iPhone Withdrawal

A journalist/blogger, Topher, is undergoing sever Tech withdrawal by not using his smartphone for (gasp) an entire week.

Follow jos journey back to the land of the techno-dinosaurs by reading his first account: Tech-Torture with Topher: Bye-Bye Smartphone, and follow his adventures on Twitter.

(I’ll break the suspense by revealing that he’ll still be checking email the old-fashioned way — outside of meetings, away from conversations, far from his car and between the hours of 6am and 12am.)

Check the comments…

Embedded video from <a href=”http://www.cnn.com/video”>CNN Video</a>

Converting Email into Scheduled Items

Ever since I learned that I could take an email and immediately transform it to an item in my schedule with its own start and end time, I have engaged in the habit almost daily.

In Outlook 2007 it’s a simple matter of dragging the item to the day in the calendar.  Outlook automatically opens up a new appointment on the given day, and from there it’s a simple matter of entering the appropriate times.

In other applications, the task is a much more difficult one to undertake.

In Gmail, doing this simple task is no mean feat — in fact, I’m not sure how to do it at all.  Google calendar is a different but related program that opens into a different window altogether (I’d love a reader to answer the question of to convert a Gmail item into an appointment for me.)

In like manner, stand-alone calendars might by useful but their lack of connection to daily email is a big no-no.

Good software should mimic the way a user processes items that enter their time management systems, but they seem to be thinking about each function in isolation, which leads to good software for calendars (e.g. Leader Task) and good software for email(e.g. Gmail) and only Outlook that even attempts to link the two… in a clumsy way that seems to have been added as an afterthought.

The new internet PDA’s such as the iPhone and Blackberry seem to be great at email, but weak at the full suite of 11 practices that make up a time management system,and especially “Scheduling.”  (I can’t admit to knowing a lot about either PDA, and am willing to be educated by reader who can let me know if I’m wrong.)

Hopefully the day will come when someone builds an integrated system starting with the 11 Fundamentals.  I think it could be quite powerful.


Blackberry Slavery Article

I wrote a post as a guest-writer the Stepcase LifeHack website entitled “Blackberry Slavery” that was published today.In the article, I describe how PDA’s armed with real-time email are allowing companies to take advantage of employees’ fears of losing their jobs.All this, while HR department move much too move slowly to  protect employee down-time, and ultimately the productivity of thier most valuable resource: human beings.The article can entitled “Blackberry Slavery” can be accessed here.  

Blackberry Slaves

Are companies forcing their employees to become slaves to their email devices?

At some point in the future it’s not too hard to imagine that employees will be expected to not only have a cell phone in their possession at all time, but also the ability to send and receive email.  After all, the iPhone and Blackberry are taking over hosts of companies as we speak.

Executives like the idea of sending email back and forth with their employees at 11:00 pm if the need arises, making sure that the urgent business needs of the company are being met.  In these challenging economic times, it’s one of those things that is required to gain the extra edge over the competition.

It starts simply enough, I imagine.  A company buys internet-enabled PDA’s for its executives who become addicted to their use.  After a while, they provide units  for their subordinates, the better to keep in touch with a convenient email.  Employees welcome the devices with their powerful capabilities.

Some might resist them at first, but it’s easy to predict that anyone who is serious about their corporate career can’t afford to be left out of the loop on critical conversations that are happening in the odd hours outside of 9-5.

In the face of peer pressure, it’s not hard to imagine a time when every single employee (and certainly those is management) will be expected to have a device in their possession.  It’s likely to become as ubiquitous as the personal computer.

What’s disturbing is not that we’ll all have the convenience of 24 hour email access at our fingertips, but the likelihood that the poor time management habits displayed by today’s Blackberry users will become widespread.

Today’s users have used the device to unwittingly cement into place some habits that destroy their own productivity and that of those around them.  As the percentage of employees in a company increase, there is likely to be a couple of developments — the first is a user’s “bill of rights” and the second is a new set of habits that must be taught to users in order to prevent the device from ruining their efficiency.

A user’s “bill of rights” might take form of a set of policies in companies that discourage the use of the device to some pre-agreed standards of engagement.  At the moment, peer pressure is turning holidays, weekends and vacations into further opportunities to check email just before going to bed and right after waking up in the morning.

This is not just a matter of setting arbitrary rules.  Even a bill user’s bill or rights would have to be implemented for a reason — the behaviors undermine top  performance when they are  allowed to proliferate.  This and other facts related to personal productivity would need to be taught to employees at all levels, rather than simply legislated without justification.

The second development would be solid training in Time Management 2.0, in which users are guided in the development of their own time management systems.  They could use the opportunity to build a system of new habits that incorporates their internet device, and  doesn’t simply rely on old habits that don’t work with the new technology.

Current-day device users who have never taken this step are well  known for their poor time management habits.

Interruption Madness:  Today’s Blackberry and iPhone users are known for the ability to interrupt _anything_ to check email.  From bodily functions, to weddings, dates, funerals, legal proceedings, speeches, meetings, phone conversations, driving, cycling… apparently the only places to be safe from email-device users is when they are swimming or taking a shower!

Look for the Blackberry users in the crowd at the presidential inauguration in January, too busy to pay attention to what’s happening in front of them.

The Glazed Look of Half-Attention
The device users of today have become expert at the glazed look of half-attention.  They pretend to be listening to the what is happening in front of them, but their attention is on the device and on the message they are sending to a recipient miles away.

The Sheepish Smile
Now and again the user gets busted.   Confronted by another person who is on the receiving end of their poor manners, they wake with a jump out of their email induced stupor with either an excuse  – “I am listening!” – or an embarassed smile on their faces.  It’s only at that moment they realize that have switched off the person they were interacting with as one would change a television channel.

These are hardly the signs of greater productivity.  In today’s complex business environment what’s required is greater focus and in-depth thinking, not rather than an epidemic of casual attention, short-attention spans and and superficial dialogue.

This is where companies need to be quite careful.  Buying these devices for all staff may indeed increase the convenience of sending and receiving email, and there might be 1 or 2 emails per year that benefit from a 2:00am response.  However, a company that unwittingly multiplies today’s poor time management habits manyfold with the purchase of portable email devices will only do itself a great disservice.

The predicted loss in productivity can be prevented by giving everyone the chance to design their own time management system afresh, because the presence of the device in their lives simply requires it.

Now, Everyone’s a Surgeon

surgeon-guy-dowling-surgeon-8.jpgThere used to be a time when only surgeons had cell phones and beepers.

Because  their jobs required quick responses that involved matters of life or death, it seemed to make sense.  After all, a couple of hours spent at the golf course could cost someone their life if they could not be contacted during a round.

We have come a long way since then.

Now, there are companies that are pressuring their employees to carry Blackberries, and to be available to answer email on a 12/18/24 hour basis.   And these companies aren’t hospitals, army barracks or police stations.

Instead, they are employers of accountants, lawyers, bankers and other business-people of all kinds.

Without any planning or foresight, companies are using the Blackberry to change the way professionals use their time.  Today, Blackberry users are answering their email, instead of doing less important things like participating in meetings, exercising, listening to their kids, giving their spouses their full attention and other such apparently unimportant activities.

These companies are causing professionals to continuously interrupt what they are doing in order to check and respond to a blind piece of email (it’s blind because they have no idea who it’s from or what it says.)  In other words, they are responding like surgeons… except, the truth is, no-one’s life is on the line.

Try telling that to someone who is pretending to listen to you while they are checking their email on their Blackberry.

The reaction is often one of irritation, anger and even hostility.   Their blind piece of email is obviously more important than the conversation that they are having with you, which is why checking it gains such immediate priority.

Their productivity (and yours)  plummets at that very moment.

But what is it, poor manners aside, that causes a Blackberry user to grab their Curve in spite of what else they might be engaged in at the moment?

It’s not confidence, or skilled execution.  Instead, the look in  a Blackberry users eyes tell it all.  The unit vibrates, rings or flashes, and they are gripped in that moment by a fear, or even a panic that “they might be missing something important.”

The panic, and its subsequent response, becomes a  habit over time, until they get to the point where they cannot stop themselves from impulsively grabbing for their PDA.  They cannot help themselves, and their behavior appears the have all the compulsion of an addiction.

But it’s not email that is the drug of choice.  Instead, it’ s the driver behind the email — the “need to know” or, the fear of not knowing.

This is what wakes them up at 3:00am “just to check,”  and to smuggle their device on vacations where they promised to leave it at home.  This is what interrupts meals, conversations, projects, exercise, cooking and even “quality time.”

It’s a habit that a professional who finds themselves addicted would need some concentrated effort to break.  one excellent  course of action would be to use 2TIme approach to build their own time management and productivity systm.

With a greater degree of awareness, the Blackberry can return to its rightful place as a productivity enabler, rather than an unconscious  dis-abler.  We can all focus on developing habits that make knowledge workers really successful, and drop the surgeon-like, faux-urgency that we have developed.


More Crackberry Madness

urinal19.gifAn interesting article in the Economist starts with the finding that “35% of BlackBerry users would choose their PDA over their spouse.

While this is entertaining, the real shocker comes a bit later in the article:

The vast majority of people (84%) say they check their PDAs just before going to bed and as soon as they wake up, 85% say they sneak a peak at their PDA in the middle of the night, and 80% say they check their e mail before morning coffee. A whopping 87% of professionals bring their PDA into the bedroom.

This kind of productivity at all costs mentality is exactly what destroys the peace of mind that a PDA is supposed to help to bring.

It speaks to a kind of scatter-brained-ness that results when professionals live as if getting more done is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

How can 85% of Blackberry users be made to understand that “getting more stuff done” is a worthless goal that can never be achieved by itself?

After all, what good is it if someone doubles their productivity and at the same time ruins their sleep,  endangers their marriage and never allows them to focus on whatever is in front of them?

But don’t blame the BlackBerry… it’s only a device.  All it’s done is to illuminate and automate some unproductive habits.

Now, when that person is pretending to be listening to you but are instead checking email, you know that they are not.

Now, when someone should be paying attention to the cars whizzing by at 90 mph, you know they are not.

Now, when you think that you are relaxing with your family at home or on vacation, getting some quality time, you know that you are not.

I predict that the BlackBerry’s usefulness  won’t be measured by the number of emails sent in the middle of the night.  Instead, it will help to shed some light on poor time management practices that need to be amended by those who are apparently addicted.

Last week in La Guardia airport, I think I saw the ultimate in insane habits.

A man was peeing at a urinal, hands free.  It wasn’t because he was a neat freak… he wasn’t even looking down.  Instead, he was looking up over his head, in the direction if his hands, which were both typing furiously awayon the keypad of his BlackBerry.

Talk about multitasking.

Visiting a CrackBerry Forum

money-and-gun.jpgI spent a few minutes this morning starting to do some research into how Blackberry’s are used.

I visited the Crackberry Forum and have looking around for a conversation to join on how their productivity has been improving from using their Blackberry.

I am still searching, but after 30 minutes, I can’t find anything on the topic.

That is, unless one defines productivity as the ability to say “I can send and receive email in the shower,” or “I am addicted to my device.”

While the Blackberry undoubtedly allows its users a certain freedom of movement, that capability does not mean that someone is more productive.  I compare it with another dubious claim — having a new piece of gym equipment at home, does not mean that someone is more healthy.

If there is one thing advertisers are very good at, it’s selling the general public on the idea that achieving their goals has more to do with purchasing equipment, than it does personal habits and practices.  Unless underlying practices change, its hard to imagine how any piece of equipment can make a difference.

I am coming to believe  that  the gains to be made by being able to read  and send email from anywhere, are easily negated by the many, many times that a Blackberry user is distracted from doing the primary task they are out to accomplish.

Here is a case in point, in a post from the forum:

Today I was at my Wife’s dad’s funeral and was sitting in the second row, the first thing my mother in-law did when we sat down was reach behind her to where I was sitting and said, “give it to me”. I knew EXACTLY what she was talking about and refused but I showed her that it was in Vibrate and I wouldn’t be doing anything work related at that time because they knew I was busy with the funeral today. That lasted all of about 5 minutes into the service before I started replying back to e-mails very quietly and attempting to login to one of my servers to restart the anti-spam service because I was getting hammered with SPAM to my BB.

Setting aside the obvious display of bad manners, this kind of behavior costs something to the user, his wife, his mother-in-law and those around him.

This is just not a demonstration of an increase in productivity.

But the  problem doesn’t lie in the device.  The device is superb at doing what it does — providing portable email-based computing.

However, people whose practices are poor don’t benefit from the purchase of a Blackberry, any more than a monkey’s safety improves  when it finds a  working gun in the forest.  In each case, there might be a kind of addiction that makes it a bit useful, but the overall result could very well lead to disaster.