It has been a manic couple of weeks – I’ll plead for your forgiveness for the lack of blog posts. My main time sink last week was preparing for an exam at the beginning of this one. It was a very curious experience. Hours and hours with no web, no phone and no conversation. I can assure you that Twitter could have been quite a productivity boost if it were allowed during the exam. I would even have settled for just a few pages from a text book or two.
In today’s hyperconnected world it is all too easy to forget what a few hours of zero distraction, zero access to external information and 100% focus are like. That and writing in volume with just a pen on paper (about 14 sides of A4 in all). My arm is still aching.
Back to business. It is all to easy to see technology as the answer to every problem around us, especially when you spend your life using it to fix problems. Last week we were working on the logo design for Redcatco (things are progressing here at a pace – more new soon). I fired up the computer to make a few changes to the proposed design. It seemed easier to edit the graphic, rather than trying to put what was in my head into words or use my poor drawing skills.
I fiddled and twiddled for ages, much to the annoyance of everyone. I just couldn’t get it looking the way I wanted. Eventually I was persuaded into using a low tech solution. I printed what I had, then got out the scissors and glue. A few minutes later, we had what we were after to send back to the designer.
Technology is wonderful stuff, but not when it is inappropriate. Projects and tools always carry some inherent risk, and if the business return isn’t good enough to cover that, then the user looses out. It is always worth stepping back from a solution and saying “is there a simpler way to fix this?”
One simple piece of technology I am really enjoying is SpinVox. It is actually quite sophisticated, but it happens to be simple from a user perspective – as all good technology solutions are. It takes my voicemails and turns them into SMS messages and e-mail. Let’s take yesterday. At the end of the first meeting of the morning I had 11 voicemails to pick up. I read them as SMS messages on my phone, as I stood on the underground train platform waiting for a train, out of mobile coverage. It took me 1 minute and 59 seconds to read them (just for fun I’d timed myself using the stopwatch on my iPod).
I listened those same messages this morning via voicemail. It took 7 minutes and 21 seconds. For reference also I read them via e-mail, which took 1 minute and 9 seconds. The last e-mail time might not be 100% fair – I was obviously familiar with the messages by then. However, a bigger screen and less button clicks required did make it faster than by SMS. Putting aside the ten minutes I sink into my pseudo-experiment, I processed my voicemails in less than a third of the time by getting them as text. I’d argue I saved even more time than that, as I dealt with them in dead-time. Oh, and it saved me having to write the messages down, for which my aching arm is thankful. A very nice Low-Tech Hi-Tech lifehack!