Mindful Machines: Making Technology Work for You

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  • December 12, 2016

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Last week, tens of millions of students in more than 180 countries participated in the Hour of Code, a global movement by Computer Science Education Week and Code.org. The Hour of Code’s intent isn’t to help you learn to code in one hour. An hour isn’t enough time to learn a programming language; ask any graduate of The Software Guild. Rather, it’s about increasing access to computer science by breaking stereotypes and opening doors.

In 2011, Marc Andreessen penned a famous essay in The Wall Street Journal entitled, “Why Software Is Eating The World.” His conclusion was and still is that, “We are in the middle of a dramatic and broad technological and economic shift in which software companies are poised to take over large swathes of the economy.”

It’s five years later, and most people in our country (except my dad of course) own a smartphone. Technology plays a role in almost everything we do these days; I just learned recently that self-driving cars are substantially safer than cars driven by humans (#mindblown). The fact is, software is everywhere. Especially for the younger generations, understanding how technology works is critical, and that’s the Hour of Code’s purpose.

7 Hacks and Apps to Become More Productive and Deliberate

In the spirit of the Hour of Code, I reached out to my colleague and productivity pal, Jeremy Walsh, to come up with a bunch of apps and general hacks that could help us all better use technology in our lives. Technology can also be an impediment to creativity and mindfulness, so the focus of this list is learning how to use technology to make you more creative, more aware of the world around you and more productive in your life.

Turn off notifications
Constant interruptions just get in the way. By disabling notifications, you force technology to work for you, on your schedule, rather than the other way around. If you balk at the idea of disabling notifications entirely, try enabling “Do Not Disturb” on your phone during times you need to concentrate. Add people to your Favorites list so they can get to you if they really need you.

Limit screen time after hours
There’s research now indicating that screen time before bed is bad for your sleep. Eliminate screen time after a certain point in the evening to minimize this effect. The iPhone clock has a new feature called “bedtime” that you can use to help you start winding down at a consistent time each night; you can also use this as a cutoff point for your screen time.

Live in the cloud
Evernote makes for a fantastic personal filing cabinet and syncs to all of your devices. This means you can take notes and save articles on the web whenever you need to, and they’ll show up on whatever device you’re using to get your work done. Most phones will store your photos in the cloud; Google Photos is one of the best and most affordable services for this, and syncs easily with any Android device. And for storing files and working collaboratively on documents, few services out there beat Dropbox. The best part is, when you get a new phone, all of this cloud-based data propagates to it automatically with a simple login.

Automate simple tasks
You can use the voice assistant on your phone (Siri, Google Assistant or Cortana) to automate all kinds of tasks, and with home voice assistants like the Amazon Echo and the Google Home starting to gain traction, that functionality is becoming more and more available. When you start combining these services with automation apps like Zapier or If This Then That (IFTTT), you can really streamline your workflow. You can create recipes that trigger automatically when you perform certain actions, like starring a message or asking Alexa to take a note for you. Lifehacker has a great list that demonstrates how powerful this technique can be.

Create strong habits
With apps like 5-Minute Journal, you can practice gratitude and reflection, and you can set your intentions for the day and hold yourself accountable for them at the end. Task-management tools like Nozbe can change the way you approach tasks and projects, making you much more effective. I know Nozbe’s been a game-changer for me. With an app like Way of Life, you can build habit chains in order to create more effective behavior in your life. And with Self-Control (on Mac) or Freedom (on PC), you can carve out focused time and avoid multitasking.

Learn more
I love Audible and Overcast for books and podcasts, respectively. I’ve trained myself to listen to books at up to three times normal speed and podcasts at around 2.2 times normal. If I listen to books and podcasts when I’m walking, driving or at the gym, I can consume a lot of media and learn a huge amount of information in a short time. Although I normally don’t advocate multitasking, taking advantage of a time when your brain isn’t otherwise engaged — like your morning commute — can help you use that time more effectively.

Take a break
The advent of smartphones and computers has given us access to myriad amazing apps that can make us more efficient and productive. Sometimes, though, it’s good to just be still for a while. Practicing meditation with an app like Headspace can help you decompress and refocus yourself, and Andrew Johnson’s Deep Sleep, Power Nap and Relax apps are great for unplugging too.

What apps and hacks do you use in your daily life? How do you increase your productivity and general well-being?

About Todd Zipper

President & Chief Executive Officer

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