12 Jun

Is A Smart Phone Really A Smart Idea?

A few weeks ago we were lucky enough to spend 9 days in the Canary Islands, soaking up the sun and I really enjoyed the time away from my desk.

I almost always take my phone with me wherever I go. It’s only a cheap and cheerful Blackberry Curve, but it gives me access to email and web when I “need” it, but for this particular holiday, the phone didn’t come with me. It was never really my intention to leave the thing at home, I’d always thought I’d have it with me so I could keep on top of things with my business and projects etc. But the decision not to take it was kinda forced upon me as by default, Roaming is not enabled on mobiles from Virgin Media, meaning the phone just won’t work abroad.  So with no roaming set up, and the thought of outrageous call and data charges being clocked up on my bill if I did get it enabled, I decided it was best to just leave the thing behind. I would in theory though have access to email etc in the evenings via my tablet, so I wouldn’t be totally disconnected.

Having no phone for those 9 days was, I have to say… unusual! It felt very weird. I first noticed it standing queuing in Costa Coffee in Birmingham Airport, while my Fiance and Daughter had wandered off to another shop. The first thing I normally do when I’m waiting on my own is check my phone. 9 times out of 10, there’s nothing new, or worth even looking at, but I always check it. Maybe it’s a comfort thing… or just an addiction.  But this time, it was weird! I had no phone… nothing to pass the time. It was like I’d been hit by a wrecking ball!

I looked around me, and all I could see were people on their phones… Heads looking down, engrossed in their own digital world. I could count the number of people without a phone or other device on one hand! It was crazy! The whole world seemed to be permanently engaged in some kind of virtual existence… Not one was having a real conversation or taking notice of the world around them.

This continued on holiday too. The longer I was without my phone, the more I began to really notice what other people where doing. There we were, on this beautiful, hot, sunny island in the middle of the Atlantic, with the sea, beautiful blue skies and fantastic surroundings and so many people were still engrossed in facebook and twitter, completely missing the amazing world around them, in favour of living in an electronic world on a “Smart Phone”, that didn’t even exist a few years ago. Yes in some ways it’s amazing, but come on… This planet is a fantastic place to live… Who the heck would want to miss it?

The more I noticed other peoples behaviour, the more it rang alarm bells with me too. This was what I’d been doing… and it made me feel quite embarrassed to be honest. The amount of time I’ve spent glued to my phone and missed out on conversations with friends, family and loved ones. Checked my email constantly looking for that nugget of something to put a smile on my face like a notification of product sale, or an ebay auction ending etc. Continuously pushing buttons in the hope of winning a prize, when all around me are prizes galore (not literally, but you know what I mean).

As the holiday went on, the more I came to the conclusion that a Smart Phone might be “Smart” by nature, but it might not be a “Smart” idea from a Living Life point of view. Do we really need to be that connected? Do we really need access to email all the time? Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest etc… Yes it’s nice to share stuff, but how often do you check your Facebook feed, looking for something exciting, something to like, something to entertain you for a few milliseconds, then after 5 or 10 mins of looking down your feed you realise “hmm… not much happening”? I’ve done it. A lot!

At the end of the holiday, I’d really become accustomed to not having instant access, and it actually felt fantastic. Liberating in fact. I was now more “connected” with the world around me than with the online world and it felt brilliant.

Returning home, I really didn’t want to even bother turning the phone on! I made a bit of a pact with myself to really get to grips with what I used the phone for, how long I spent on it and when etc. It really wasn’t as important a thing in my life as I’d come to believe and decided to put a bit of an action plan together to really cut my usage down, and allow me to be more present in real life. Some of it may seem a bit drastic, but it’s 2 weeks since we came home and I’m still going strong! I still have the ability to connect  to the web should I need it but for the most part, it’s totally unnecessary.

  1. Turn off Data completely! Yep, I switched off data access on my phone 100%. Now the phone is… erm… just a phone! No web access by default. If I really need it, I can turn it back on.
  2. Email, Facebook, Ebay and all the other things can wait until I get home. There’s never really anything that urgent. If it’s life threatening, everyone that matters has my number.
  3. Turn off email on the phone.
  4. Turn off all visual and audible notifications (except for sms… sms is still enabled in case family need me etc)
  5. Have a serious cull of my Facebook timeline… Less stuff to see means less time spent on there and more time doing stuff that really matters.

I honestly thought I’d struggle with this, but I haven’t at all. If anything I’ve become more aware of just how negatively, maybe, smart phones are affecting the world and society. No one seems to live in the real world any more. Go and sit in a public place when you have a minute and people watch. Turn your own phone off or even… leave it at home. Count how many people pass you in 10 minutes & how many of them have their heads buried in their phones… It might just shock you!

13 Mar

Kicking The Information Habit

Ok so I’ve never smoked, and don’t drink hardly anything at all these days. In fact Tina and I shared our first can of beer since Christmas, last weekend… Note: Shared! But that doesn’t mean other addictions don’t creep into our lives. I spend a crazy amount of time each day checking emails, facebook, twitter etc, just looking to see what else is happening, if I’ve made any sales of my products, seeing if anyone wants any design work doing, looking for offers… all manner of things, and all stuff that can really wait until later. Sometimes I’d check my email several times in the space of 10 minutes, just to see if anyone else had responded to a post on facebook etc! Information addiction is eating up my time!

Last week Tina randomly stuck an elastic band round my wrist and told me to flick it hard every time I nagged at my daughter to do something, and do you know what, I was amazed how quickly it’s worked. Partly because it really hurts, and partly because I consciously and subconsciously wanted to make that change.

So while keeping the band on there for that reason, I’ve also included Email, SMS and Facebook checking at times other than 9am, 12 noon and 3pm in there too, hopefully to help curb my Information Addiction.

I have plans, hopes and dreams, but if I look in detail at what I’m doing on a daily basis, I find that checking email and Facebook etc is really eating into my day. Much of my posting to Facebook pages is automated, so there is really no need for me to check things more than maybe once or twice a day.

Create an Alternative Focus

Now every time I feel the urge to check my mail, as well as flicking the band, I also get up and do something else for a minute or two to help kill off the urge:

  • Do some exercise – Grab the pull-up bar and do 10 pull-ups or dips, do star jumps, squats or push ups
  • Write a quick blog post or diary entry
  • Tidy the desk, do some shredding
  • Drink a glass of water
  • Go for a few minutes walk in the garden
  • Make something – Anything…

Whatever you chose, make sure you replace the information addiction with something beneficial to you. Those all important emails will still be there when the allotted time comes to check your mail. The world won’t end if you don’t respond to a Facebook conversation, and your twitter followers won’t stop following you just because you don’t tweet every 2 minutes… Life still goes on, and we managed pretty well before they existed.

This blog post wouldn’t have even existed if it wasn’t for me having the urge to go check email!

Grab an elastic band… Flick it hard next time you check your email, make it hurt, and enjoy the freedom, time, and clearer mind you create as a result.

24 Aug

Digital Decluttering

Image By Frank Gruber

I recently spent a week camping in Cornwall with my Fiance  and my Daughter. During the week I had virtually no mobile phone signal except when we popped to the supermarket or into a town. This meant no email or internet access for me too… My initial thoughts were “Oh heck… how do I keep on top of my work stuff?”… but it actually became a blessing in disguise. Having no email or internet access allowed me to properly switch off and relax. In fact I hardly thought about work at all while I was away. And even when I tried to, I actually found it difficult… I just wanted to get on with being in the moment, enjoying messing about in the sea, sitting on the beach watching the world go by, or doing general camping stuff.

The Big Wake up call…

When I did finally get access to my emails, all 567 of them, I immediately realised something. Firstly that they were just filling up my phones memory, making it slower and slower, and most importantly, I have an inherent ability to surround myself with clutter, in every shape and form possible. And one of the biggest areas in which my life is cluttered, is email… More than 95% of the emails I received while away where junk, or stuff I would never read, and that’s after Gmails spam filter had already been through everything!

I’ve been subscribing to god knows how many internet marketing newsletters, free ezines, special offers… my inbox was swallowing up so much of my time and attention each day.

Action Plan – How To De-Clutter Your Inbox

This Monday I returned to my office with a plan of action in mind. Each time I checked my email, if there was something I would never read or was complete junk, I’d unsubscribe there and then. And do you know what? Yesterday was a remarkably quiet day in my inbox 🙂

Step 1 – Take a look at your emails today… look at where each one comes from…

  • How many are ones you’ll never open
  • Do you really need all those facebook notifications… turn them off… chances are if they’re important you’ll find out anyway
  • Unsubscribe there and then and feel good about freeing up your inbox allowing you to focus on what really matters in your day, not the latest Get Rich Quick Scheme (And let’s face it, most of this internet marketing stuff is just that!)
  • How many are special offers? Do you need that extra temptation to spend (well they say SAVE) money? Unsubscribe and Save even more money! It’s a no-brainer.

Step 2 – Grab the kitchen timer and set it to 5 mins

  • Now find the first “Junk” email that you’ve not read in your inbox
  • Search for more emails from that sender
  • Delete them… Feels good doesn’t it?

Take a serious look at what hits your inbox next time you check your email and be ruthless

More ramblings and the odd bit of usefulness very soon… 🙂


11 Jul

Basic Time Management

Photo By: BigBlue

Photo By: BigBlue

Managing my time effectively has always been one of my biggest downfalls. When I’m working I have a habit of not taking regular breaks away from my desk, which in turn causes me to get distracted after a while because something inside me wants a change of scenery for a few minutes… Checking email, checking the weather & news headlines etc, seeing what bargains are on my favourite shopping sites, all that kind of nonsense! Well, I’ve decided to put an end to that by practicing a few simple time management techniques. These techniques I’ve garnered from around the web from the likes of Tim Ferriss, Leo Babauta and Penelope Trunk to name but a few.

There are many methods of managing time but few I’ve found are that effective. For me it boils down to 3 or 4 key activities that help me maintain focus an keep as productive as possible throughout my working day.

  1. The To Do List
    Historically my “To Do” lists have been massive. In the past I’d sit down and write huge list of as many jobs and tasks as I could think of, then pick one of the most important tasks and get stuck in. The problem with this method is that a huge list, although it may not appear so at the time, is very daunting and quite demoralizing. By creating a seemingly endless To Do list creates a feeling of being overloaded without you even realizing.

    Instead, create a simple To Do List for each day of your work life & home life, and include on the list the Three most important things that you need to do that day.  The list must contain only ever contain 3 entries. Only when items on the list are completed can you move on to the next list.Why do a three item list? A three item to do list is ultimately a managable list.  Once you’ve completed the tasks for today, create a new list and get stuck in on tomorrows task. That way you’ll feel like you’re getting ahead on tomorrows work list too!

  2. Take Regular Breaks
    Taking a break from what you’re doing is essential to retain focus on the job in hand. If I sit chained to my desk for hours on end, I ultimately get distracted after about and 1.5 hours and go off to check my email, check website stats etc. Instead, get yourself a kitchen timer, and set it to 1 hour or so. Work as intensely as you can during that time period. At the end of the period, take a 5 minute break and grab a coffee, lift weights, do some weeding in the garden, read the newspaper, anything to give yourself a break for a few minutes. The essential thing is to get away from the computer.
  3. Create a Timetable
    This is a new one that I’m currently trying out. Remember when you were at school you used to be given a timetable by your tutors telling you what subjects you were doing when? Well, why not apply this to your working day? As I’ve always got so many tasks to do I’ve recently drawn up a timetable for my working day, just like I had at school, and split my days up into chunks where I work on specific projects for set time periods, that way I keep several of my many projects evolving rather than languishing!

In conclusion, time management is essential to get the most from your day and by using some or all of these simple tips and sensibly planning what to do with your time, you can accomplish more during your working day, feel less stress and stay ahead of your work schedule for the majority of the time.

I’ve got a few more tips up my sleeve to which I’ll share with you over the coming weeks too!