Step away from the computer.

Lee Gomes, one of the technology columnists for the Wall Street Journal, wrote a piece last week pleading for the next president to avoid spending too much time on a computer. He poses a succinct, powerful question that all of use would do well to consider: Does anyone who spends all day in front of a PC, forging a river of data posing as information, have any time to think?

He relates the following story:

A group of technology reporters once received the CEO of a midsize, low-tech company eager to impress his listeners with his connectedness. He described his day as one long session checking emails and news alerts, save for the occasional interruption of a staff meeting or a sales call.

All this was related with pride, as though it was what modern executives were doing. His listeners, though, were struck by how he seemed to have no time left in the day to think, which was surely why he had yet to realize that he was spending his day consuming the information version of junk food.
Gomes' prescription is for the next president to spend no more than 20 minutes per day on the computer. That time could be spent on a favorite blog, on YouTube videos, on Solitaire, whatever. All the other stuff — memos, newspaper articles, etc. — would be printed out, and email would be delegated to assistants. His rationale is that

the severe time rationing is necessary because a computer, far from making you more productive, instead loads you down with things to do….
What struck me most forcefully about this column is the blunt distinction he makes between working on a computer and thinking. The more time I spend with clients, the more I see bright, talented, motivated people driven to despair by their inability to find time to solve problems. They're so busy responding to the latest input that they can't get to their jobs.

To be fair, most people don't have the luxury of off-loading their email. But then, most people don't have their days scheduled down to the minute, either, as the president does. So it's a given that you'll have to spend more than 20 minutes on the computer. But are you allocating time to actually think about the work that you need to do?

Here's what I think: each day, step away from your computer, from the "river of data posing as information," and from the next demand upon your time. Maybe it's only for 30 minutes. But take that time to think and ask some questions like this: Is there a better way to do my job? Is there something that we should be doing, but aren't? Is there something that we should stop doing? What's the most important thing I can accomplish this week?

These are the sorts of questions that lead to a kaizen (continuous improvement) mentality. And that will lead to real achievement in the long run.

2 Responses

  1. Jared Goralnick says:

    For kaizen mentality or just for our sanity, time away from the computer is a must. Then again, for some people they’d just rather not think. I say that half-joking.

    But anyhow, I really appreciate this article and reference. Now I’m going to get away from the computer.

  2. John Hunter says:

    I once had a supervisor see me sitting at my desk not engaged in visible activity. They questioned why I wasn’t working. I said I was thinking. I also added, I know doing so isn’t common around here but maybe a little more thinking and a little less activity would be a good idea. I think that has been true pretty much everywhere I have worked but is a challenge to get people to appreciate.

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