Internal vs. External Time Management

The other day I saw a commercial for the newest version of the Kindle. This device, which started as a simple reader, is now a full tablet computer that can play games and movies and allow the user to surf the internet in addition to its reader function. The commercial highlighted all of these features, but also highlighted a new feature for this model: a tool to help users use the product LESS.

The feature was marketed to parents as a way to limit their children’s screen-time. Parents can use a password to set time limits on the amount of time a child can use the Kindle before it shuts itself down. Parents can even specify different amounts of time for different activities so that their children can be restricted to only 30 minutes of games on the device but can spend hours reading books.

When I saw the commercial, I immediately wondered whether such a feature would help me manage my time on my own computer. Would, for example, being able to specify that I was allowed to spend one hour per day on Twitter, 30 minutes on the New York Times, and infinite time on Word and Excel make me a more productive worker?

Today’s technology is wonderful. It is easier than ever to perform many tasks at work but there are also so many more technological distractions. In addition, as technology allows work to creep seamlessly beyond the constraints of the 9 to 5 workday, many people are less diligent about not letting those distractions creep into work time. If I, for example, spend an hour after dinner responding to emails, I am not going to feel guilty about checking my Twitter feed at my desk a few times a day.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. Many people work more effectively with little breaks throughout the day. However, some people also need more bright line distinctions between work activities and fun activities, particularly when technology is involved. It is not generally detrimental to work to have your personal Gmail open throughout the day but if you spend your entire day Gchatting everybody you know it can be problematic for your performance.

Maybe, then for some people, the answer could be task-specific timers like the one on the new Kindle. Employees can set a reasonable amount of time to spend on fun things throughout the day and when the time expires, they need to get back to work. An employee could even take it a step further and put limits on the amount of time he spends on work email after 6 pm to assure both his work and personal life are in balance.

What do you think? Would you benefit from external controls of your technological time management?

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