As modern online workers spend more than 8 hours per day on a computer, it seems that technology has escaped our control. The problem is: it's a trend.
We will all spend more time online, be it at office or at home, for work or for personal matters.
So I asked myself two questions. First, what's the role of technology in our future work-life balance? Second, how to spend our time online more wisely?
Part 1 gives you some context on why the future of online work won’t necessarily be healthy, hence I am writing this simple personal guide.
Part 2 is the personal guide itself. It is my personal online-life framework broken down into 3 actionable steps you can take today.
Both parts are relatively independent.
Part 1 - the future of our work-life balance
Technology plays a rampant and yet an ambiguous role, especially for remote workers.
Studies reflect that companies have digitized work and that the workforce is adapting. By giving away professional phones, equipping people with portable and efficient laptops people have adopted technology way faster. They can now work asynchronously and communicate in close to real-time.
Despite the great opportunities brought by the digital, studies report yet a concerning trend. The more blurry the boundaries between work and family time, and the more valuable somebody perceives their work, the more likely it is that the professional workspace will reshape the personal environment.
Examples are: doing work-related tasks during family time, using social media as a primary means for keeping in touch, working beyond working hours with fragmented breaks - especially when you work from home.
Researchers say companies might have substituted “technological control” to “managerial control”. Companies claim they free the workforce from physical constraints like working in the office. In fact, they might just shift the boundaries of control from in-office management to the control through technology. Indeed, expectations have increased: one should be available, reactive and more productive.
Some read this trend as capitalism taking over individual liberties. It’s as if the economic dictatorship, the dark shadows of capitalism, contradicted the so-called political freedom of our western democracies.
Well, I temporarily leave you to that question.
As I work on remote and slowly grow aware about the dubious role of technology, I have tried to really question my work-life ethics.
I needed a broader perspective because tools are not sufficient. I gathered the ins and outs of this reflexion in this simple personal guide.
I hope it will help you build a healthier relationship to technology.
Part 2 - your Personal Guide: 3 simple steps to make your online work more healthy
Our loose relationship to online time spent requires a dedicated approach
When I open my laptop, the most frequent, important, and daunting question is: how am I going to optimize my time online today?
It’s frequent, because I spend roughly 10 hours everyday behind my laptop - like most Americans.
It’s important, because being online is how I actually spend my precious time on earth.
It’s daunting, because I want to do something out of my life - and now is already behind.
To be honest, I will never know 100% how to make the best out of my life.
Hence a new and better question: how do you spend your time online wisely?
Even though the question seems limitless, I framed a feasible way to tackle this issue. I will share that approach with you today.
Again, I spend so much time on the internet that I named this approach “my personal formula”.
How to spend your time online wisely = number of hours spent online x number of tasks done x value per task.
Let’s break each variable down with concrete actions you can take today I draw from my own experience.
1. The Strategy: Improve the value per task (value metric)
I start with this variable as it is the most important.
The main idea is: if a task does not have value for you, it’s up to you to do it or not.
I’m not saying you should NOT do it, because value is often subjective. For instance, playing video games is fun and it helps you take a break and feel happy, even though it does not produce value for your work.
The value per task is the WHY behind any of your action. It literally gives meaning to your online activity. So push it to the north thanks to drivers like “tasks variety”, “tasks outside of my comfort zone”, “change in task complexity”, “alone vs. collaborative tasks”, etc.
Hence the question: How do you know if a task has value?
You prioritize tasks by asking yourself the right questions:
1. What is it I’m trying to achieve?
Bring consciousness to your tasks. While you’re defining your goal, always make sure to clarify the output and your measure of success.
It is super difficult. I was the first to jump to the search right away. If you do that too, don't feel guilty. Most of us get carried away on the web.
2. What’s the optimal path?
Bring criticism to your tasks. Always remember optimality is the balance between resources (time and your wellbeing) and outputs. So make sure to clarify the next sub-steps to achieve your goal.
From a practical standpoint, this sounds hard because we always have imperfect information. Nobel Prize Herbert Simon coined the satisficing criterion for decision-making. To make a better decision, the quest for more information becomes more increasingly expensive, so much so that it is better to make a decision within an imperfect environment than nothing.
So don't you worry too much with writing down all the processus in détails. Gut feeling is good too.
3. Am I in the mood of doing that?
Bring self-care to your tasks. This sounds surprising, but I noticed one thing from my experience: I spend so much time online that my wellbeing has weighed more over time. I am more likely to use it to prioritize stuffs.
I consider my life online should should be fun too. Thus, if a task is too much of a constraint, I would decide to re-prioritize or re-schedule the task differently.
Yes, love yourself and embrace the moment. It is equally important as achieving the task itself.
If you liked this approach, you should read our 3 tips to really make money as a freelancer.
Fortunately, prioritization is not what I struggle the most with. So I would give myself an 8 out of 10. Yet, what’s next is WAY trickier…
2. Tactical Approach and Tools: Achieve more tasks on your browser (volume metric)
This is commonly what we use as for measuring our productivity. The more you tick boxes, the better you feel right?
Well, it’s true for me. Haha
So if the criterion of success is “completion rate” of my todo list, then what are the drivers of that success?
From my experience, I can tell they are two: great focus time and a healthy work-life balance. But, my unravelled use of the internet has endangered both of them.
My 3 main takeaways are:
By spending much more time online I:
1) Went to bed more late. This prevented me from many recovery sleeps This generated long-term tiredness (emotionally and physically). Neuroscientific studies showed a clear negative correlation between sleep deprivation and daytime performance (Source: U.S. Department of Health & Human Services).
2) Became more dehydrated and I ate more snacks because I had lost time marks. NPR shared compelling results from a journalsleep.org study saying that sleep deprivation sparks interest in food intake (400 additional calories reports the experiment). Down the road, intermittent fasting increases the chances of having metabolic diseases. (Source: US National Library of Medicine)
3) Spent less time with my friends and family, even though I care deeply about them. Scientific studies showed that lack of sleep affects our social life and increases loneliness. (Full source: US National Library of Medicine)
On top of the dreadful impact on my body, my unhealthy work-life balance has spoiled my ability to deeply focus online and for long periods.
Indeed, I have started to experience a more “fragmented reality” online - a concept I explain in the short story behind tabby.
"In the search for getting more work done through softwares and automation, we have industrialized scattered focus - which we know has notorious effects on our IQ and our ability to perform."
So to get more work done, you absolutely need to:
1) rely on non-disturbing softwares: Use well calibrated Google calendars - I use Clockwise. Use notebooks for to-do lists. Use screen night-mode to spare your eyes like f.lux. Tune on background noises with Noisli. I use Tabby to declutter my browser view from old, inactive or irrelevant tabs. All tools are free.
2) avoid multi-screening: you should look at one browser window at a time. Do not use your phone & listen to Google Hangout meetings simultaneously. Do not watch TV & write emails at the same time. Do not call someone & rearrange your calendar.
3) trust your prioritization system (see section I) and do tasks one by one in the right order.
Without Tabby, I would still be somewhere around 4 out of 10. I always have a lot of tabs opened on my browser. It's mostly G Suite, social media or Stackoverflow tabs. I am also very sensitive to mobile notifications.
🔴 My Personal Results
To conclude, the score of my online activity was “good prioritization” * “poor task achievements” : (8+4)/2 = 6/10.
This score made me sad.
To act upon it, I had two levers. First, increase the number of tasks done per day through better tab management as it was the critical obstacle for me.
I therefore made a sensitivity analysis “before and after” using Tabby. I found Tabby helped me increase my efficiency by nearly 30% by cleaning my browser view, better organizing my tabs (automatic removal, one-click retrieval) and without further distraction.
I detailed the calculus in the article dedicated to the most effective ways to fight the “too many tabs syndrome”.
If you are rather looking for a quick fix, you can read the list of 16 chrome shortcuts that I use everyday.
🔴 Let’s go back to how to improve my online activity score.
The second best lever is by simply refining the denominator: “Time”. And it’s what I want to discuss next.
3. Decision Tool: Adjust your time spent behind your screen (capacity metric)
To spend your time online more wisely, this variable is life-changing.
If you only look at the value per task (why) and number of tasks done (how) alone, you get an internal measurement of your online activity. It’s a measure of time allocation within your online activity schedule. It’s a qualitative measure of how you choose to work online.
You get it: it’s NOT yet a decision-making tool on whether to allocate time from online to offline.
To make sure you don’t spend your whole life online - and basically waste it, I highly encourage you to do two things. First, reduce your time online by setting up stringent constraints. Second, change perspective on your online activity.
Don't look for a magic tool. There isn't. You need to find something out there (a reason, a person, a passion) that will help you shift your time allocation wisely and diligently. It will come from the inside if you take the time to ask yourself the right questions.
Again, we invented the Internet to SERVE us and not the other way around. We designed machines and tools to help us focus on what most matters and what can’t be replaced: a meaningful, social and empowering life.
Unfortunately, the Internet can’t serve us that. You need to get out there and make it happen.
By re-allocating part of my online schedule to my offline time, I’m not depreciating my time online. Fortunately not, because I really care about my remote life, my music streaming and my free access to knowledge.
It’s quite the opposite really. By making my time online more scarce, I make it more valuable.
At the same time, it helps me acknowledge I am a human-being that needs to connect with people if he doesn’t want to grow old and lonely. I also need to reconnect with Nature and protect it to preserve our species somehow. I need to take actions in my real-life if I want to have stories to tell.
Of course, it’s a caricature but I hope you sense the change of mindset happening here...
To spend my time more wisely, I created my “personal formula” = number of hours spent online x number of tasks done x value per task.
From studying the first two items in the formula, right-to-left, I ended up with a qualitative view of how I actually choose to spend my time online and for what benefits.
It proved useful but not life-changing.
To look at the problem wisely and look at the long term, it requires a step back. That’s why I introduced a “capacity variable”, which is the number of hours spent online.
Time is my most precious resource so I turned it into the prime variable. I added more weight to it in order to help make better decisions.
Then, I studied the three items in the formula from left-to-right. I realized three things by cutting my time spent online myself:
1) Time allocation: I can now reallocate time between offline and online. It's not just within my online activity schedule anymore.
2) Time value: I make it even more valuable. By spending more time offline, I receive a complementary value and that is enriching.
3) Meaning in life: this formula changes my mindset. I now acknowledged that I need some real-life experiences to accomplish myself in the long term.
Hope it’ll serve you well.
Thanks for reading that far,
- Your tabby team