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Why More Technology Isn’t The Solution To Tech-Generated Problems

Written by: Jennifer Jank, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

No one, least of all me, can deny that some technology makes life a lot easier. At one of my first jobs working in finance, my boss had been a muni bond trader in the 1970s. He described taping graph paper down on the table to run their calculations since they didn’t have computers with spreadsheets.

I am very glad that I’m writing this on my laptop and that the document autosaves as I go. Previously, word-processing technology was at the mercy of the Save button. Losing all your work because the computer crashed before you saved, or you forgot to hit the save button, happened a lot.


Not all technology is bad. Yet some of it is bad for the human brain. Can tech fix the damage it does?


Sometimes You Need To Dig Deeper To Find The Problem


As tech enables modern life to whiz by faster and faster, you need more technology to keep up with life. The new tech then enables things to speed up even more, and so on and on in a reinforcing loop.


Before email, when you went home for the day, your boss couldn’t reach you unless it was an emergency. When email was restricted to computers, especially when laptops weren’t so common, you weren’t reachable when you left for the day. Even if your boss or the client emailed you, you wouldn’t see it until you went back to work the following day.


Now everyone can read their emails on their phones, and everyone is always on their phone. Some bosses send emails at all hours of the day, and some clients do too. Or they’ll call you any old time, even after (or before) business hours, because everyone answers their phones immediately.


As they say, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. As you know, your brain needs a break from work in order to be productive. Answering company emails late at night just means you’re likely to be more tired, more irritable, and more likely to make mistakes the next day.


There are tech solutions to this, of course. You can turn off notifications. Sort your incoming email so that potentially urgent messages come through, and nonurgent ones go to a separate folder that you’ll check later.


Technology to the rescue? Hardly. The real problem is that you need to set boundaries with clients and bosses because you should not always be available to them. Don’t feel guilty about boundaries either. Taking time away from work to be with family and friends and do activities you enjoy is actually good for your brain, meaning you’ll be more productive at work the next day.


Recently I gave a presentation and part of it discusses how important sleep is to productivity. A lot of brain and body activity occurs while you’re asleep, some of which will affect your productivity and health if it doesn’t get done. I suggested turning off all screens an hour before bed, which is actually a pretty standard recommendation.


I mentioned that for one thing, screens emit blue light that interrupts your body’s sleep communication. First, someone in the audience chimed in to claim that blue light glasses work. I’m actually not sure we have the data on that, but I do wear a pair myself! Then someone else said that smartphones have a blue light blocker for nighttime. Technology to the rescue?


Of course not! Social media is purposely designed to be addictive. Scrolling through your feed, whether you’re blocking blue light or not, is how you end up wondering how it got to be 2 am when you need to wake up at 6.


Or you’re scrolling through work emails. Not that you’re going to do anything about them - or maybe you will, at 11 pm at night, thus justifying your boss’s belief that they own all your time. At any rate, you’ll get worked up over what’s going on (or not going on), which is going to make it hard for you to get to sleep. But hey, you blocked the blue light! Yet… you’re still awake.


During the presentation, someone else mentioned that they use an e-reader at night. Reading is great! I’m fairly sure that the e-readers don’t have the same blue light issue, but I suggested that if it was a concern she could read a paper book instead of a digital one.


Then she said they were too expensive because she buys a lot at a time and she reads fast. I reminded her that libraries exist and she could simply borrow some. Which is what I do, mostly. (Yes, I still buy books sometimes.)


I heard a lot of excuses that afternoon for why they needed to have their phone with them all the time. People get upset when you tell them that tech isn’t necessarily what they need 24-7, or that some forms of it are actually not that great for you. But the facts are the facts.


Productivity And Technology


When used properly, technology is a tool that can be very helpful. Some people regard it as magic, and others regard it as the pinnacle of human achievement. It’s neither. It’s a tool. Just as not all tools work for every problem, neither does tech.


As an efficiency expert, I’ve always been very productive when I actually get down to work. I’ve always understood technology as a tool, some of which works for me. There have been plenty of things I tried out and said Nope, not for me.


As a result, it’s easy for me to focus (most of the time, anyway!) and I’m tuned into how my head’s doing as I work. I know when the words aren’t working that I’m probably hitting the 45-minute to 1-hour focus ability of the brain.


Sometimes I force myself to work through it, which frankly isn’t the best idea. I’ve learned it’s way better to get up, walk around, maybe have a drink of water. This also gets my butt out of the seat (if I’m not standing at my desk).


Many people have lost this ability to concentrate, because they’ve spent so much time being reactive to their phones and computer notifications. You can’t do two focused tasks at the same time; your brain just switches back and forth between them. That’s tiring for the brain.


Yet so many people think they can scroll through their feeds and listen to the Zoom presenter, or text and drive (do NOT do this). Or text someone back at the same time they’re on the phone with a client.


As I noted earlier, social media is designed to be addictive. All platforms have bells and whistles designed to keep you scrolling, so the platform can get more ads in front of your eyeballs. Social media companies make money from ads, not from you liking someone’s post.


You may not be bothered by the idea that you’re basically a rat in a maze pressing the lever for more cheese when you get on social media, but all those notifications do take their toll. You’re constantly in search of that dopamine release when someone likes your post or comments. Or someone you like puts up a new post or story.


You’ve probably heard about all the productivity technology that’s available. I personally use no apps that are designed to boost productivity. I have synced up my best energetic time with my deep work time, at least as best I can. I can’t do it every day, but I do it as much as possible. I know when I’m hitting that 45-60 minute limit and need a little break too.


Partly that’s just how my brain works. But, it’s also partly because I’ve been so choosy about the tech I use and how I use it.


I haven’t had email notifications on for about a decade, even when I worked in corporate America. I don’t have notifications on my phone. I don’t actually have social media on my phone. I had it on there briefly and then uninstalled everything. I tried instant messaging when it first came out and found it so horrifying I’ve refused to use it since.


I don’t have an internet blocker (which prevents you from accessing the Internet for some period of time while you’re working.) If I’m working on a Google doc like this one I often don’t have any other tabs open besides what I’m currently working on.


I do use software, like social media scheduling and CRM, because those two things are key. Obviously, if we didn’t have social media there’d be no need for the scheduler, but it does seem that for business you need to be on at least one or two platforms.


Having said all that, I recognize that not everyone can actually single-task anymore. Some people do need to use a timer and work on just one thing until that timer goes off, which is sometimes known as the Pomodoro technique. They do need to block Internet access if they’re using something like Google Docs and are too tempted to stop what they’re doing and scroll through something.


Why Is Single-Tasking So Important?


Now that I’ve bragged about my focusing prowess (Look upon me and despair, ye mortals!), you might be wondering why that’s even a thing. Isn’t it better to do a whole bunch of stuff at the same time so you save time?


If that’s what actually happened, then yes, multi-tasking would make sense. But as I noted earlier, the human brain doesn’t actually multitask. It just switches back and forth rapidly between jobs, and all this switching is draining.


You’re not giving your full concentration to one task, you’re half-assing it on all the tasks. That doesn’t save you any time. It makes you more likely to make mistakes. Or if you’re “listening” to a webinar you miss something and have to go back and listen again, or ask the person to repeat what they were saying. That takes longer.


Doing one task at a time and putting like tasks together saves you time and mental energy. When you focus, you can get it done faster and with fewer mistakes. If you’re not switching, your brain doesn’t get as tired.


That’s why it’s a bad idea to check email as it comes in. Instead, batch it periodically throughout the day. Very few emails need immediate answers, and you can always set up an autoresponder to let people know it was received! Better yet, of course, is to set the times when you’re ready to work on email and let others know when those times are. Same with returning calls - do it in your slow time, and do a bunch together.


If you still have trouble focusing, start setting aside some time at home to read a (paper) book. It’ll help you learn to focus on one thing at a time. You may only be able to read for a few minutes at a time to begin, but after a while, you’ll find yourself able to stick to it for longer periods.


Use technology wisely. It’s neither a solution to everything nor is it a source of magic. It’s a tool, so use it in a way that makes you more productive - and healthier too.


Follow me on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and visit my website for more info!


 

Jennifer Jank, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Jennifer “JJ” Jank works with women who are making the leap from employee to an entrepreneur through courses and a book to be published in February 2021. She also helps businesses build their online credibility through eBooks, testimonials, and articles.


JJ holds a BA in Physics from Rutgers University and an MBA in Finance from New York University. She is a Certified Financial Planner ™ professional. Currently, she’s the President for Women Leaders Forum in Coachella Valley and the webmistress for the Palm Springs chapter of AAUW. She is also a speaker on various topics, including personal finance and entrepreneurship.


JJ has been published in Journal for Divorce Financial Analysts and Coachella Valley Weekly, among others.

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