Life by Alt+Tab

Alt+Tab (Or CMD+Tab as the case may be depending on your platform).

For the purposes of this post we’ll go with Alt+Tab, given my office job ties me to a Windows PC. Alt+Tab being the keyboard shortcut which instantly takes you to another open programme, and one I use dozens of times per day.

I mentioned in a previous post how the concept of work life separation resonates with me far more than that of work life balance. All day, five days week, I sit and peer into two monitors, hopefully make a difference, get up and go home. I’m certainly not alone in this. Whether or not you sit, stand, walk or crawl(?!) around all day, you also get up, go home, then come back and do it all again.

How do we separate the work day from everything else? More importantly, how quickly and how often can we switch off from work and into…well, something else. It may seem counterintuitive to suggest my iPhone and iPad mini help me switch off from work. They’re just another screen right?

Not so much.

Morning

My morning commute generally involves listening to my favourite podcasts and a bit of music prior to walking through the office doors.

[Alt+Tab]
Once I hit my desk it all begins, with my focus on work and generally not much else. Though my iPhone is close at hand, it is rarely used, other than to reply to an occasional text message or to check either my calendar or Omnifocus.

Whatever you may think of “multitasking”, or the fact that replying to a text message only takes a few seconds (please tell me you realise how long it takes to regain the same level of focus you had prior to a minor disruption) – tasks that are not work and disrupt focus are the true productivity killers of the modern office. Don’t even get me started on the design flaws of the modern open plan office where “collaboration is king” – well yes, if you accept that 90% of all collaboration occurring is about the latest concert, Game of Thrones episode or why someone just needs to get out of that relationship.

I digress, so let’s just say I’ve been hard at work for a couple of hours by this point.

Middle

[Alt+Tab]
I exit my office building at approximately 11am for a mid morning coffee, call my wife to see how things are going, then open Tweetbot and catch up on my Twitter feed, check Instagram, or what my family are up to in Path. I may search or stumble across some articles to save for later in Pocket or ‘flip’ into my Brew magazine on Flipboard.

That is, an immediate transition from my office role into another virtual space where the interactions are all about my other interests and passions. Family, pens, coffee and technology being some. Some of these interests lead to interactions over the web and social media, with like-minded individuals both in other parts of the country, and around the world. There is nothing quite like providing feedback to a pen blog in the UK, or backing a Kickstarter project in the USA to instantly take your mind off the emails, phone messages or Excel spreadsheet waiting back at your desk.

[Alt+Tab]
Coffee break over – back into work for another couple of hours through to lunch time.

[Alt+Tab]
Lunch time. Again I leave the office. With iPad in hand, walk for bit, order some of the finest filter coffee you will find, sit, and draft the next post for this site. Once I’ve given a fair effort to something productive such as a blog post, then it’s on to personal emails and social media.

[Alt+Tab]
Lunch break over, and my focus switches back to work for the long haul through to the end of the day.

Done

[Alt+Tab]
Once I physically “clock off”, again it’s a quick switch back to my iPhone at the bus stop (usually a quick catch up on Twitter and Instagram whilst keeping half an eye out for the bus), and once on it, sink into watching a TV series on my iPad until home.

An Easy Escape

Each change of focus outlined above involves a physical change in my environment. The coffee break, the lunch break, the bus stop – all times I have left my desk and escaped outside, not simply to another screen. I suspect it is not by chance that these physical location changes greatly contribute to switching my thoughts away from work and into my personal areas of interest so quickly. Heading into the lunch room at work with my phone or iPad has no appeal to me.

Not only is it great to have outside interests, it is amazing the ease in which we can access them – whether on a break or walking across town to a meeting. It is this instantaneous shift in thinking which not only keeps me sane, but also provides the break I need to sharpen my work focus on returning to my desk. To me, the personal technology I use is therefore not simply another screen, but a powerful way to delineate work and personal boundaries, much like Alt+Tab is a powerful keyboard shortcut to access another programme in an instant.

Closing Thoughts

Are we really all slaves to technology?

Perhaps at times, however depending upon how you use it (I admit we are not all lucky enough to exert total control), it can be an extremely powerful means of breaking out of the mundane work mindset at various points during the day, and escaping into something that allows you to feel that each weekday is not just work. There is a portal to your world of other interests, communities and knowledge, and if used wisely, can add a significant amount of value to your life.

Outlined above is the digital perspective of my day. Any interaction with my digital devices is trumped (and often is) by human conversation. If you find me on one of these breaks feel free to chat – just don’t ask me to talk about work.

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