Archive for November, 2012

Are you efficient?

November 16, 2012

We excessively talk about efficiency (such an inefficient use of the word I may add) when we refer to things like an efficient car because it consumes less gas. We use the word everyday without a full appreciation of its meaning (compared to the alternative), and how it can be attained. However, once understood fully, addressing it in our everyday life can make a big difference. Efficiency can make our life easier, more productive, and allow us to, well, spend time writing blogs. Efficiency means an optimal use of your time. Not less, not more than what is absolutely needed at doing something. It doesn’t mean that you have to be working all the time. It just means that you are more productive so you can have more free time for yourself.

I keep hearing people blame technology for the diversion of our attention from things that matter. I am one that always uses his phone for work, maintaining a social presence, and browsing the Internet for “stuff”. However, as the things I do on the phone increased with the years, I ended up spending a lot of “wasted” time on my phone. For example, when I hear a “ding” when an email arrives, I immediately go to unlock my phone, and check my email. However, a lot of times the email turns out to be a spam or not so important. Unfortunately, that is not the end of it. I found myself, once I unlocked the phone, browsing other applications such as twitter, facebook, wordpress, etc. It almost seemed like I unconsciously felt that since I unlocked my phone, I was entitled to use it for a few minutes before it went into “locked” mode again. To generalize, I found myself going to my phone all too often, and wasting the few minutes to follow most of the time. All started because of a stupid email from travelocity regarding how it only cost $10 to fly round trip to Hawaii. One day I realized just how much time I spent on my phone doing nothing but wasting minutes checking things I already checked, and doing things I don’t really need to do. So, I made a decision one day that I will make my time on the phone more “efficient”. Being efficient can only happen with me unlocking the phone ONLY when I really need to. So, basically, I wanted to minimize how often I unlock my phone. But how could I do that? I decided to do a few things:

1. I started using custom ringtones to everything that I usually respond to on my phone. I customized ringtones specifically for family versus friends versus co-workers, etc. On iOS 6 you can customize ringtones per email account that you have. Not only that, I could group certain email addresses within a VIP group (a concept on the iPhone) and give that group a special ringtone. I distinguished notifications from various applications by assigning them different tones than default ones which are usually re-used across many applications. This customization change I applied to my phone allowed me to place the phone locked and only head to unlock it when I heard a tone that I knew was important enough given the time of the day. I noticed my browsing time on my phone was cut by multiple folds. I don’t spend less time on my phone, I just spend my time more efficiently.

2. I removed all notifications from applications that I don’t care much about.

3. I created filters on my incoming emails across all email accounts to archive and make read all emails that I am not too interested to read right away. Of course when you have spam emails coming in, try to see if you can unsubscribe from the sender (only if it is a legit sender!) so you can kill the excessive emailing at the root. Those filters allow me to hear less dings (when an email arrives) on my phone, which leads to less time on the phone.

Furthermore, I decided to take advantage of technology to make my overall time more efficient, even away from browsing my iPhone. So, basically I decided to use technology to save me from technology in ways such as:

1. I bookmarked all my useful and most frequently visited websites. This helps a lot. Once I open my browser, I have all my shortcuts to most frequently visited sites in my favorite list, and I can just click on the site that I want to load. Now, because I have a username/password to unlock my laptop, and another one to load my virtual machine, I can afford to not worry about saving my passwords on the browser, so I save all my passwords and I don’t have to log in with them manually. That speeds up my process of loading a page. If you have a lot of those pages, organize them into folders so they are easily accessible.

2. Un-clutter your paper space by changing all your statements to online statements. This way you can receive them via email or access them via their website. What I also do is add those websites and my login information (encoded) to the calendar entry for when the statement is issued (when the bill is automatically paid). This way I have all the information about a statement/bill right there on the calendar entry.

3. I write things like my driver’s license number, plate number, frequent flyers, etc. on an app on my iPhone so I can retrieve them when needed.

4. I use an app on my iPhone to sign incoming documents and re-email the signed document back to the sender without printing or scanning anything. I proudly say that I haven’t needed to print anything in months 🙂

5. You have a bunch of tasks to do? You keep thinking about when you will be able to get to them? Well, thinking too much about when you will be getting to a task will consume your time, and you will end up spending less time doing fun things, and at the same time you haven’t even started on your task. So, create a task list and keep adding items to it. Items that are deadline driven can be added directly to your calendar. If you know you will need to start working on a task X number of days before it is due, add a reminder to that calendar entry that will pop up X days before it is due. This way, you forget about the task completely, and when you will need to start working on it. Your calendar will let you know! Once you have that list, completely forget about everything you need to do. You will be notified when you will need to start working on one of those tasks.

6. I tend to drive a lot. With the crazy traffic in Chicago, it is a great opportunity to plan my tasks to take care of phone calls on my car bluetooth as I drive. It is a wasted time anyways. You may ask me: Don’t you want to listen to some music?? To which I answer: You must have not read the beginning statement of this paragraph because with Chicago’s traffic I have enough time to cover all my calls for the day and listen to music.

7. The single most useful special case I would like to share is the use of online tax preparation software like TurboTax. I have been using it since 2008 and I am in love with it. Not only do I get to learn a lot of things about how taxes work, but I have found it very handy when I needed to get my tax papers from two or three years earlier. All I have to do is log on to TurboTax and retrieve my taxes for any year, and download it.

8. Thinking efficiently pushed me to optimize other things in my life. For example, I like to read books, and there are so many books I would like to read. Specifically in theoretical physics, computers, astronomy, cognition and brain functions, etc. I, however, found myself taking way too long reading one book. I found the reason why, and shut up it is not because I am a slow reader! It is because sometimes I just don’t feel like reading about how the neurological system in our brain works, and instead I would like to read about quantum physics and how simultaneous particles synchronization works even when the two particles are across galaxies from each other! So, what I ended up doing is not reading about what I want to read at the time, and the book that I started reading is being put on hold. So, I realized that the most efficient use of my reading time is to start reading a book whenever I would like to read it, even if I end up having many books partially read. This way, depending on my mood, I can switch between books and overall I end up being more efficient in reading!

I am crazy you say? Well, applying the things above, and always looking to make my life more efficient allows me to have plenty of time to myself. I play basketball, soccer, and get to do other things outside of my full schedule. You may say that I am only able to do all those things because my schedule is less busy than yours, to which I reply no, my schedule is full of things to do and worry about. However, thanks to my task list, at the moment I have no worries at all and the only thing I am thinking about right now is how the hell I am going to end this post so I can go and have my tea!

Use technology to save you from technology and make your life simpler!