"Put Down the PDA! Curb your digital addictions to help focus" by Intertech CEO, Tom Salonek, appears in the The Business Journal April 8, 2004 issue
Put Down the PDA! Curb your digital addictions to help focus
They’re everywhere: zombies with wireless phones at their ears, digital organizers and laptops at the fingertips. Their wireless phones and beepers make annoying sounds at the wrong times and places. They subject others to the details of their personal conversations in grocery stores, public libraries and coffee shops. They brazenly interrupt the productivity of a business meeting, or even the meditative atmosphere during a worship service, with their buzzing and ringing and talking. Hello, my name is Tom Salonek and I am a digital addict.
As a digital addict, I am not alone. Organizations such as Gartner Inc., Stamford, Conn., estimate Americans average one hour per day managing e-mail. That doesn’t sound so bad until you realize that more than 30 percent of this hour is e-mail that is completely unrelated to work. And then there are the drones that spend hours each night simply surfing the net or engaging in online discussions instead of getting involved in real activities in real life.
Are you a digital addict? Finding out starts with brutal self-assessment: Are you a slave to your digital phone and beeper? Do you snap to attention when that little e-mail notification pops up on your screen? Do you interrupt or ignore live people in favor of a flashing screen? Have you ever been embarrassed by your digital behavior or attempted to hide it from friends, relatives or business associates?
Even if you answered yes to every one of these questions, don’t despair! Help exists for even the most hardcore digital addicts. Consider my six-step program to regain control over your communications tools and your life.
Step 1: Admit your life has become unmanageable.
Have you had a day when you wondered “What did I do today?” From phone calls to e-mails, these lost days are driven by the tyranny of the urgent – tasks that demand immediate response. Stephen Covey says it is the non-urgent, important tasks that give the greatest return. So admit you want more control and decide how to spend your time.
Step 2: Believe in the greater power.
Believe in the greater power of your mind. Set aside time for focused work by having phones on “Do-Not-Disturb,” turning cell phone ringers off, and turning off e-mail notification alerts – from sounds to the little icon. You’ll find that focused, uninterrupted work has no productivity equal.
Step 3: Make amends with others.
I’ve been in meeting where the addiction of others is unbearable. I love wireless technology (keep in mind, I’m in recovery!) and I know there are times when it is appropriate. Meetings are not one of those times. Sure, there are exceptions – the phone call to close the biggest deal in your company’s history or the “I’m having a baby and need a drive to the hospital” call. Unless your call or e-mail is in one of these categories, leave it outside the meeting door.
Step 4: Use technology to help with its own shortcomings.
Between Spam and pop-ups, e-mail and the Internet can waste time. Spam-filtering software like Matador, from Mail Frontier (www.mailfrontier.com), sells for $35 per seat. If filters inbound mail and throws junk mail into the garbage. I like this product because it saves my firm many lost productivity hours per week, especially after employees have been out of the office.
For pop-up ad blockers, there are a couple of free, good products. One is from Alexa (www.alexa.com) and another from Google (www.google.com). When a site throws a pop-up in your face, these tools detect and give you the choice to view, block or block forever.
Step 5: Use conscious thought to solve problems.
Your brain is the most powerful computer ever made. It can be harnessed for less than a dollar with a pen and pad of paper. While it’s simple and the results are huge, very few people spend time just thinking about how to solve problems. Here’s a template that can help: Clearly write your problem down in the Dale Carnegie format of “In what ways can I (insert your problem here).” Next, list any and all potential solutions and then select the top solutions, and begin executing.
Step 6: Enjoy your awakening.
I’m happy to report that I’ve taken all six steps to recovery. I know I’ve made progress because I’ve actually been able to institute a “no laptops, cell phones or pagers” policy while I’m on vacation. The office knows to contact me if there is an emergency. Otherwise, please pass me the sunscreen, I’m on vacation!