It has been proven that technology, an inescapable necessity of life, improves productivity. A 2013 survey by Pew Research, in fact, found that 46 per cent of adult Internet users felt more productive because of technology. But what about analogue productivity tools? Will they be able to hold a candle to their digital counterparts? Instead of online calendars and organisational apps, might physical agendas be more effective?
To answer those questions, we’ll be weighing the effects of relying on electronic gadgetry in the workplace, discovering the importance of going analogue, and how a certain new organisational technique can turn things in the office around, so you’ll never have to worry again about working overtime. But we’ll get to that later. First, let’s dive into the good old “pros and cons” list.
The effects of technology on productivity
It’s easy to see how technology might move things along quicker, especially in a place of business, where the more fast-paced the environment is, the better. Or so it seems. Technology facilitates convenience. Think of what a nightmare it would be to have to send a telegram just to set up a meeting, instead of an instant email – enough said. Not to mention, with every document and memo stored and tucked away systematically on your computer, you’ll be saving a truckload of space, and playing your part to reduce carbon footprint. Make way for the office tree-hugger!
In terms of managing and tracking daily tasks, everything’s just easier to edit, and thus, much neater, thanks to immediate, fixed formatting. Unlike a physical notebook, you can set alarms for deadlines and events on your devices too.
That said, technology has also advanced in leaps and bounds since its dawn, and it could have by now become too much to handle. Cornerstone OnDemand agrees. Its 2013 study revealed that 25 per cent of US employees felt they were suffering from technology overload. It is this deluge of data thrown at us daily through technology that can lead to much fatigue, stress, and depression, says researchers from the University of Gothenburg. And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that such negative mental states are going to do zilch for one’s productivity.
The more hyper-dependent we are on our devices, the more our eyes will be inseparable from them, which puts a strain on those peepers. Known officially as digital eye strain, the syndrome is tied to blurred vision, as well as neck, back and headaches. Digital platforms also make writing a rigid and impersonal practice – visually at least. With a Microsoft Word document, there’s no room for personalisations or doodles, and it takes extraneous effort to play with format, for instance, creating mind maps that extend beyond the borders of an A4 page. By the time you’ve figured it all out, the office lights would’ve gone out already.
This next one relates to the majority of us. Technology, or more specifically, the Internet, is the source of much distraction in the workplace. How many times have you endeavoured to settle an assignment (one that’s particularly hard to accomplish) before the end of the day, only to slip into a spiral of cat videos and brainless listicles? Yes, we’ve all been there. And even though the main fault lies in our lack of self-discipline, there’s no denying that the advent of technology has significantly shortened our attention spans as well. Finally, trust technology to malfunction every now and again.
The importance of analogue practices
There is a reason why analogue systems have survived the digital epoch, and are still going strong. People crave the authentic, the traditional, the tactile. Just look at how technology tries to replicate the analogue experience. A case in point: Styluses were invented to imitate pens. As you “scribble” notes down on your phone, it tricks you into believing you’re using a pen and paper, when in reality, it’s just not the same. Even sound effects like the clickety-clack of a keyboard are incorporated to make electronic, touchscreen devices less electronic. It all points to the fact that machines are intrinsically lifeless, and we don’t like it.
Besides the obviously therapeutic effects of putting pen to paper, there are also more science-backed benefits of setting aside the keyboard. Researchers Pam Meuller and Daniel Oppenheimer discovered in 2013 that writing by hand improves one’s ability to retain information. Because it slows down the writing process, you become more thoughtful and aware of what you’re actually penning down, and hence, you remember more of what you wrote. CEO bigwigs like Bob Greenberg, the founder of ad agency R/GA, too are favouring the old-fashioned method. Greenberg depends on wholly manual organisational and productivity tools, which allows him to better prioritise tasks, remain accountable for his responsibilities, and be more aware of how he expends energy at work.
So the big question is, does going analogue help increase productivity? Potentially. You don’t necessarily have to completely renounce the digital world. A small dose of “manual labour” – that is, using a planner to manually track tasks and organise your days, weeks and months – with a little help from technology is enough to make a difference.
The Bullet Journal
Enter bullet journaling, and how it can alleviate part of the technology overload. A new analogue organisation system designed by Ryder Carroll in 2013, it has been increasingly gaining popularity among millennials. Don’t be mistaken though. This technique is for everyone, and can be applied and adapted to the workplace as well.
Here’s how it works:
Simple, yet ingenious, it allows users to bump items forward, and features distinct symbols that differentiate between a task and an event. It also utilises page numbers and an index, so you can record which page your schedule is on and which page your minutes are on. No more fumbling about un-systematically! For these plain reasons, the bullet journal beats the traditional to-do list.
Granted, it might seem like a lot to take in, and you might need a while to get used to the various signifiers. But once you get the hang of it, it’ll do wonders for getting things done. Keep in mind not to overload any one day with too many tasks than you can handle, and try not to pre-plan the entire week – leave some wiggle room for any unexpected changes. Also, don’t feel obliged to purchase the actual bullet journal. The brilliance of this system is that you can simply take its structural skeleton, and adjust it to your specific needs and preferences. All you need is a notebook (although preferably one with numbered pages).
Moving away from technology isn’t the easiest thing to do, especially if you’ve established a stable routine. But as Coldplay’s Chris Martin once sang, if you never try, you’ll never know. So why not give the bullet journal a go for the next month or so? Here’s hoping this is the silver bullet of productivity you’ve been looking for.