I thought by my age that I would be well organized in my professional life, concentrate on fewer and more meaningful projects, and generally be better able to plan my working life. If I ever thought I was on the way to organizational bliss it all changed with computers and easy Internet access. It exploded in the last 10 years with a mountain of digital tools, information, and demands for my time…and all so easily available at my fingertips. In short, at 64, I am learning all over again how to organize my professional life, my work time, and if truth be told, how to separate work and the rest of my life. This last is becoming even more difficult.
Why am I interested in this topic? Yes, certainly for myself, but more importantly for the teachers, principals, and students I work with. Everywhere I look, people are overwhelmed with information from dozens of search engines and distracted by email, texts, YouTube, Facebook. and a million other things. I’ve been popping popcorn the old fashioned way for 50 years, but several recent batches of burned popcorn sent me to my iPad and ultimately popcorn that is better than ever. Traveling somewhere? My wife is the master of Kayak, Priceline, and TripAdvisor and spends hours online searching for the best deals. Need to know how to fix a dripping faucet, what that glowing “idiot” light on your dashboard means, how much to feed your cat, or how many calories are in that premium ice cream you so desire? Google it. In fact, Google all of them.
Our family uses the phrase, “Wikipedia Journey” to describe the online journeys that some of us take whenever we log on, whether first thing in the morning or late at night. With good intentions we are prepared to complete Task A before we check our email, peruse the NY Times headlines, or watch the latest movie trailer, but somehow any of these or more takes us off track. Immediately and for much longer than we anticipate. Sit down at 8 am and before we know it, the clock is ticking over to 9:30 am. Where did the morning go?
Here is what I am working on. I am trying to waste less time. Read email only after I have completed at least one (legitimate) task and then stay off email the rest of the day until one final sweep before you shut down for the day. (Full disclosure…not doing well at this yet, but trying.) Next, I am trying to avoid the “Tech Penalty” defined by Royal Van Horn as “…what happens when you do something using technology that you could do easier, quicker, or more efficiently without using technology.” For me that’s easy. I still keep a paper calendar and I love it. I need to see an entire month at a time and it takes me less time to keep this calendar than it does to pull out my phone or computer. Not for everyone but it works for me.
I’m trying to stay on track, following my “to do” list and perhaps more importantly, not getting distracted. Time management experts say that for every interruption that pulls us out of our concentration (an email we glance at, a text we respond to, a stroll to our homepage on Facebook), it takes much longer to get back on track. Much longer! As an academic, I could study a topic forever. With the unlimited resources of the Internet, I simply have to focus and find the best resources, not all the resources. One of the biggest lessons for our students in K-12 schools is how to search smartly, how to determine if a source is legitimate, and when to stop searching for more information. We must learn how to use the best and forget the rest!
Finally, knowing when to disconnect and do something else is essential—move outside, get some fresh air, be physically active, whatever it takes. That reminds me, time for my run with Hobie.
What is your personal odyssey to final digital happiness?