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Cartoon: 3 Things you can do with your computer to improve your life

3 Things You Can Do With Your Computer to Improve Your Life by a Factor of 3

By Jeffrey Baumgartner

If you are like most people these days, you spend loads of time on your computer (which might actually be a tablet or a smart phone). It is indispensible for work, communication and making reservations for dinner followed by a film. But did you know that there are three simple things you can do with your computer to vastly improve your life? Here they are (but you may not like them):

1. Turn off your email

Turn off your email -- or at least the notification system -- and get in the habit of checking your email manually no more than three or four times per day. If you have software on your computer that manages your email, change the settings so that the software does not regularly check the server for email. Rather, you will have to click a button to get email. If you use a web based browser, close it and only open it to check emails. If you have an app notifying you of emails, turn off the notifications.

Once you have done this, make it a habit to check your email only at set times. For instance, I check my mail in the morning while my first cappuccino kick-starts my brain. I have family, friends and clients spread across too many time zones, so I like to see if there is any news. Then, if I am not speaking or facilitating a workshop somewhere, I write all morning without checking my email or allowing my email to disturb me. Around noon, I check again and at this time, I not only read emails, but I respond to them.

I usually check again in the mid-afternoon and in the evening. Some people check emails on a specific schedule. I prefer to check emails between tasks. For instance, once I have finished a book chapter or a couple of articles or whatever my quota is for the morning, I check emails.

I have found that this approach increases my productivity and peace of mind significantly. I am not alone. Research suggests that not checking email continuously boosts your IQ over what it would be if you checked every email as it came in.

"What if an important email comes in while you have your notifications switched off?" you may wonder. "So what?" I say. Firstly, is there really any email that is so urgent it must be dealt with immediately? Surely not! In an urgent situation, most people telephone. Secondly, do you really want clients, colleagues and friends to think your life is so meaningless that you sit around waiting for their emails? I should hope not! Emailing a few hours after you receive a message is a prompt reply that suggests you also have a life.

2. Do Not Google Every Problem

In this day and age when the average person runs into a problem or has a question, her initial response is to Google it for a solution. This is easy, but it is a creativity killer that also impedes learning. You are effectively reprogramming your mind so that the solution to every problem is "Google it". While Larry Page no doubt likes this way of thinking, your brain deserves better.

The thing about Google search is that information is organised by relevance, which means that when you search a problem, you immediately find the most popular and conventional solution to the problem. It is probably tried and tested. It probably works. But it is not at all creative. Conventional thinking never is!

Instead, think about the problem. Question it. Why is it a problem? How did it come about? Who is affected by the problem? What happens if you do nothing? What happens if you make a mistake in solving the problem? Have you faced similar problems in the past? How would your cat solve this problem? And so on. These questions will clarify the problem in your head. Next, dream up your own solution to the problem. If it works in your mind, go for it! If you are unsure, now you can Google and compare results. In particular, see if anyone else has applied your idea.

What if you make a mistake and your solution or answer is wrong? That's great! Now you have really learned something. You are surely familiar with the cliché that we learn from our mistakes. It's true. It has been scientifically tested and proven. You learn far better by working out a solution yourself, checking it and discovering that it is wrong than you learn by immediately looking for an answer.

So, when you have a question or a problem, do not immediately Google it. Think about it and try to solve it yourself instead. That's what your mind is for!

3. Turn Off Your Computer!

If your computer is on all the time and you are checking it all the time; if your smartphone is in your hand and in use more than it is in your pocket (or wherever you keep it when you are not using it), you are losing your connection to the world around you. Turn off your computer at the end of the working day and talk to people, read a book or look at the stars. On the weekends, limit your computer use to an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening.

It is too easy to get sucked into your computer to the extent that you stop doing other important things like getting outside, reading or talking to friend. Make it a habit to turn off the computer when you don't need it. It will bring you peace of mind, provide time for thinking and remind you of the joys of the natural world that exists all around you. It will also make you more productive. Your mind needs computer-free time to wander, process information and have creative ideas.

As an added bonus, if you have kids, your reduced use of computers is sure to encourage them to use computers more rationally and, let us be honest here, you do not really want your kids to turn into a computer addict like you, do you?

There You Have It

There you have it. If you want to improve your life with your computer, you simply need to use it less! In particular, do not check emails continuously throughout the day, do not immediately Google every problem you run into and turn off your computer regularly (but only after you've read the latest articles on AwesomeYou.Be!)

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