. Here is why:

1. It encourages shorter messages

When you have the whole screen to write a message, you feel obligated to fill it. How many times have you received a lengthy email requiring you to wade through tons of extra information just to get to the purpose of the message? The new smaller compose box feels much more like a chat window, encouraging shorter, more to-the-point communications. This saves time for both the writer and the reader.

2. It’s easier to reference other mail while you write

When composing a new message, I frequently have to reference previous emails, which was not easy to do in the old format. You had to save your current message as a draft, close it, open up your inbox again, and then return to the draft. Now, you’re able to keep your new email open while browsing your inbox for older messages, which is so much easier.

3. You’re less likely to forget about half-written drafts

In the old Gmail, if you were interrupted while writing a message, you saved the incomplete message to your “drafts” folder to come back to it later…assuming you remembered to come back to it later! For me, placing a message in my drafts folder was a pretty good sign that it would be quickly forgotten about. With the new compose box, you can minimize your drafts and they stay at the bottom of your inbox as a reminder to come back and finish them.

…and one reason it’s not

On the whole, I like the new compose box and think it makes my email experience quicker and more streamlined. There is, however, one big time management detriment I’ve discovered: it’s more difficult to stay focused. When the compose box took up the whole screen, it was easier to stay focused on the task at hand. Now that I can see my inbox while I’m writing, it’s easier to be distracted by incoming messages. If you notice your focus start to shift, click the “pop out” arrow on the top right of the compose box. This makes the window bigger and you can easily cover up your inbox until you’re ready to face it again.

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Fluff is for Bunnies, Not for Email

Efficient communication is an essential component of time management. However, sometimes we pad our communications with so much “fluff” that the main point is lost or hard to find.  This wastes both our time and the reader’s time. We have enough to do in our busy lives that we cannot afford to wade through extraneous information looking for the main point. With a few simple steps, we can streamline our communications and save everyone time.

Steps to Efficient Communication

1. Shorten your greeting.

When we’re typing emails or leaving voicemails, it can be tempting to start off with a flowery greeting. After all, we can’t see the person we are speaking to so we want to convey our tone with words instead of body language. However, these extra sentences just add bulk to your message. Stick to a brief, simple greeting and get on with your point!

2. Don’t Overwhelm Your Reader

When your email or memo appears cluttered and lengthy, people are far less likely to read it. They see its length and don’t want to take the time to read it all now, so they put it in the “later pile.” Before you send a business email, ask yourself: “What is the main point I want this message to convey?” If there are superfluous sentences that don’t support this main point, delete them. You wouldn’t want your reader to ignore an important email because it looked too long, especially if the main point is actually very short.

3. Organize Longer Messages

If your message truly is lengthy and necessary, then organize it into headings and bullet points so it’s easy to navigate. If you need your reader to take action from your email, make that explicit in both the greeting and the closing. Make directions simple, clear, and to the point.

4. Don’t Hit Send

Before you hit send on that email, ask yourself if you really need to send it. Email is such an easy form of communication that it can be quickly abused. Does the person you’re sending this message to really need this information? Or will it become one of countless other messages in his or her inbox that gets deleted?

Time Management Karma

Keeping your business communications short and to the point not only saves you the time of crafting an overly long and complex message, but it’s also a good way of practicing “Time Management Karma”: treating other people’s time the way you want yours to be treated. We all struggle to stay on top of our emails and phone calls. Sifting through the mountains of information we receive every day can be daunting. Don’t add to someone else’s mountain with unnecessary information.

Besides, if people know that you don’t send excess, un-needed information, they are far more likely to open your email in the first place.

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Upcoming Event!

Check out The Time Diet’s next free presentation for students at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, AZ on Monday September 10th 2012 at 7:00pm. Time Management for Student Survival

Photo Credit: freedigitalphotos.net

Unplugging Your Day

We use technology for everything. We use it to manage our communication, organize our finances, keep track of our schedules and even supplement our social lives. Email, word processing, social networking sites and Google have become mainstays in our daily lives. This week, I found that sometimes unplugging for an afternoon can do wonders for our time management.

My Unplugged Afternoon

I am teaching a few college classes in the near future and was struggling to come up with a course calendar. I sat staring at the blank Microsoft Word screen for 20 minutes as that blinking cursor seemed to mock me. Keeping Facebook, Gmail and other Time Killers at bay was becoming a strain.

Finally, I just couldn’t look at a computer screen anymore. I slammed my laptop shut, grabbed a notebook and pen, and went downstairs.

I suddenly felt more productive. Not only were some of my distractions instantly removed, but I somehow felt more free to brainstorm with a pen in my hand rather than a keyboard.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you trade an afternoon with your computer for a much cheaper “tablet.”

1) Faster Isn’t Always Better

Initially I was hesitant to do my work on paper because I can write so much faster on a computer. However, I realized that if I wasn’t writing anything I was wasting far more time than the extra few moments it takes me to form letters with a pen. The pen and paper method works great for planning, outlining and brainstorming. I could then use my computer to quickly type up my plan later.

2) A Change of Scenery is Key

Even if you have a laptop, you are still somewhat limited as to where you complete your work. You don’t want to be too far from a power outlet, nor do you want to be anywhere it could get easily damaged. Using a pen and paper eliminates those problems. Sometimes just being in a new place is enough to kick-start your productivity.

3) Technology is a Tool

Ultimately, it’s important to remember that we are still the ones doing the work. Technology is a tool we frequently leverage to help us, but we need not feel lost without it for a few hours. Sometimes getting off our desktops for a bit helps us better tap into our own personal computer that rests on our shoulders.

To be clear, I am a huge fan of technology and do not plan on throwing my laptop away any time soon. However, my “unplugged” afternoon was extremely productive. I plan to make another date with my pen and paper next week, and I encourage you to do the same!

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The Best Technology for Time Management

In The Time Diet, having an organized way to manage your tasks and deadlines is essential. There are two components to a good system of time management: A choose-to list for daily tasks and a calendar for long term deadlines. (If you are new to The Time Diet, I don’t like to use the word “to-do list.” I prefer to call it a “choose-to list.” Choosing to do something puts YOU in control. Read more about this concept here: The Choose-To List)

Those who have heard me speak know that even though I am far from a tech-phobe, I prefer the pen and paper method for my choose-to list and calendar rather than technology. This is because pen and paper give me more control over how I write things down than any phone app or online program. I can star things, cross things out, draw arrows, circle things etc…without being limited to the constraints of a computer screen. This is especially true for my calendar. I prefer my paper pocket calendar to the calendar on my phone because I can actually see what I have written on every day of the month without having to click through individual days.

That being said, a choose-to list is worthless if people don’t actually carry it with them. If the only way you’ll ever keep your choose-to list or calendar with you is if it integrated with technology, then you need to make sure you are using the best software out there.

Here are 5 popular time management apps or programs that allow you to keep your list and calendar for your Time Diet synced with the technology of your choice.

Time Management App and Program Review

1) Evernote This is an extremely popular app that you can use on both your computer and your phone. It does not have a calendar, so it can’t really stand alone as your only method of time management, but what makes Evernote stand out is its ability to capture pretty much anything you’d want to keep track of. Is “make dinner” on your choose-to list? Add the link to the recipe and your shopping list to that task. Evernote allows you to categorize photos, web pages, notes, voice memos…pretty much anything you can think of. Because of its flexibility, Evernote can be a great enhancement to your time management system. Check it out here: Evernote

2) Remember The Milk In addition to its adorably quirky name, Remember The Milk is a really cool application. You can access it online or on your phone. Lists are extremely easy to manage and the interface is fairly intuitive. Remember The Milk syncs easily with other applications you may already be using such as Gmail, Google Calendar and iCal so it doesn’t really need to feel like a “new” application, but rather a helpful add on to things you already know. One of my favorite features is that it can alert you of deadlines via text message, email or instant messenger- whichever works best for you. Like most time management software, you are limited with how your tasks actually look when you enter them. You can change the priority of a task, but this just adds a different color exclamation mark next to it. Overall, it is a very helpful and easy to use product and great for your Time Diet. Check it out here: Remember The Milk

3) Astrid This is a time management app for the Android platform. The interface is a little cumbersome, but adding a task is extremely easy. You just start typing! Astrid also syncs with the Android calendar so if you are already using the calendar feature, Astrid is a great app to complete your time management system. The interface has three basic screens: Summary (what the task is) Dates (when the task is due) and Alerts (when you want to be reminded of the task.) Astrid advertises that it also syncs with RTM (Remember The Milk) but in my opinion, if you’re already using RTM, Astrid is superfluous. Astrid is a great tool if you wish to keep both components of your time management system on your android phone. Check it out here: Astrid

4) Google Calendar Yes, I know it seems that Google is slowly taking over the world, but their Calendar feature is really great, especially if you want to share your calendar with others. You can use the “task” feature for your choose-to list and sync your work calendar, personal calendar and spouse’s calendar all in one place. I like that the whole calendar is visible in a “month view” and you can see what tasks fall on which day without having to click through individual days. You can also set up email reminders for upcoming deadlines. Google Calendar is free and works great on my laptop, but doesn’t show up very well on my Android Phone. Check it out here: Google Calendar

5) OmniFocus The program, available for Mac products, is usefully for everyone from business professionals managing multiple projects to college students who just want a simple way to keep track of all their homework deadlines and their book list for each semester. It is a bit expensive (40 dollars for the iPad version) but many of the people who use it swear by it. The interface is extremely sleek and easy to use and you can sort your lists by priority or deadline (or by Meats, Vegetables and Desserts if you are properly following your Time Diet!) My favorite feature is the “forecast” screen, which shows you all your deadlines for the next few days. For me, the steep price tag is not worth it, but if you’re a Mac person and the free-ware just isn’t working for you, this is the way to go. Check it out here: OmniFocus

Have any of these products worked for you? Leave a comment and let me know!

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