Tech New Year’s Resolutions: FitBit and Inbox Zero

It is that time of year where, amongst other things, we will all be formulating our New Year’s Resolutions that are always as aspirational as they are sadly fleeting. In one survey the top resolutions where to “lose weight and get fit” and “get organised”. Only 8% of those making resolutions however claimed to be successful in carrying them out. Part of the problem is that we don’t follow the golden rules of setting goals. Our resolutions are too general and usually unrealistic. We also don’t think about the means of attaining those goals. Joining a gym to get fit for example doesn’t work for the majority of people and 60% of gym memberships go unused.

In the case of getting fit and losing weight, it is possible to improve our chances of sustaining an increase in activity if it is integrated into our daily lives and demands only small but frequent adjustments to what we normally do. Another essential ingredient to this is to be able to measure this activity to provide the motivation to continue.

This is where technology comes in and how our resolutions can be technologically mediated to become realistic, achievable and have lasting impact.

So, having said all of that, here are two tech resolutions you can try this year:

Getting Fit, One Step At a Time

Devices like the FitBit are small and unobtrusive electronic devices that you can carry around with you and that measure and report on your daily activity. They synchronise seamlessly to your phone or computer and help set achievable goals for daily activity. It is the seamlessness of this that makes these devices much more likely to change behaviour.

The default target of 10,000 steps a day is about twice the US national average and will require some extra activity for most people, but that just might be walking the dog down to the shops or walking up and down stairs instead of taking the elevator.

Of course, when you achieve a goal, you get sent a congratulatory email that you can share on Facebook. Better still, you can organise to share your activity with friends to help motivate you further.

The important thing, however, is understanding your baseline activity levels and having an easy way of measuring improvements.

Inbox Zero

Being organised today means having absolute control over email. The sheer volume of emails makes this challenging at the best of times, which is why asserting control over your inbox is so critical.

Inbox Zero is a concept that was coined by Merlin Mann and is a modified version of a time-management practice created by David Allen called Getting Things Done (GTD) . The essential idea is that every email that arrives in your inbox is dealt with in one of five ways. It is either deleted (the most common action), delegated to someone else, responded to, deferred (flagged) or actioned. In every case, the email is processed and removed from the Inbox, although deferred emails could potentially stay.

The problem with leaving everything in the Inbox and relying on search, memory and possibly flagging for follow-up is that the larger the inbox becomes, the larger the cognitive load of processing anything new or already in the Inbox.

The other thing to avoid is constantly checking email and so setting your email to only update when you fetch it manually is a good idea, and checking/processing email only 2 - 3 times a day is another.

Of course avoiding emails in the first place is probably one of the best ways of staying organised. Filters can be used to shift incoming mail that is low priority into a separate folder that can be processed less often. Making sure you don’t subscribe to email notifications (or unsubscribing from them) from social media and other groups is also a really good idea.

Finally, help cut down on electronic pollution by avoiding sending unnecessary emails. Every time you send a message, even if it is just to say “thanks”, means you have caused someone else to have to delete yet another email.