I have long been disabused of making New Year’s resolutions, yet I have not stopped experimenting in other ways in which to make life more interesting. I recently decided to try living my life in the manner of my teenage son. What does this entail? Simply put, my generation grew up with the simple attitude that we should be responsible, and take care of work. On the other hand, my son’s generation thinks that they should be responsible and take care of play. I am beginning to see the subtle wisdom in this.
Over the past week, I decided to plan a few things to do, keeping items that did not have immediate deadlines strictly off the list. Then I decided that I would finish these things off very quickly so as to make sure the more important “play time” could be accessed as soon as possible. I have been getting my day’s work done in about half the time it usually would have taken me. And I am greatly enjoying my “hard-earned” play time. In short, by not finishing one job, and then feeling guilty and finding another one and so on, thereby immersing myself in work all day, I am getting things done, and then stepping away from the computer and enjoying quality time reading and writing in a manner that is more focused and far less frenetic than skipping from one window to another, in a mad rush to chase down all the “interesting” things that one can do when one is tethered to a device that is tethered to a modem of some sort. And more than that, I am also being able to get outside a lot more, and enjoy the beautiful outdoors with a great sense of satisfaction of having put my day’s work behind me. More than that, the stuff that is urgent and needs to be done gets done, and I don’t revisit and waste time on it making cosmetic changes and corrections. Anyway, what did I learn? Lets see if I can make more sense of these lessons than the stream of consciousness you just read.
- Make a do-able list, stick to it, and when done, stay away from work very strictly. Don’t bother with it at all, and go about doing something else that is not “work”. Of course, the other way is to only get to work at the end of the day, and then you have already limited the time for it. This is the teenage approach and I am using it – and yes, it works quite well, I am pleased to admit.
- It helps to walk away from the computer. I am a pack rat and when I read a magazine and want to look something up that strikes me as I read I would usually go to the computer and make a note of something there, or look up the item being referred to in the magazine. I don’t do this anymore. I just dog ear the page in the magazine and then keep it on the desk for when I am next going to be on the computer. Which is probably the next day. Just so you know, teenagers don’t even really bother with email. They know its inefficient.
- By staying away from work you are also staying away from email. Email is fast becoming the greatest time sink of most working people. Just yesterday, the Chronicle released a study where employers were all commenting on the amount of time being wasted in trivial email tasks and various protocols have been suggested to people so as to avoid clutter in in-boxes, for example, we should not copy people more than absolutely necessary. Teenagers do not copy people – I notice they usually send messages to one person only most of the time.
- Read and delete stuff, and only respond to the absolutely essential. When responding, keep it to two to three lines maximum. A teenager would not go more than a line.
- Make email the last thing you do in the time set aside for work. Once you have done your chosen work tasks, you are ready to play, so opening email then will force you to be efficient with it, because its what’s standing between you and the good times. Teenagers don’t even make email something that needs to get done. I rarely get a response from a teen on emails that I send. There’s a reason that email arrangements for my son’s scout troop are sent to parents and not the kids.
- Texting, phoning, and instant messaging are all more efficient than email. Yes, this is true. Teens already know this. I find it incredibly efficient now that I am getting away from email. The big advantage of email is that it is totally asynchronous, whereas all the others are completely or somewhat synchronous. However, this is also email’s major source of inefficiency, it rewards delay and lack of brevity, both of which teens have eliminated already.
- Time away from the computer is time that gets used thinking better. I find that since I am now spending at least 2/3 of my day not working, much of it goes into thinking, some of that about the next day’s work. I find that I am much better “prepped” to get my planned work done the following day, as I have run it through my mind many times, turning it round and round, so that when I sit down to write, it flows smoothly, and takes half the time it normally would otherwise. This was an epiphany to me when I saw what was happening. (This blog post has been running in my head for a week now so much so that it took very little time to write out just now). Teens seem to know this already, and they talk through things a lot more before getting down to work them out – it seems to really work well. Of course playing several hours of video games must definitely keep help in background processing all those important tasks for the following day! (Thats a joke).
- I have learnt that trying to organize all the information that we get (and I do try very hard to do so) is a waste of time. I spend a lot of time filing things into folders, keeping PDFs and so on, and really, this is unnecessary. When needed these things may be accessed. My generation spends so much time organizing things that the time left for processing information is too low. Teenagers on the other hand, just dont bother, they process what they need and let the rest go, relieving themselves of lots of overhead, and keeping their minds clear for information analysis and not organization. Better to carry a few things in one’s head than use one’s head to store many things on a hard drive. Just ignore much of what flows across one’s computer, it surely improves the signal to noise ratio of what we digest. Otherwise, information overload will become the cancer of our minds. The great secret of mastering digital media is letting go.
I am also learning to stay awake all night enjoying both consuming digital media, as well as generating my own content. There always needs to be a good balance between consumption and production of content, preferably more to the latter. But to dissipate some of those activities toward organization is wasteful. Keep that to a bare minimum and you will see what our teenagers already seem to know only too well.