Chapter 7: Is my profession compatible with low tech?
How to work [mostly] offline in an online world
This is chapter 7 of my upcoming book Low Tech Lifestyle. As a free subscriber, you get a free preview :). Premium subscribers get access to the whole book. If you haven’t subscribed, click the button below. Thanks for your support!
In a world that seemed to shift overnight, I made the conscious decision to switch to a basic phone, not knowing how challenging this would be during the unfolding pandemic. As my job evolved from a hands-on, physical presence to an entirely digital landscape, I found myself increasingly reliant on Zoom, Google Meet, and a myriad of other online platforms to connect with volunteers and do my job. While technology provided an essential lifeline during those unprecedented times, I soon faced the stark reality of my basic phone's limitations in meeting my job's demands.
Despite the difficulties, I count myself fortunate to have retained my job throughout the pandemic, with the luxury of working remotely from home. As the months rolled by, my work gradually transitioned back to in-person events and meetings, necessitating the adoption of new software and tools. From QR codes to two-factor authentication accounts, the lockdowns of 2020 revolutionized the way we interact with one another. Admittedly, the breakneck pace of change can be overwhelming at times, but I've learned to adapt and embrace the advantages technology can offer—albeit with a newfound appreciation for its limitations.
Now, after two full years of adjusting to this novel system, there is still room for improvement in how we interact with work and the digital tools that surround it. Smart devices remain indispensable for certain tasks, but this doesn't mean we can't reduce their usage or even eliminate it altogether. In my journey, I've discovered that striking a balance between leveraging the benefits of technology and maintaining a low-tech lifestyle is an ongoing process. With mindfulness, intention, and a willingness to embrace change, we can navigate the complexities of the digital age while still preserving the core values of simplicity and human connection.
As a transfer student settling into dorm life, I was eager to find a job on campus that would not only help me earn some extra cash but also fit seamlessly into my college schedule. When word reached me that the campus deli was hiring, I leaped at the opportunity. The prospect of crafting sandwiches and salads all day didn't bother me in the least, and I figured it would be an excellent way to forge connections with fellow students on campus. However, there was one glaring issue: the start time. The deli opened its doors at 6 AM, which required me to be there, apron on, by 4 AM to begin prepping the food. As a night owl, accustomed to late-night conversations with friends or marathon study sessions, the idea of waking up at such an ungodly hour filled me with dread.
The initial few weeks were nothing short of a Herculean struggle. I rolled out of bed each morning, bleary-eyed and irritable, fighting the urge to hit the snooze button. The trek to the deli seemed like an eternal journey, and I frequently found myself nodding off during my shift. Crafting sandwiches and salads wasn't precisely rocket science, but maintaining focus proved challenging when all I yearned for was the warm embrace of my bed. After three long months of battling this grueling routine, I recognized that something had to give. While I enjoyed the job itself, the hours were slowly but surely draining my life force. I made the difficult decision to resign and embarked on a search for a position better suited to my schedule. Fortunately, my quest was short-lived, as I soon landed a gig answering calls and creating graphics for a campus department. The hours were ideal for me, allowing me to indulge in a more reasonable sleep schedule while still providing ample time to work in the afternoons.
Furthermore, the new job proved to be far more engaging and stimulating than my stint at the deli. I took great pleasure in utilizing my creative skills to craft eye-catching flyers and captivating designs, and I genuinely relished the interactions I had with people over the phone. All in all, the new position emerged as an ideal match for my junior year lifestyle, striking a harmonious balance between rewarding work and the distinctive pace of college life.
VBLCCP, an acronym for Values-Based Lifestyle-Centric Career Planning, is a potent approach that assists individuals in navigating their career paths while aligning with their personal values and lifestyle objectives. Introduced by author and professor Cal Newport on his podcast, this concept has since aided numerous listeners in addressing the challenge of finding fulfillment in their professional lives. Newport underscores the significance of comprehending and prioritizing one's values and lifestyle goals when planning their career trajectory. He contends that "by identifying many different jobs that, if properly pursued, move you toward the life you desire... they can also help you direct the job you already have in directions that will provide you the most benefit."1 This perspective encourages individuals to contemplate not only their professional ambitions but also their personal aspirations, such as achieving a healthy work-life balance, attaining financial stability, and seizing opportunities for growth and development. By incorporating these considerations into career planning, individuals can ensure they're on a path that aligns with their true passions and life goals, ultimately leading to greater satisfaction and success.
Utilizing VBLCCP, individuals can evaluate their current job or potential career paths by considering their values and lifestyle objectives. This process facilitates a deeper understanding of what is truly significant and meaningful in their lives and helps identify opportunities to align their work with those values. Additionally, it assists individuals in making more intentional career choices, such as seeking job opportunities that offer flexible schedules or align with their passions and interests. By asking pivotal questions regarding the level of control we have over our schedule, the intensity of our job, our living situation, our social life, and our desired work-life balance, we can gain profound insight into what we genuinely desire from our careers. This approach empowers us to prioritize what matters most, whether it's more time with family, a flexible schedule, or a specific income level.
Recent research has highlighted that being happy at work has a significant impact on both individual productivity and overall team performance.2 When employees are content and fulfilled in their roles, they tend to be more motivated, engaged, and focused. This, in turn, can lead to increased productivity, as individuals are more likely to complete their tasks efficiently and effectively. Additionally, happy employees are more likely to assist their colleagues, collaborate effectively, and contribute positively to the team's overall success. The benefits of workplace happiness extend beyond the individual, creating a positive working environment that fosters creativity, innovation, and a sense of community. These findings make it crucial for us to explore and plan what is the best fit for our goals and aspirations.
In a world where work can easily permeate every aspect of our lives, VBLCCP offers a coherent framework for maintaining our personal values at the heart of our career decisions. By using our ideal lifestyle as a guide, we can make deliberate choices that are consistent with our priorities and cultivate a more fulfilling professional life. As I delved deeper into Cal Newport's work, his concept of the deep life became my compass for aligning my lifestyle with my objectives. Newport posits that certain fundamental categories in life must be fulfilled for humans to reach their potential: Constitution (body), Contemplation (mind), Community, and Craft (work). To implement this method, it is crucial to have a clear understanding of the tasks that fall into each category. For instance, constitution may involve exercise or physical activity, while contemplation may encompass meditation or reading. By being intentional with our time and selecting activities that align with our ideals, we can create a life that is not only productive but also satisfying.
Having been inspired by his work, I decided to allocate specific time frames for each of these categories in my typical day. For my work or Craft category, I dedicated 7 hours of my day, dividing it into 4 hours of online work and 3 hours of offline work. To ensure that I adhere to my allotted time for online work, I itemized every task I needed to complete and determined whether it could be done online or offline. This approach enabled me to distinctly separate the time I spent online from the time I spent offline, eliminating the guilt that arises from excessive time spent on the web. By adhering to my designated time for online work, I am confident that I have sufficient time each day to complete my tasks without neglecting other vital aspects of my life, such as my health and relationships. If I finish my work early, I consider it a victory and proceed with my shutdown ritual, which aids me in transitioning from work mode to relaxation mode.
Second Factor Authentication
It took me several long months to find a solution to the 2FA conundrum that has become increasingly prevalent in our digital lives. It seems like we are constantly being asked for an app-based code for almost every login we encounter. Checking your email from a new location? Tap this number on your phone's mail app. Need to speak with customer service at the bank? An SMS and email code will be sent your way. Eager to sign up for a groundbreaking service that revolutionizes the way you work? We'll send you a link to download the app to set it up. As irritating as this constant need for verification has become, I recognize the necessity of second factor authentication. It combines something you know, your password, with something you have, your phone. However, as digital services continue to multiply in the office, we now have alternatives to the app-based code plague.
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