Do You Need to Divorce Your Computer?

Learn how you can work more efficiently on the computer.

Stever Robbins
4-minute read
Episode #150


People ask me, “If I want to increase my productivity, what’s the one thing I should do?” I say, Step 3 in my book: Conquer Technology. Bernice asks, “Why conquer? That is a very paternalistic metaphor. Why not cooperate?” To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Why conquer? Because, to a man with a zombie army….

Make no mistake! I just love technology! … No, I don’t. I hate technology, almost as much as meetings. Only… My iPod Touch is so lovely. I do love technology. I don’t. I do. I don’t. Ooh, darn. Using technology is like being married to Angelina Jolie. It’s amazing and awesome, you just hope you don’t need stitches when all is said and done. That’s because technology is both a blessing and a curse.

Technology Can Be Distracting

In the beginning, technology was useful. But it’s been improved. By engineers like Melvin. Melvin likes toys. He wears a beanie with a propeller. He thinks it’s an ironic commentary on society’s stereotype of nerds. It’s not. He adds bells and whistles to his products because they’re neat-o. He adds a wide variety of bells and whistles. But getting things done comes from focus, not from variety. You want variety when you’re figuring out what path to take to your goal. Once you’ve chosen the path, however, you need to keep moving down that path without distractions. All those new bells and whistles distract you, big-time!

The desktop computer is the most versatile tool ever created by man, at least if you don’t count the Swiffer™. Many of us discovered computers as an evolution from the lowly typewriter. All typewriters could do is write. Then we got word processors that looked just like typewriters, but could also delete and do a few other things. Personal computers hit the scene next and we could word process, send email, and save different drafts of documents. For the most part, computers stayed productive during this phase.

Then the Internet hit.

Is Your Computer Slowing You Down?

Suddenly, we had a whole media paradise at our fingertips. Websites galore on every imaginable topic. And it was all fueled by advertising. Ads, ads, ads. Ads work by distracting you. You’re doing meaningful work, and nice, targeted ads catch your eye and entice you to leave your meaningful, productive work and instead go get involved in a commerce transaction on another website. Then instead of getting back to work, we check our email, read today’s top headlines, and maybe if we’re lucky, remember that we had something to do.

These days, most of us arrange our desk so we’re always sitting at our computers. When we have nothing else to do, we just reach out and open our email. Or a browser. Or a game. Or any one of the millions of distractions at our fingertips. Focus is a thing of the past, and distraction is the new focus. Our relationships? Gone! Good bye boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife, spousal equivalent, and polyamorous family unit. We have a new primary relationship now. With a mouse. Not quite what we pictured back in high school, is it?

Do You Need to Divorce Your Computer?

When you’re working, you should be using the computer like a tool, not a TV.

This may be tough to hear, but one of the most dramatic steps you can take to work less and do more is to divorce your computer. Divorce can be painful, true. You may have to learn to talk to other human beings again. And there will be a normal period of mourning. But you’ll discover you can once again focus. You’ll save so much time that you can …that you can… play World of Warcraft for hours once your important stuff is done.

Divorcing your computer is a lot simpler than divorcing your spousal equivalent. No restraining orders needed. Just move your computer across the room from you. Make your desk and your workspace a blank, horizontal place where you can sit, think, write on paper, and be free of the seductive enticements of your soul-eating Borg attachment.

How to Work More Efficiently on the Computer

When you want to use your computer, treat it like a tool. When you need a hammer, you get it out, hammer the nearest object that looks like a nail (that would be everything), and then you put it away. When you have tasks that require your computer, jot them down on a piece of paper:

  • finish sales report,

  • check email,

  • research customer buyer agent to collect blackmail evidence.

Then get up, walk to your computer, and lean your task list up against your monitor so you see it.

Work on the first task. Every time you notice you’re browsing sites that teach you how to give yourself a haircut using only nail clippers and a glue gun, stop. Look at your task list. Continue with your task. When you’re done, get up and walk away. This is the part where you put the tool down. Breathe. Drink water. Do Yoga. Then return to your computer to do the next task.

You’re training yourself to use the computer like a tool, not a TV. You’re not channel surfing; you’re staying focused on one task at a time while using it. You can still play games or browse the web, but now you have to make them explicit tasks on your computer task list. “Play World of Warcraft for 15 minutes.” Make it a task. Get out the tool, do the task, and put it away.

Divorce isn’t easy, but it can be the most freeing thing you’ve done in years. Once you’ve divorced your computer, you can move on to divorcing your smartphone. That, I’ll leave to your imagination.

Work Less, Do More, and have a Great Life!

Slow Computer image courtesy of Shutterstock

About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.