Turn Your Devices From Distractions Into Time Savers
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Turn Your Devices From Distractions Into Time Savers

Declutter your digital workspace, save time with shortcuts and leverage an AI helper

Mon, Jan 22, 2024 9:26amGrey Clock 4 min

Every January, I usually purge old snail mail, clothes and unwanted knickknacks to start the year anew. This time, I focused on my digital spaces instead.

My virtual Marie Kondo-ing forced me to think about the indispensable apps and features on my devices—and on the flip side, the time thieves that make it hard to leave the couch. (Looking at you, YouTube.)

What did I learn? The most important thing we can do to improve our digital spaces is kill the wormholes. After culling apps on my devices, deleting Instagram from my iPad made the biggest impact. But there were many more.

I also learned that small tweaks—such as adding helpful shortcuts and setting up your screen only around essential apps—can make a difference. I’ve been spending less time on my devices, and I’m now more efficient at work. Here are some takeaways from the exercise that can help you turn distracting devices into time savers.

Digital decluttering

Cal Newport’s book “Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World” inspired me to get rid of the junk on my phone and laptop. Clutter, even in digital form, is stressful, Newport writes. I could relate: I felt overwhelmed every time I turned on my devices.

Digital clutter includes unnecessary files on your computer desktop, promotional emails clogging your inbox and unused apps on your phone. I found that the most satisfying cleanse was clearing my phone’s default home screen—what I see as soon as I unlock the device.

An iPhone app called Blank Spaces (one-week free trial, then $14 annually or a $23 one-time fee) enabled the transformation. I picked my five most-important apps—Kindle, Signal, Messages, Maps and Docs—and let the app do its work. Blank Spaces replaced the usual grid of icons with an empty white background and large tappable text that can launch my chosen apps. I love the new Zen vibes and find myself mindlessly using my phone less often. If needed, I can still get back to my old layout by swiping left.

I spend most of my laptop time in a web browser, which is my most disorganised digital space. I am a terrible tab hoarder, and often have dozens open at once—something that makes my laptop slower.

One Tab, a free browser extension for Chrome, Safari and Firefox, has changed my hoarding habits. With one click, the extension closes all the tabs in an open window and saves the sites as a list of links on a dedicated page. It frees up memory needed for faster computer performance, and makes sure you don’t lose your links.

Timesaving shortcuts

Smartphone widgets are amazing. Instead of the tiny icons with the service’s logo, they’re bigger tiles that show you information like the current weather or what’s next on your calendar without having to open the apps.

My favourites include a multi-city world clock for managing colleagues in different time zones, a quick link to Google Translate’s camera function and a list of my tasks via the to-do app Twos.

On iOS, you can touch and hold any area on the home screen until your app icons jiggle. Tap the + button to look at all apps that have widgets available. You can also add a few to your lock screen to access information without opening your phone. And widgets can now be added to desktops on Macs running the latest software. On Android, touch and hold an empty space on the home screen, then tap Widgets.

You can take this timesaving even further with automations. Shortcuts is a powerful built-in app on iOS and Mac for creating custom workflows. For example, the Start Pomodoro shortcut triggers a 25-minute timer and enables Do Not Disturb for that period. I use the automation for short periods of focus. If you find the Shortcuts interface too intimidating, there’s a gallery with pre-made options.

Android users can set up automated routines with Google Assistant. Tasker ($3.49) is a more advanced—though more complex—Android alternative.

A souped-up clipboard

There are two benefits to having a clipboard manager. It saves everything you copy—that is, command + C on a Mac—so you don’t lose anything to copy-and-paste heaven if you accidentally use the shortcut on something else. It’s also a handy tool for quickly accessing often-repeated text.

The Copy ’Em Mac app costs a $15 one-time fee, and it’s worth every penny. It saves clipboard text and images on your device, and can create keyboard shortcuts for frequently pasted text, such as the short introductory paragraph I email people when reaching out for the first time.

If you’re on Windows, ClipClip is a good alternative. Chromebooks already save the last five copied items. Select the search or “Everything Button” + V to access copy history.

Apple’s Universal Clipboard is fantastic for copying-and-pasting between its devices, such as entering a code from your iPhone’s authentication app on your Mac. Enable Handoff in settings, then make sure the devices are signed in with the same Apple ID and have Bluetooth and Wi-Fi turned on.

Between Android and Windows machines, you can use Nearby Share (soon to be renamed Quick Share) to share text across those devices.

An AI helper

Some workplaces may be banning AI-powered chatbots, such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Google’s Bard, but they can shave hours off dreaded personal tasks.

The key to coaxing a high-quality response is starting with a specific, detailed prompt. Try: “Plan a three-course dinner for six people with easy gluten-free and vegetarian recipes. Identify any steps that can be prepared in advance and create a timeline for cooking the recipes. Arrange the ingredients in a list, organised by grocery store aisles.”

I love using chatbots for mixing up my workouts: “Create a five-day exercise plan for someone who is just getting back into shape,” and add any available equipment or necessary modifications.

Just remember, these systems can be wrong, so you may need to double check their work. Still, you’ll have plenty of freed-up time to ask ChatGPT what to binge-watch next.


Consumers are going to gravitate toward applications powered by the buzzy new technology, analyst Michael Wolf predicts

Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’

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Only 5% of U.S. Foundations Invest for Impact, Study Finds
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Few of the U.S.’s philanthropic foundations invest their endowment assets—totalling an estimated US$1.1 trillion—to create positive social and environmental change in addition to high returns, potentially limiting or even counteracting the good such organisations do.

Exactly how few isn’t precisely known. But Bridgespan Social Impact, a subsidiary of the New York-based Bridgespan Group along with the Capricorn Investment Group, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based investment firm founded by Jeff Skoll , the first president of eBay, and the Skoll Foundation, also in Palo Alto, attempted to “get the conservation started,” with a study of 65 foundations with a total of about US$89 billion in assets, according to Mandira Reddy, director at Capricorn Investment Group.

The top-line conclusion: 5% of the primarily U.S.-based foundations surveyed invest their assets for impact. Most surprising is that 92% of these organisations, which have assets ranging from US$11 million to US$16 billion, are active members of impact investing groups, such as the Global Impact Investing Network and Mission Investors Exchange.

“If there’s any pool of capital that is best suited for impact investing, it would be this pool of capital along with family office money,” Reddy says.

The study was also conducted “to draw attention to the opportunity,” she said.

“We want to redefine what philanthropy can achieve. There is massive potential here just given the scale of capital.”

Foundations are required by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service to grant 5% of their assets each year to charity; in practice they have granted slightly more in the last 10 years—an average of 7% of their assets, according to Delaware-based FoundationMark, which tracks the investment performance of about 97% of all foundation assets.

The remaining assets of these foundations are invested with the intention of earning the “highest-possible risk-adjusted financial returns,” the report said. Those investments allow these organizations to grant funds often in perpetuity.

Capricorn and Bridgespan argue that more foundations, however, need to “align their capital with their missions,” and that they can do so while still achieving high returns.

“Why wait to distribute resources far into the future when there are numerous urgent issues facing the planet and communities today,” argue the authors of a report on the research, which is titled, “Can Foundation Endowments Achieve Greater Impact.”

The fact most of the foundations surveyed are very familiar with impact investing and yet haven’t taken the leap “highlights the persistently untapped opportunity,” the report said. It details some of the barriers foundations can face in shifting to impact, and how and why to overcome them.

Hurdles to making a shift can include “beginner’s dilemma”—simply not knowing where to start—and a misperception on the part of large foundations that impact investing is “too niche,” offering opportunities that are too small for the amount of capital they need to allocate. Other foundations are too stretched and don’t have the resources to add capabilities for making impact investments, the report said.

One of the biggest concerns is financial performance. Some foundation leaders, for instance, worry impact investments lead to so-called concessionary returns, where a market rate of return is sacrificed to achieve a social or environmental benefit. Those investments exist, but there are also plenty of options that offer financial returns.

The authors make a case for foundations to “go big,” into impact to realize the best outcomes, and to take a portfolio approach, meaning integrating impact principles into how they approach all investments. To make this happen, foundations need to incorporate impact into their investment policy statements, which determine how they allocate assets.

It will be difficult for foundations that want to shift their assets to impact to pull out of investments such as private-equity or venture-capital funds that can have holdings periods of a decade. But with a policy statement in place, a foundation’s investment team can reinvest this long-term capital once it is returned into impact investing options, she says.

“The transition doesn’t happen overnight,” Reddy says. “Even if there is a commitment for an established foundation that is already fully invested, it takes several years to get there.”

The Skoll Foundation, established in 1999, revised its investment policy statement in 2006 to incorporate impact. According to the report, the foundation initially divested of investments that were not in sync with its values, and then gradually, working with Capricorn Investment, began exploring impact opportunities mostly in early-stage companies developing solutions to climate change.

“As the team gained more knowledge and experience in this work, and as more investment opportunities arose, the impact-aligned portfolio expanded across different asset classes, issue areas, and fund managers,” the report said.

As of 2022, 70% of the Skoll Foundation’s assets are in impact investments addressing climate change, inclusive capitalism, health and wellness, and sustainable markets.

Capricorn, which manages US$9 billion for foundations and institutional investors through impact investments, constructs portfolios across asset classes. In private markets, this can include venture, private equity, private credit, real estate, and infrastructure. There are also impact options in the public markets, in both stocks and bonds.

“Across the spectrum there are opportunities available now to do this in an authentic manner while preserving financial goals,” Reddy says.

Of the foundations surveyed, about 15, including Skoll, have 50% or more of their assets invested for impact. Others include the Lora & Martin Kelley Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Russell Family Foundation, and the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation.

Though not part of the study, the California Endowment just announced it was going “all in” on impact. The organisation has US$4 billion in assets under management, which likely makes it the largest foundation to undergo the shift, according to Mission Investors Exchange.

Although the researchers looked at a fairly small sample set of foundations, Reddy says it provides data “that is indicative of what the foundation universe” might look like.

“We cannot tell foundations how to invest and that’s not the intent, but we do want to spread the message that it is quite possible to align their assets to impact,” she says. “The idea is that this becomes a boardroom conversation.”


Consumers are going to gravitate toward applications powered by the buzzy new technology, analyst Michael Wolf predicts

Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’

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