HomePostsJun 14, 2008

How to Tame Your Technology in Four Easy Steps

Whether you’ve been here a couple of times or only once (and hopefully planning on returning), you might have seen my little tagline up in the header, “Helping You Tame Your Technology.” This should be more or less self-explanatory (as most good taglines are) but “taming,” to me, goes beyond just learning and using your electron-fueled personal possessions. Taming your technology means keeping your possessions and communications well-used, trouble-free, and to a minimum.

I’m always taking a second look at what I do and what I own (or want to own) to make sure I don’t fly off the deep end and create more work/stress for myself. Here’s what I do to keep it all together.

Taming your tech means: making it work how you want it to

The first part of this tamed tech meme is probably the most obvious. Taking control of your digital life means learning how to use what you have and using it well and fully. Buying a web-enabled phone because you want to have your email with you wherever you go and never learning how to use it or accessing your email remotely but losing the organization scheme you used before is also letting your technology tame you. Learning how to get your Gmail or Hotmail through the mail program built into your phone and managing the system when you can over the web is taming technology.

If you find a gadget, a piece of software, or a web page that can solve a nagging problem, then, naturally, you will spend the time to learn it as best you can. But so many people don’t take the extra time to learn that extra little bit and end up with more products then they need. Taming your tech means making what you buy work completely rather than throwing more money at a problem and ending up right back where you started.

How I apply this in my life/business: I do a lot of digital image manipulation and have been for quite a while (about 6 years). I pull and modify screenshots, make my personal photos look better, and make various web images. Would you believe that I just bought Photoshop? I’ve been using free programs like Paint, Paint.net, and Photofiltre. This put me at a bit of a disadvantage because, now that I actually need Photoshop, it’s hard to re-learn what I know in other systems. The upside is that I can recommend some great free programs and still got the work done.

Taming your tech means: using only what you need

This second part ties in to the first part but is more about removing than adding. Owning and using technology should do nothing but make what you’re doing perceptibly better than it was before. This could mean work, this could mean family and friends, or this could mean entertainment. If having three email accounts, two blogs, two computers, a web-enabled phone, an ipod, a digital camera, and a printer/scanner helps you do what you need to do, then it’s not a problem learning, maintaining, and replacing all of the above. If, however, having all of this only serves to distract, disturb, and annoy without improving anything, then it’s time to reconsider some or all of it.

Everyone is welcome to drown themselves in as much technology as they can wrap their paycheck around but, if your goal is productivity or a gain in personal time or effective business reach, then maybe charging and syncing everything is doing more to hold you back. Taming your technology is taking control of the gadgets you use and using only what works.

How I apply this in my life/business: My laptop is probably 7 years old, one of the PCMCIA ports doesn’t work, and is somewhat limited as to what it will run. Am I saving for a new one? Am I waiting for the right price? Is it collecting dust in the closet? None of the above. This little guy lets me write, organize files, code for the web, brainstorm, answer email, and surf the web. These are the only things I need to do while on the road these days so there is not a compelling reason to upgrade.

Taming your tech means: keeping your tech to yourself

We’ve all seen it: the cell-phone guy/gal, noise polluting an entire coffee shop; the kid with an ipod turned up so loud you can make out the lyrics; friends who talk to you while writing an email to someone else on their Blackberry. It’s so east to retreat into our own little worlds, especially when we’re fooled into thinking we’re somehow better connected because we have more channels of communication at our disposal. When we fall for this trap, though, we start to lose touch and move away from society at large. Taming your technology means being aware of the impact that your technological life has on other people. This could mean giving your phone or computer a break when you’re around others, being cognizant of the noise your device(s) are creating, or facing your gadget addiction before it saps money aware from more important things.

I’m going to take this point one step further and say that taming your technology means staying as close to sustainable as you can, even if it means making sacrifices. We all have our lives to live and our jobs to work, but if you’re leaving 2-3 computers on all night, commute in something that gets less than 20 MPG, and still replace light bulbs with incandescents, it’s time to tame your technology.

How I apply this in my life/business: I’m in the 97th percentile of energy use in my neighborhood according to the power company (LINK). I run the computer overnight sometimes but every light bulb is fluorescent, computers and electronics are on power strips that get shut off at night, and I charge things in my car (“free” electricity). When it comes to my social impact, you can find me with my phone always on vibrate, leaving the room to take a call, and my music high enough to drown out the din. I’m no Miss Manners – or Mister for that matter – but I make it a point to be aware of my surroundings enough to avoid dirty looks.

Taming your tech means: staying on top of it

Sometimes the question has to be asked: why bother? With so many work opportunities (reputation-building, networking, side projects), communication options (blogs, micro-blogs, social networks, email platforms), entertainment channels (books, social media, television, movies), productivity tools, it’s impossible to try and take it all in. It is tempting, however, to try. When we start to get mire ourselves in fabricated “have to’s” (I “have to” post on my blog, I “have to” update my profile, I “have to” sign up for that site), our priorities, work, and personal life suffer. It’s very easy to make more work for yourself by trying to be everywhere at once and keep tabs on every trend that’s remotely relevant to you. It’s also very easy to create time sinks with poor organization, poor set-up, and a lack of planning.

It’s hard for me to present a universal rule for everyone to follow but I will say this: if you’ve ever asked yourself if something should go/be replaced/be completely renovated, keep asking until it happens. If you’re not getting any benefit from it, should you keep wasting your time doing it? Also, if you can fix it or replace it for a significant benefit, what are you waiting for?

How I apply this in my life/business: I don’t spend much time on any social network and I don’t actually participate in social media beyond Digging or Stumbling the occasional site that really catches my eye (or submitting my own). I find that neither one contributes much to my life so I’m not motivated to keep them up.

A portion of my digital time is spent blogging, one of those activities that you either get and do or don’t and avoid. The few hours I spend every week staying on top of updates gives back by keeping me in touch with the industry(ies) that I’m involved in, helping my improve my writing skills, and adding a bit to my reputation by offering up a piece of myself up-front. It’s something I like to stay on top of that also serves a purpose.

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Jun 27, 2008

Thoughts on conferences

A few random thoughts on how to make a conference presentation go well.