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Friend, Foe, or Frenemy: Technology and Productivity

Friend, Foe, or Frenemy: Technology and Productivity


An Unavoidable Presence

Waiting in line for your coffee; sitting at a table when a lull in conversation occurs; stuck at a seemingly interminable traffic light (shame on you!); as a distraction or reward after dealing with a difficult client at work; the list goes on, and on, and on. We’re always checking our Facebook, scrolling through our Instagram feeds, Snapchatting mundane occurrences, and texting. Even for less frivolous pursuits, our lives are inextricably tied to technology. Meetings are arranged, spreadsheets consulted, presentations delivered, video conferences conducted, and documents scanned on phones, laptops, and iPads. For all intents and purposes, one or more of these devices are necessities of the modern world.

Nobody knows this better than freelancers and content creators. Computers and smartphones empower them to complete tasks with a few taps, bid on jobs with the click of a button, and manage their professional images and strategies from remote locations. Theoretically, these possibilities make for a much more efficient use of time. In reality, however, any saved time is often squandered on the many temptations that this very technology makes constantly available.

Think back to the first time you wrote a term paper, and then ask your parents about their experience doing so—the accounts will be full of steps that we consider to be daunting challenges. To do things the old way, you’d have to go to the library, fumble around with the Dewey Decimal Classification system until you found the exact shelf and row to search (more probable scenario: you’d run to a librarian and beg for help). Once you finally found the book, you’d have to consult the table of contents or index and then sift through the entire page for the passage you need. There’s no “control + find” command for paper books.

A Mixed Blessing

Sounds like a nightmare of tedium, right? Surprisingly, though, this archaic system may have allowed previous generations of college students to compose papers at a comparable pace to that of millennials and Gen Zers. Why? Because they were not constantly distracted by a barrage of notifications and tempted with unlimited access to a world populated with frequently-distorted and idealized online personalities.

Signs That it’s Time to Cut Back

It’s more than possible to use social media in a productive, positive way. However, there are a couple of warning signs that it’s time to distance yourself a bit from the virtual world. If any of these descriptions resonate with you, consider reducing your time on certain applications.

Negative Comparison and Weak Self-Esteem

It’s shockingly easy to fall into a sinkhole of self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy if you spend too much time on social media. People don’t upload (or take, for that matter) photos of fights, financial struggles, health issues, and the dozens of other difficulties that adults navigate. Chances are, when you open up Instagram, you’re inundated with #couplegoals, career milestone announcements, fitspiration photos and quotes, and artful snaps of coffee and culinary creations that aren’t affordable on a daily basis. Often, this fosters unhealthy competition, which often manifests itself in a need to post about how equally desirable your life is. On a bad day, the inevitable comparisons you’ll make between your circumstances and the heavily-edited presences on social media will exacerbate your situation. Behavior like this is especially damaging for freelancers. It’s hard to imagine anything more detrimental to a content creator’s productivity than a downward spiral into wistful story-stalking.

News-Related Anxiety

Social media over-saturation can also expose us to stressors unrelated to negative self-image. While being an informed citizen of the world is a necessary responsibility, we all know that overdosing on news can be emotionally exhausting. If this is how you feel, you’re far from alone. In 2017, the American Psychological Association released information saying that 56% of Americans reported feeling stressed because they follow the news. Nevertheless, it seems that they can’t look away, as 20% admit to constantly monitoring their newsfeeds, which is often the source of stress-inducing headlines. This problem is not localized to the U.S.—anybody with a smartphone or some form of a newsfeed is subject to this barrage of unfortunate updates. Obviously, current affairs-induced depression is hardly conducive to high-performance freelancing.

Does this mean that developments like the internet and the mobile phone are net negatives? Not at all! It simply takes discipline to use these resources in a way that confers a substantial benefit. So, how do we avail ourselves of technology in a way that is useful?

What to Do?

Some people solve the problem of overexposure by leaving their phones in a drawer, in a car, or even at home when they go out. While an effective approach, for many freelancers who need to be constantly reachable, this solution is not feasible. Their livelihoods depend on the ability to bid on jobs, work remotely, deliver finished products on time, and communicate easily with clients to incorporate updates and proposed changes. Freelancers must constantly carry a smartphone or laptop on their persons while avoiding the blackhole of frivolous social media usage. What, then, are some tried and true solutions?

Make Technology Work for You

When it comes to technology, some people struggle more with self-control, and some are just looking for a way to make sense of the myriad organizational tools, programs, and apps on the market. The following list of suggestions is primarily geared towards freelancers, since they are required to be “plugged in” more frequently than most other professionals. That said, these apps and strategies are useful for all who are looking to cut down on screen time or to optimize their schedules and workflow.

Time-Saving Apps

If you are someone who struggles to stay off social media, there’s no shortage of options that can provide you with the help that you need. Offtime and Flipd are two such applications, both of which are compatible with iOS and Android.

Offtime will not only block select applications, but you can set it to stop texts and notifications from selected sources for a specified amount of time. It also gives you data on your usage, thus helping put things into perspective.

Flipd not only offers similar services, but also facilitates connections with others who want to cut down on excessive social media use. It’s also one of the more fool-proof options; if you’ve decided halfway through your 4-day Instagram and Facebook detox that you can’t go on, Flipd won’t let you cave. You can’t even delete the blocks by resetting your phone—it’s there to stay for the time period you set!

In general, apps that enable you to selectively allow some communications—such as alerts about new jobs or messages from clients—while putting others on hold are a wonderful way to boost your productivity.

Task Management Apps

If you don’t struggle with social media overuse but want to become more organized, you’re spoiled for choice in terms of apps designed to help facilitate this. Focus Booster is one of many wonderful options. One perk is its affordability; starters can use the app for free, and individual and professional plans cost a mere $3 and $5 per month, respectively. It runs on iOS, Mac, Android, and Windows, so chances are you won’t run into compatibility issues. The app relies on the Pomodoro Technique, in which tasks and breaks—whose lengths vary according to the duration of previous uninterrupted work—are broken into manageable units and arranged in a way that maximizes your brain’s capacity for high-level concentration. Focus Boost has a user-friendly interface that breaks down your time usage into a variety of easily-readable graphs, automatically records sessions on your timesheets, and more.


Some freelancers’ biggest struggle involves getting into the right headspace. Even the best of us suffers from writer’s block or low motivation once in a while. Music can be an excellent way to put you in the mood for work—but we all know that going on YouTube can be a tricky business. What might start as a search for your favorite obscure study/work tunes can quickly devolve into mindless surfing and hours wasted on cute animal videos.

Luckily, you can use technology to help you in this area too! Applications like Focus@Will are designed with exactly this in mind. This app creates playlists that allow the listener to achieve cognitive flow, a state of mental immersion and productivity described by researchers Dr. Csiksentmihalyi and Dr. Nakamura. A fair amount of research went into creating the app, including investigations into the connection between heart rate, cognitive flow, perception of passing time, and background music. Plus, you get a free 30-day trial, so if you don’t find it effective, you won’t have wasted any money. It’s perfect for freelancers who need to churn out several pieces every day.

The Takeaway

Essentially, all of this means that while navigating technology can be tricky, there are tools out there to help you transform it from a time suck to a time saver. The power is in your hands!