When you study technology over a long enough time horizon, you notice an interesting trend: Even though each new development is in itself time-saving, people tend to be busier and busier, from one generation to the next.
That's been an interesting byproduct of the digital age. On the surface, having information available at our fingertips on a continual basis should make everything easier, faster, and more efficient. And mostly, it does. However, we are also expected to do and be more - as people - than at any other point in history. That's true personally and professionally, where individuals now handle jobs that were once split up among multiple professionals (or even firms), and the wide range of leisure and recreation time allows us to fill evenings and weekends with activities.
It would seem that more time is making us more productive... but also accentuating the need for better time management and decision-making.
With that in mind, I would like to offer seven simple but effective time-management tips you can use to get more from every minute you spend online:
1. Remember what's important.
This is an old piece of time-management advice, but one that still holds a lot of weight in today's world. If you don't know what your most important goals and priorities are, then it's hard to know how to spend your time efficiently. This matters more than you might think, especially when it's so easy to spend time on social media sites, read industry news, or just kill an hour playing your favourite Facebook game. If it truly isn't important, or if it doesn't allow you to take a break from the pressures of real life, make time for something else that is.
2. Get more organized.
This is also classic advice, but something that takes on an entirely new meaning when you're surrounded by laptops, tablets, and smartphones. Spending time looking at the same document or email again and again is a waste; devise a filing and bookmark system that is consistent throughout all your devices so that you'll always be able to reach and access details exactly when you need them.
3. Take a trip to OHIO.
If you don't know already, OHIO stands for "Only Handle It Once." Everything that comes into your inbox should be tasked, tossed, transferred to someone else, or tended to as needed. That means nothing should ever be put off to be dealt with at some unspecified time in the future - that's how regret, procrastination, and missed opportunities creep into our lives. (Hat tip to Karen Turner for teaching me that a few years ago.)
4. Learn to scan info.
You don't have to be a speed-reader to understand that it's important to scan some long documents and pay closer line-by-line attention to others. The fact is that most of us get more information and detail than we could realistically deal with on any given day. Get good at scanning items, making notes of a few important points, and then moving on. You'll save tons of time and avoid a lot of stress in the long run.
5. Focus your energy where it matters.
I mentioned earlier that you have to know what's important to you. Some priorities will be given to you by an employer (or even by customers). Others you'll determine for yourself. Either way, spend your time online working toward the goals and priorities that actually matter. Otherwise, you'll easily find yourself clicking from one thing to the next simply for fun. There's nothing wrong with that in very small doses, but it isn't a great way to enhance your life or career.
6. Remember that educational time isn't wasted.
Here is one thing a lot of busy professionals tend to overlook: When you spend time learning to use an app, or develop a new skill, you may be taking a little bit from your schedule now, but you are also giving yourself many more minutes back later. In other words, that little extra time it takes to get something right in the short term is well worth it, when you figure what will be saved or gained in the long run.
7. Don't always be online.
Unless you are crucial to the security of the free world (in which case I sorely hope you're doing something more important than reading this article), you don't need to be accessible 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. In fact, always being online numbs you to all of the information you could otherwise be absorbing. So, learn to step away and take some time off; it might feel like a guilty pleasure, but you'll be doing the right thing for yourself and your company in the long run.
We all have the same 24 hours to use each day, regardless of whether we spend them online or off. I hope the short bits of advice I've given you here can help you make the most of your time on the web... and to enjoy the precious moments you have away from it as well.