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Taming Technology

Dan Elder

August 2015

In this connected world today’s military Leaders may often find themselves distracted in a sea of technology. One moment we are turning on our first computer with excitement and the next we are juggling multiple unit-issued phones, tablets and personal devices, computer email on multiple secure open and private networks, and social media requirements that can all lead to "digital distraction." We all know the importance of face-to-face communication. Soldiers and leaders of our organizations expect our presence at key and important activities, so how can we "Tame the Technology Demon" and complete our required digital tasks while still leaving time to direct and lead our units?

The "killer app" and one of the biggest time sucks we are often faced with is electronic mail and text messages, with instant messaging not far behind. The allure of electronic mail is a double- edged sword because as effective and efficient that it can be to transmit and respond to information, it also can end up taking up a lot of your time both in and out of the office.

We as leaders take pride in our abilities to understand, visualize, describe, and assess our operational environments, but it is often the day-to-day routine things that we do without a lot of thought that eat up our valuable time and energy. Maybe your digital activities are in need an energy audit to see if you are expending the right amount? I don’t know about you but I never really had much in the way of a formal class on electronic mail in any of my military and civilian education programs, I just did it and it wasn’t very complicated.

If after your own assessment you feel you could use a few tips to better discipline yourself then here are a few from author Dr. Geraldine Markel that she shares in her book, Actions Against Distractions: Managing Your Scattered, Disorganized, and Forgetful Mind. I concur with her theory that when we find ourselves getting consumed by what she calls the "technology demon." She seems to recognize that we do not have to be draconian in our approach, but to create some rules and parameters around technology to help us try to gain back some of our time. A few recommendations that may prove useful to busy leaders are:
  • Be ruthless. Immediately delete and unsubscribe from any unwanted newsletter or announcement feeds.
  • Establish a decision-making system by deciding what actions are warranted for each message: e.g., delete, archive, and file by category for response at a later date, schedule as a work task, read and respond to immediately.
  • Organize. Create a filing system and use color-coded tags to store or archive categories of e-mail (e.g., travel, legal, committees, or organizations).
  • Be timely. Schedule fifteen- to thirty-minute periods to prioritize and schedule tasks first thing in the morning or the night before.
  • Postpone. Put low priority materials, such as newsletters, reports, or training, in a folder and schedule a limited weekly time to review them.
  • Use the subject line to summarize your message to make it easier for others to process your mail. Ask them to do the same when they send you e-mails.
  • Avoid using your e-mail inbox as a to-do list. Instead, as soon as you see a task that needs doing schedule time on your calendar to work on it.
  • Use social support. Discuss the problem with peers and family; with their help, identity ways to deal with time-wasting e-mails.
In the end emails and text messages are not likely to stop, and the devices like cell phones, tablets and computers are too important to how we live. But instead of just showing up at a place, we each should create our own individual plan by taking some time to develop our own personal approach to taming the demon.

True Growth Takeaway: "Technology is nothing. What's important is that you have a faith in people, that they're basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they'll do wonderful things with them." - Steve Jobs

True Growth Journal Question: What is the right amount of time you believe you should dedicate per day on email, and must you change any behaviors to achieve that goal?

About the author: Dan Elder is a retired Command Sergeant Major with more than 26-years serving soldiers and their families. Dan's culminating assignment was as the senior enlisted advisor of a major Army Command (AMC) and as the Army's senior enlisted sustainer. Working as an independent consultant and small business owner in Killeen, TX, Dan continues to serve soldiers as a Coach, Author, Blogger, Podcaster and Speaker. He was selected as the first enlisted Senior Fellow for the Association of the United States Army, and was inducted to the US Army Sergeants Major Academy Wall of Fame and the US Army Ordnance Corps Hall of Fame.

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