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Is Tech Really Making Us More Productive?

I am a digital pioneer. I’m smack dab in the middle of the end of the analog and the beginning of hi-tech. In my profession, I’ve seen graphic design transition from being a hands-on finely executed craft to one that has been almost completely taken over by computers and tech. Even our paint brushes are now digital. Thank you Apple iPad Pro Pencil! I love you so!

 

What I can achieve now in the realm of design is astonishing compared to what we used to be able to do. It took far longer and was far messier previously. My first design class in college was right on the cusp of the new design software and we had to create posters by hand. I remember thinking mine looked hilarious and unprofessional since I had virtually no hand lettering skills at the time and only one person in the class used computer-generated type.

 

So in some ways the digital age is wonderful. However, now and then I feel so swept up in it that I feel like I need to push back on the constant waves of emails, texts, voicemails, videos and all. Even if you avoid social media during work hours, it can be true that technology is actually contributing to less productivity. Can this be fixed, or at least managed?

Before emails, texts, and social media, we took care of correspondence via phone calls and letters primarily. Each correspondence was fairly time-consuming, but we didn’t know any different. Receiving a letter was a rare treat. I just found a lovely stack of letters my brother sent me when I was still at home and he went off to college. What a good brother I have! He wrote me often and I cherish those letters. A handwritten note or card seems so sentimental compared to an email.

The speed at which we are expected to act on tasks has increased substantially as well. Clients need files yesterday, and articles that sit unread in my inbox would take me hours to read through and digest. I have a folder where I organize my “to be read” emails and it’s more like a trash can than a folder. I put things in there and very rarely revisit them. There is just too much digital content coming in.

 

There are a few things I am working on to try to simplify my digital correspondence. I don’t necessarily keep an “in-box zero”, which is a tactic many people like where they keep their inbox at 0 messages daily. I’m not that great at purging mine quickly. But, I do try to sort my emails daily and place my work emails into separate folders by client and project type. My personal emails get sorted into categories like “School”, “Medical & Wellness”, “Recipes” and “Shopping Receipts & Coupons”. I put important emails into those folders to make sure I know where to find them later. After you’ve had your business audited or go through a lawsuit when a client doesn’t pay, you’ll be happy you sorted your emails!

In this case the phrase “If you don't have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?” by John Wooden, really helps to remind me to take the time each day to organize.

But how do we address the expectations of others to keep up? I have turned a corner lately and am starting to redefine my work routine. I have carved out blocks of time during the day to work without checking email or answering phone calls. If I were to constantly answer each one as it came in, I’d get nothing else done. So, I have to be the one to set my boundaries and keep my creative work time sacred. These days I spend about 3-4 sessions on email for 15-30 min or so to answer them, sort them, etc. I also return any calls that come in during these breaks. My productivity has increased and my goals are getting crushed one by one. After feeling like my to-do list was out of control, I now can see that I’m chipping away at it.

 

So, the overall message is to embrace technology, but make sure to remember the simplicity of drawing on paper, writing letters, making an actual phone call, recording funny things your kids say on a paper calendar, read an article in a comfortable chair away from your computer screen. Don’t let the endless waves of digital to-do’s pull you from your goals and quite simply, your happiness.