I love gadgets.
I've bought every sort of smartphone right from the Treo through Windows smartphones to my shiny new iPhone 4.
And I love tools too. I must have bought every available to-do manager on the market.
So with all these productivity tech and tool purchases you'd have thought I'd become more productive, right?
Well, in the sense that I can now fill my downtime with activities, yes.
If I'm on the train or in a cab I can read my email. Using my online CRM I can browse my client and prospect details anytime, anyplace, anywhere. If I'm in the middle of nowhere I can still keep in touch with my Twitter buddies.
But the truth is that none of these activities are particularly vital for my business. They're not unimportant. But they're not crucial.
In essence, the tools have made me more productive at the mundane. They've allowed me to do “admin” when I wouldn't previously have been doing anything.
Or would I?
If I think back at what I really used to do when I was sitting on a train, or in a cab it turns out I wasn't doing nothing.
If I was on a train then usually I'd be reading. Learning useful stuff. Or thinking about a client or project – maybe planning or taking notes.
And actually, this is important stuff. Actually taking the time to think about my work and my clients or to improve my knowledge and skills.
Way more important than answering emails, tweeting or doing admin.
The fact that I'm “always online” with my iPhone has meant that I now spend more time reacting to events (email, tweets, even phone calls) than I do proactively thinking and planning. My ability to get access to this constant electronic stimulation has squeezed out the quiet time where I used to actually do some of my best thinking.
And it gets worse.
Being constantly online has conditioned me now to check my email when I'm a bit bored to see if something interesting has come in.
And usually it has.
Not something important. Probably nowhere near as important as the document or the plan or the idea I was supposed to be working on when I got a bit “stuck”. But interesting.
And if there's nothing interesting on email I'm sure there will be on Twitter. Or I could always check my website stats for the 20th time today.
Lord help me, I've even just checked email right now while I was in the middle of writing this blog post.
And who knows how bad I'd be if I had a Blackberry with that awful red light that tells you when you get a new email. I'm not sure I'd ever be able to resist checking what had come in.
In truth, we've got more productive at the things that aren't really important – and less productive at the thoughtful hard work that really is.
We're obsessed by “real time”. I had to laugh recently when otherwise-sensible social media guru David Meerman-Scott lauded the new development in Tweetdeck that meant you got instant updates rather than every 30 seconds. ‘Cos being 29 seconds behind the times is going to kill ‘ya…
Now here's the thing: I'm not saying all these productivity tools and technology are a bad thing. Even if they were, it's too late – the genie's out of the bottle.
But what we need to do – me especially – is learn to become their master, not their slave.
To use them when it actually is productive – not to oust otherwise productive activities because checking email is intellectually easier and more stimulating.
So next time you find yourself checking email more than a couple of times a day – or whipping out your Blackberry in a cab to check Twitter. Think to yourself whether this really is the best use of your time.
So how about you? Have you managed to tame your tools and use them really productively?
Image by Jeff Kontur