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.


This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

35 North Street Windsor

Just 55 minutes from Sydney, make this your creative getaway located in the majestic Hawkesbury region.

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A Killer Golf Swing Is a Hot Job Skill Now

Companies are eager to hire strong players who use hybrid work schedules to schmooze clients on the course

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Standout golfers who aren’t quite PGA Tour material now have somewhere else to play professionally: Corporate America.

People who can smash 300-yard drives and sink birdie putts are sought-after hires in finance, consulting, sales and other industries, recruiters say. In the hybrid work era, the business golf outing is back in a big way.

Executive recruiter Shawn Cole says he gets so many requests to find ace golfers that he records candidates’ handicaps, an index based on average number of strokes over par, in the information packets he submits to clients. Golf alone can’t get you a plum job, he says—but not playing could cost you one.

“I know a guy that literally flies around the world in a private jet loaded with French wine, and he golfs and lands hundred-million-dollar deals,” Cole says.

Tee times and networking sessions have long gone hand-in-golf-glove. Despite criticism that doing business on the course undermines diversity, equity and inclusion efforts—and the fact that golf clubs haven’t always been open to women and minorities —people who mix golf and work say the outings are one of the last reprieves from 30-minute calendar blocks

Stars like Tiger Woods and Michelle Wie West helped expand participation in the sport. Still, just 22% of golfers are nonwhite and 26% are women, according to the National Golf Foundation.

To lure more people, clubs have relaxed rules against mobile-phone use on the course, embracing white-collar professionals who want to entertain clients on the links without disconnecting from the office. It’s no longer taboo to check email from your cart or take a quick call at the halfway turn.

With so much other business conducted virtually, shaking hands on the green and schmoozing over clubhouse beers is now seen as making an extra effort, not slacking off.

Americans played a record 531 million rounds last year. Weekday play has nearly doubled since 2019, with much of the action during business hours , according to research by Stanford University economist Nicholas Bloom .

“It would’ve been scandalous in 2019 to be having multiple meetings a week on the golf course,” Bloom says. “In 2024, if you’re producing results, no one’s going to see anything wrong with it.”

A financial adviser at a major Wall Street bank who competes on the amateur circuit told me he completes 90% of his tasks by 10 a.m. because he manages long-term investment plans that change infrequently. The rest of his workday often involves golfing with clients and prospects. He’s a member of a private club with a multiyear waiting list, and people jump at the chance to join him on a course they normally can’t access.

There is an art to bringing in business this way. He never initiates shoptalk, telling his playing partners the round is about having fun and getting to know each other. They can’t resist asking about investment strategies by the back nine, he says.

Work hard, play hard

Matt Parziale golfed professionally on minor-league tours for several years, but when his dream of making the big time ended, he had to get a regular job. He became a firefighter, like his dad.

A few years later he won one of the biggest amateur tournaments in the country, earning spots in the 2018 Masters and U.S. Open, where he tied for first among non-pros.

The brush with celebrity brought introductions to business types that Parziale, 35 years old, says he wouldn’t have met otherwise. One connection led to a job with a large insurance broker. In 2022 he jumped to Deland, Gibson Insurance Associates in Wellesley, Mass., which recognised his golf game as a tool to help win large accounts.

He rescheduled our interview because he was hosting clients at a private club on Cape Cod, and squeezed me in the next morning, before teeing off with a business group in Newport, R.I.

A short time ago, Parziale couldn’t imagine making a living this way. Now he’s the norm in elite amateur golf circles.

“I look around at the guys at the events I play, and they all have these jobs ,” he says.

His boss, Chief Executive Chip Gibson, says Parziale is good at bringing in business because he puts as much effort into building relationships as honing his game. A golf outing is merely an opportunity to build trust that can eventually lead to a deal, and it’s a misconception that people who golf during work hours don’t work hard, he says.

Barry Allison’s single-digit handicap is an asset in his role as a management consultant at Accenture , where he specialises in travel and hospitality. He splits time between Washington, D.C., and The Villages, Fla., a golf mecca that boasts more than 50 courses.

It can be hard to get to know people in distributed work environments, he says. Go golfing and you’ll learn a lot about someone’s temperament—especially after a bad shot.

“If you see a guy snap a club over his knee, you don’t know what he’s going to snap next,” Allison says.

Special access

On a recent afternoon I was a lunch guest at Brae Burn Country Club, a private enclave outside Boston that was the site of U.S. Golf Association championships won by legends like Walter Hagen and Bobby Jones. I parked in the second lot because the first one was full—on a Wednesday.

My host was Cullen Onstott, managing director of the Onstott Group executive search firm and a former collegiate golfer at Fairfield University. He explained one reason companies prize excellent golfers is they can put well-practiced swings on autopilot and devote most of their attention to chitchat.

It’s hard to talk with potential customers about their needs and interests when you’re hunting for errant shots in the woods. It’s also challenging if you show off.

The first hole at Brae Burn is a 318-yard par 4 that slopes down, enabling big hitters like Onstott to reach the putting green in a single stroke. But to stay close to his playing partners and keep the conversation flowing, he sometimes hits a shorter shot.

Having an “in” at an exclusive club can make you a catch. Bo Burch, an executive recruiter in North Carolina, says clubs in his region tend to attract members according to their business sectors. One might be chock-full of real-estate investors while another has potential buyers of industrial manufacturing equipment.

Burch looks for candidates who are members of clubs that align with his clients’ industries, though he stresses that business acumen comes first when filling positions.

Tami McQueen, a former Division I tennis player and current chief marketing officer at Atlanta investment firm BIP Capital, signed up for private golf lessons this year. She had noticed colleagues were wearing polos with course logos and bringing their clubs to work. She wanted in.

McQueen joined business associates on the golf course for the first time in March at the PGA National Resort in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. She has lowered her handicap to a respectable 26 and says her new skill lends a professional edge.

“To be able to say, ‘I can play with you and we can have those business meetings on the course’ definitely opens a lot more doors,” she says.


This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

35 North Street Windsor

Just 55 minutes from Sydney, make this your creative getaway located in the majestic Hawkesbury region.

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