A newspaper in the country I come from published an article on the impact of technology in the future and whether and how it will change our society. It was one of these captain obvious posts, that something has advantages and disadvantages. Like there is anything in the world which does not follow this principle. In this article they discuss how IoT and the next step of industry will change the job landscape. There will be people who lose their job and there will be new kinds of jobs. It is this ambivalent relationship of technology and our lives that I want to talk about.
When I was abroad I noticed how hard it is for me to do some things that just had to be done in order to learn a new language. I found them tedious and for some reason I never had time for them because there were other more important things. I thought to myself that going further like that I will utterly fail in what I wanted to do. The human mind seems to be a schizophrenic bastard. One personality wants constructive good things and the other one is just there to make you follow the path of pleasure. Thats when I thought to myself that there has to be a way to weaken the bad voice and empower the voice that wants to bring me forward in life. As a computer science graduate I decided to turn to technology as it seemed the least human and therefore flawed approach in my immediate surroundings.
The first thing was to identify where I had problems reaching my goals and, of course, I had to see myself at least a little objectively in order to detect and understand my personal weaknesses. This is the most important and crucial step, as this gives you the general direction on your path to what you really want. I suppose my weaknesses are not my own but shared by most people in our data, technology and attention society. We have trouble to focus on one thing and we lack the discipline to do the tedious but necessary things. There are so many other interesting albeit distracting things that do not really matter at all and it is hard to abstain those. There is this new youtube video you have not seen and there are news you need to read because everyone will be talking about them. Furthermore it is just convenient and more fun to go through the photos of your friends on Facebook.
My advantage is that I do not use Facebook and are therefore protected of a constant influx of irrelevant information. However I use Twitter, Youtube and read the news and these are also time consuming websites – and similarly irrelevant. Furthermore I am interested in many things and tend to get lost in a Wikipedia hole. So if technology is my enemy and I can not find the motivation to stay away from these things how can I use technology to counter these behavioural patterns? It is kind of a two step solution that involves hacking your own mind. That is the central idea behind it. Find your own weaknesses and use technology to either circumvent them or turn them into strengths. I will give you an idea on how I approached the situation. Your solutions will be different as each person is different.
In this step I noticed that I had some downtime when I actually did not do anything really. When I wait on something or someone and when I am on the train. Usually I listen to music but that does not occupy my mind fully. I have capacity left to do things in this time period. In the case of learning a new language that meant that I could study vocabulary and read on grammar while I am standing and sitting around listening to some of my tunes. Instead of staring at the screen of my phone browsing the mighty interwebz I decided to study. After some digging around on how to best learn new things I found Anki an app that uses spaced repetition to maximize learning performance. It is a simple flashcard system and you can easily start, study a few things and stop in case your waiting period ends. Before using my downtime to do something productive it was hard for me to do half an hour of studying due to lack of motivation, time or both (or at least I made myself believe that I do not have time). Suddenly I did 20 minutes of learning vocabulary every day – no real effort whatsoever. Just download an app, download or make (I highly recommend making your own) flashcards and get on crackin’. Since then I downloaded another app that allows me to learn how to write in that language. I set my goal to 20 minutes in both apps, that means I do at least 40 minutes per day of studying for that language. Usually I have enough waiting time so I can even study extra. Nice isn’t it? Getting some free productive time just by using a device I am carrying around anyway.
This step is geared towards getting rid of habits I dislike about myself and enforce or learn new habits I would love to have. This step will be very different for everyone as it depends on what motivates a person. As a CS grad and casual gamer (former lunatic gamer) I know that gamification works very well on me. There have been games that kept me addicted for 2000+ hours. I decided to ignore my prejudices of “hipster economy slang”-things and just get on with it as in my opinion it is more important to achieve my goal than to be “cool” and keep my terrible habits. By accident I found a website that lets you merge habits, todo’s and daily routines with an RPG. Being a level 80 guardian with a sparkling sword (Guild Wars 2) I decided to give it a try because character development usually keeps me hooked. So the way this system works is that you create a character and you add habits you want to train or lose, daily routines and todo’s to a list and by completing tasks or not doing bad habits you earn experience and gold. In this game you have character progression and items to customize your hero. In order to be able to do that you have to work on the important things in life. If you read this an think “That is stupid why would some stupid pet or a new armor make me do my chores?” then this method is probably not for you. It is important to find something that motivates you to get things done. Of course you need a certain degree of honesty to only mark habits or check todo’s if you have done them but I think that is something you need as a basis in any case for this approach to work. Another funny thing that motivates me is that you lose HP when you don’t finish your dailies or when you do one of your bad habits, if it drops to zero you will lose a level. You see there is also a certain degree of punishment involving something important (my character) to me. Whatever it is that motivates you, be it chocolate, video games, rewarding yourself with buying stuff or any other thing, as long as it motivates you to get your stuff done it is effective and you should keep on doing that. In my case it was again the “good use” of technology that helped me with my problem.
To summarize all the babbling above. To get things done and be more productive I have found two steps that help me in my quest to do so. While many people get used by technology it can be real benefactor if you turn things around and you start using technology. I did this by having a two step approach to motivate myself to do tedious things. First identify time in your daily routines that is actually downtime and can be used to do something productive. Use technology or any other helper do things instead of wasting time waiting around. Step two, find something that motivates you and acts as a catalyst to reduce the necessary willpower needed to do tedious tasks. A friend of mine pointed me towards an interesting article about Elon Musk and how he did/does what he is doing and how he is successful. While I usually do not like articles like that as they are geared towards maximum revenue and I am rather interested in personal development I found this one or rather Mr. Musks opinion highly interesting. As written by Tim Urban:
One thing you’ll learn about Musk as you read these posts is that he thinks of humans as computers, which, in their most literal sense, they are. A human’s hardware is his physical body and brain. His software is the way he learns to think, his value system, his habits, his personality. And learning, for Musk, is simply the process of “downloading data and algorithms into your brain.
I think this is a very important realization. It is the realization that you are in power of your mind. It makes you realize that the way you are is not god given and that you can change yourself to the better (or worse). I believe that in order to reprogram yourself you can use technology in way that makes it easy for you to change. The important thing is to use technology for you and not get used by technology against your will. Another article by Tristan Harris, that gained quite some attraction on Twitter, speaks about the design of modern technology and how its goal is to steal your time. Sun Tzu said “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”. This is very true if you want to change yourself. You need to find your weaknesses and you need to understand yourself, your decision making process and the technology around you. After you have understood yourself you can turn the game around and instead of letting technology steal your time use it to regain time to work on your goals.
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