Taming Technology for Personal Success
by Greta Couper, Director of Alumni Career Services

Technology is supposed to make our lives easier and simpler. How many times have you heard that? If your life is not easier or more productive you are not alone. New product development often seems trapped in a cycle of ever-increasing complexity and incompatible features, reducing our control and ability to function effectively. In our quest to automate our lives, we have replaced one set of tasks with another, actually diminishing our free time. It is inevitable that we must use certain types of new technology in order to function in modern society. How then can we live easier, simpler lives and still maintain the skills to succeed? The key is to determine a balance between what is really needed and what specifically works for you. 

One way to simplify is to define and prioritize how and when tasks will be handled, limiting random intrusions, but leaving some flexibility for unexpected situations. Everyone has different needs so this plan will be personal. Try to set up automatic support for repeated tasks (like bill paying). Schedule human-centered activities on your calendar (e.g., time with family, friends, hobbies—not video games). Treat this time commitment just as you would a business appointment. Be open to change, replacing one activity for another, not adding on more, and be comfortable with your own pace of learning. Some people have an innate ability to catch on to technology more quickly than others. If further education is required for your career or personal growth, look into distance-learning courses that can be accessed through your home computer, saving time and costs. Most importantly, have fun. If the learning process becomes too difficult, take a break. Laugh at the idiosyncrasies and challenges each new "human-designed" technical invention requires -- there will be plenty of opportunities to practice this! 

Here are a few helpful hints per device. Please send in your own ideas and we will add them to this list:

  • Home Personal Computer: Maintain a working set of applications and operating system and do not upgrade unless absolutely necessary. Use the computer at work or the library for higher levels of technology.
  • Telephone: Don't let the phone interrupt meals or personal time. Screen calls with an answering machine. You do not need to answer a ringing phone!
  • E-mail: Check for messages twice a day. Take a moment before responding to any emotional issues. Do not use subtle humor; it can be misinterpreted, causing you additional explanations and time later. Get a second, free e-mail account for public interface, reserving a personal e-mail account for important messages.
  • Cell Phones: Keep ringer turned off except in emergencies. Call a service for messages, and never use the phone while driving. It is not only dangerous, but what you say while distracted may require more explanation later and rob you of time. If needed, pull over and call from a parked car.
  • Advanced Computer Applications: Seek training for something you will use in the future; delegate the task if needed just one time. Check to see if another application that you already know is compatible or a useful substitute.
  • Bill Paying: Use an automated bill paying system, or have your bills paid by direct banking debit payment systems.
  • Television: Schedule your viewing time. Tape record any special events.
  • Pagers: Use a telephone message system as an interface. Make it clear that the caller must leave a message or the page cannot be returned. This way you can screen extraneous calls.
  • Space: When you purchase a new product, try to eliminate an old one… Exchange one for another. Do not stockpile old technology items.
  • FAX: Set the machine to accept limited pages, or use a computer/FAX system to eliminate paper waste. Turn off during nonworking hours.
  • Postal Delivery: Enroll in a "No Junk Mail" system. Also, let the local delivery person know that you do not want unsolicited flyers.
  • Teleconferencing/Videophone: Use these devices to "attend" meetings without driving or traveling long distances.
  • Internet: Schedule browsing time much as you would schedule time to watch television.

Today's technology can be extremely useful depending on how we perceive and apply it. As our reliance on machines increases we realize the greater importance of human interaction. Arrange regular meetings with your friends and colleagues. Walk down the hall to share an idea instead of using e-mail or the telephone. Make a conscious effort to prioritize your tasks, leaving time and space to create a venue for the exchange of thoughts, and knowledge. By using technology prudently and only when appropriate, your life will become more full, enjoyable, and personally successful.

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