The truth about Handhelds — it’s not pretty

Two young people looking into smartphones while walking on city street
Millennials distracted by their Handhelds

By Andy Sherwood

Special to the Financial Independence Hub

Young people today, and I’m talking about Millennials and those who just made it into Generation X, think they can do everything on their Smartphones,  Handhelds or other mobile devices. But I have news for them. They can’t.

In Germany a pedestrian who was typing on a Handheld walked into a busy intersection, and was promptly killed by a passing car. It wasn’t the motorist’s fault. The person on foot was oblivious to where they were and what they were doing.

Nowadays people are apt to check their precious mobile devices twice a minute. Every thirty seconds. They exist in total crisis mode. This is a huge problem in terms of productivity. Here’s why.

Prioritizing impossible with Handhelds

First, it is impossible to prioritize your day if you live on your Handheld. On the other hand, Microsoft Outlook is an efficient way to do that – but only if you know how. Think of Outlook as a ten-ton truck that can carry ten tons of steel (i.e., a lot of information.) But if that’s a ten-ton truck, then your Handheld is a motorcycle and no motorcycle can carry ten tons of anything. It just doesn’t have the power to put your tasks into any intelligent order or scheme. You will be much more efficient, and productive, if you recognize what your Handheld won’t do.

The second point I want to make – especially for the young – is that Handhelds have made a huge dent, and not for the better, into personal productivity and, thus, the productivity of the entire organization. Because people live in constant crisis mode and always check their messages, they are forever being interrupted. Those of us in the training world call this partial inattention. It means you listen to everything a little bit, but focus on nothing.

First Things First Focus & Finish

An acronym I use in my workshops is FTFFF. It stands for First Things First Focus and Finish. That means you do the most pressing thing on your plate first, and what’s more, you focus on doing it at the exclusion of everything else. Then you finish it before moving on to the next most pressing item.

But if everything is tied for first, or you always deal with the last item coming in – which may not be a priority at all – you can see how productivity suffers. And in today’s world, it certainly does.

This is also a huge problem at meetings. The Handheld, with its constant interruptions, has made meetings less productive than ever. And not only that, today’s meetings are also less respectful. A smart team leader or manager who wants a productive workforce will insist that people not bring their phones or Handhelds into a meeting. The fact of the matter is it’s not necessary to check every message that comes in when it comes in.

I advise people – all people, not only the young – to check their messages, emails, what have you, no more than once an hour. Turn the damn thing off! Very few things won’t wait an hour.

We all know people who are busy through the day dealing with their emails and not getting much, if any, work done. In fact, I would say we’ve given our lives away to this monstrosity called email. It has hijacked many lives in the workplace.

Technology has hurt productivity and hence pay

Consider this. When adjusted for inflation, take-home work pay for the average worker in North America has not increased over the past 20 years. Why? Because there has been virtually no increase in productivity for the Knowledge Worker despite all the money thrown at technology.

It’s true technology brings work to us faster. Sure it does. But it also has another effect; it makes us leave everything to the last moment which is why we’re on much tighter deadlines today. This should come as no surprise. When we are interrupted 80 to 100 times a day with calls and messages on our Handheld, the expectation is that we can leave things to the last minute.

In my next blog, I will give you some pointers about how to make your life easier and more productive with Microsoft Outlook.

Photo.Andy SherwoodAndy Sherwood owns the Southwest Ontario office of Priority Management, a training company serving London, Kitchener-Waterloo, Guelph, Cambridge, Windsor, Sarnia and Brantford. Over the past 30 years he has delivered thousands of workshops and trained more than 50,000 people in managing their time. His workshops help executives, managers, salespeople and other professionals gain an extra hour of increased productivity every day. He can be reached at or 289-878-7398.

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