I recently read “Make Time” by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky, two ex-Google engineers who worked on Gmail and YouTube. The authors provide insightful tips of how to make more time in life. Also, they look at technology companies from a unique perspective.
Think about Procter & Gamble
— old-school consumer-sector giants. If you were an engineer or chemist working for one of those companies a generation ago, you probably loved your job, creating products consumers wanted. The more successful you were, the more of your company’s products people bought.
Nowadays, in contrast, the majority of products from Facebook
and other technology companies are not sold in stores. More importantly, consumers don’t pay for them with dollars, but rather with their time.
Google’s, Facebook’s, and Twitter’s business models are not much different from those of the traditional television networks ABC, CBS, and NBC, which provide “free” content you pay for with your time, thus allowing Procter & Gamble to pitch you soap.
There are two distinct differences between television networks and these Silicon Valley giants: First, there’s the question of privacy — technology companies know far more about you than old media companies. Second, television networks may only have access to you for an hour or two in the morning and a few hours in the evening. Google, Facebook, and Twitter are on your mobile device, which is with you 24/7 — they even follow you into the bathroom.
How much of your time you spend with them is up to you — well, almost. The better the product, the more time you’ll spend on it and deeper you’ll get hooked.
A parallel here is financial budgeting — prioritizing what is important to you. Instead of spending your money on things you may or may not value, wise budgeting lets you proactively, mindfully prioritize what matters to you the most.
Our income, no matter how much money we make, can always be exceeded by our insatiable and ever-growing wants. If you are mindful and thoughtful about how you spend money, it may actually bring you happiness by allowing you to fulfill your goals and dreams while also minimizing your anxiety.
Budgeting time is no different, except that time is even more scarce than money. If you allow your life to run on default settings set by technology companies’ enthusiastic engineers, your time will turn into the digital equivalent of your consuming chocolate as a replacement for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
After I read “Make Time,” I looked up on the Screen Time app on my iPhone how much time I spend on my phone. The number is too embarrassing for me to reveal here. My biggest time hog was not Facebook but Twitter, and another huge culprit was email. Though my notifications were off, I checked email on my phone nonstop. If I took this time I wasted and spent it reading books, I’d be able to read an extra book or two a week.
Instead of trying to fight temptation — an act that consumes immense energy — I followed the “Make Time” authors’ recommendation: I uninstalled all my time and attention hogs from my iPhone — no more social networks or news, and more importantly, no email. I thought I’d miss all this, and yes, for a few days I caught myself reaching for my phone, just to realize that there was no need for me to do that as I had nothing to check.
A week later I’m completely liberated. The reality is that if I don’t reply to my emails instantly, nothing in my life or the life of a sender is going to change.
Now I set a time twice a day to read my email on a laptop or desktop (to make it less accessible, I removed Gmail shortcuts from my toolbar). The “Make Time” guys argue that you should never reply to emails right away. This way you condition people who email you that it’s not an instant messenger app. They’re right.
We have a firm-wide policy at my company to answer emails from clients the same business day. We at least acknowledge that we received their email, even if we don’t have an answer yet. I get few emails from clients; thus answering the same day is not an issue for me. But I don’t owe the same responsibility to every email that gets into my inbox; thus I reply to the rest of my emails when I can, sometimes weeks or even months later (if you are on the non-receiving side of this, my apologies).
I highly recommend the book “Deep Work” by Carl Newport, where he discusses creativity’s biggest enemy: time fragmentation. To be effective and creative, we need to be able to focus for extended periods. Every time you are distracted and interrupted from what you are doing, even for 30 seconds, its costs you 10 to 20 minutes to get back on the concentration track.
The default setting for the typical office environment maximizes time fragmentation. For instance, I have a friend who runs one of the largest investment firms in Canada. After reading Newport’s book she created a policy that from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. is companywide “do not disturb” time. This is when employees can focus without being interrupted.
The beginning of a new year always feels like the right time to reexamine our lives. I am focusing on reevaluating all of my default settings — whether set by inertia or by Silicon Valley engineers.
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Vitaliy Katsenelson is chief investment officer at Investment Management Associates in Denver, Colo. His firm holds no position in any of the stocks mentioned. He is the author of “Active Value Investing” and “The Little Book of Sideways Markets” .
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