You’ve heard me rail on about the price that we pay for the genius of our technology. Hand-held personal computers, cell phones, and instant messaging, that were intended to increase efficiency and save us time, are actually consuming more of it. People can’t tear themselves away from them — not at dinner, on vacation, or watching a ball game.

I’m pleased to announce that my babblings have now been joined by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. Mark Andreessen, a founder of Netscape says we have become so seduced by techniques to maximize personal productivity that he calls it “productivity porn.” Jason Hoffman, a founder of Joyent (which designs web-based software for small businesses) has urged his employees to cut out instant messaging, swear off multitasking, restrict e-mail use and conduct business the old-fashioned way by telephone because it increases productivity.

Hoffman and Andreessen are among the disciples of a 30-year-old motivational author, Timothy Ferriss, who culled all of the time management and personal productivity theories of the last 30 years into a new book called The 4-Hour Workweek (Crown, 2007).

Ferriss’ theory is that we have too much information, “It’s not that Blackberry’s and IM are inherently bad……it’s the dose that makes the poison.” Ferriss encourages his readers to go on a “Low Information Diet.” Ferriss himself said he had to go on a crash diet of his own and that his “nasty addiction to RSS feeds is now a thing of the past.”

Ferriss’ method is to practice “selective ignorance”; for example, he gets his world news from waiters. Answering emails and arranging his social calendar are out-sourced to low-paid, highly skilled workers from abroad who reduce his email clutter and even find him dates online. If you ask him about work crises, he says, “It’s something somebody else worries about, ideally in Bangalore.”

I don’t know about a 4-hour workweek as my goal (I’d be happy to cut back to 30), but I am sure of this: the more you make yourself available, the more that gets thrown at you. Set limits on the information you receive; go on the “Low Information Diet.”

Remember that limit setting, is an ego-corrective experience for adults as well as children. Don’t get imprisoned by the instruments meant to liberate us. Find a way to say no to the seductions of excess, and you will live more peacefully.


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