Don’t Let The Flying Cars Distract You: Focus on The Jetson Work Week

Meet George Jetson, Seriously He Has Time

If you’re like me, considerably older, or even quite a bit younger, you may have grown up watching the Jetsons. The show has pretty much been on the air in one form or another since 1962. It’s set in 2062, 100 years after the show’s original air date, only 41 after our current one and we are increasingly embracing some of the groundbreaking technologies taken for granted by George and the Jetson clan. The flying car is seemingly within our grasp, the pandemic has brought video chat into the mainstream, and even before the show aired we basically had the sprocket down. There is one thing however that we are no closer to actualizing than we were in the sixties, it may even be getting worse. I am talking of course about the work week.

Blink and you miss it, but one of the most amazing results of all the technology we see in the Jetsons universe is that it has made work easier, even if workers don’t realize it. Sure, George constantly complains about how exhausting his job is but the hellish work week he’s complaining about is 9 hours long. Our technology for all its bells and whistles has certainty not facilitated that. Instead, nearly every tech breakthrough that’s promised us the ability to be more productive has resulted in more work, a sort a faux-productivity that’s kept us constantly spinning on a hamster wheel. Email made it much easier to communicate, but also made it easier for coworkers to compete for our attention. Laptops have empowered us to work from anywhere, but as a result we’ve ended up working from everywhere. The internet spawned a digital renaissance, but one that’s upped expectations leaving a hole of productivity, ever in need of filling. Each technology, rather than liberating us has left us with ever more to do. However, a real trend may be starting in the opposite direction, take the example of slack.

Separating Slack From The Pack

We first adopted slack as an office back in 2018. Despite being one of the younger members of the team, I have to admit I was skeptical. We were already a pretty small office, we communicated fine over email, and introducing a new technology seemed like solutionism, destined to lead to confusion, redundancy and time wasting. I’m happy to say I was wrong, I loved slack, and both I, and the rest of the office came to rapidly embrace it. Until last week however, I didn’t truly know why.

That’s because last week Avi Flombaum came to speak to our Digital Literacy for Decision Makers class. He explained that the true genius of slack lies not in its myriad of features or organizational systems, but in its ability to know when to leave you the hell alone. Unlike other chat and email platforms, slack doesn’t flag you every time you someone writes. Instead, it uses an algorithm to figure out how important each potential notification truly is. Then and only then will it flag, or, more often than not, decide not to flag you accordingly. That simple (albeit relatively complicated) difference is what separates slack from the pack.

But it doesn’t need to end there. If we can train AI to truly separate the wheat from chaff when it comes to what’s important in our lives the Jetson work week may actually be within our grasp. We simply need to take the lessons learned from slack and apply them to the fundamental center of productivity and life management: The to do list.

The To Don’t List

I’m a list maker. I always have been. Without my to do list I would be fundamentally lost. Yet, despite the radical leaps and bounds we’ve seen in technology, an increase that’s led human productivity to double in my lifetime, my list is invariably too long. At best I am ruled by it, working throughout the day yet still scrambling to accomplish everything at the last minute, at worst I am still nowhere close to getting everything finished by the time the day is done. So what gives? And where can slack help where existing technology can’t?

My problem, a problem I suspect many share, isn’t that I have too much to do. I know that because I don’t always get everything done and life continues relatively uninterrupted. Instead, I hypothesize my problem is that I fail to understand what I truly need to do. As a result, I am not prioritizing correctly or scheduling effectively. I am doing work when I shouldn’t be, focusing on the wrong tasks in the wrong places and times and putting others needs before my own except when I’m in triage mode at the last minute. I might be trying to fit too much into the day, or packing it with work that feels productive while not actually doing anything important at all. If this is indeed the problem an AI that could embrace the slack factor, weeding out what is truly important has the potential to be life changing.

To be sure, there are existing systems and apps that attempt to replicate this process: The Eisenhower Matrix, ToDoist, Notion, Trello, and GTD to name a few. However, by and large they seek to do this by giving you a structure within which to take control and prioritize items yourself. It is why they tend to fail with those whose struggle is not organization but prioritization itself. This would be a different approach entirely, one which would require surrendering a degree of control to an advanced AI. Relinquishing that degree of control may not be for everyone, even if they are desirous of the results.

That being said, if executed properly, this technology could greatly simplify the way we work, not by giving us the ability to get more done but by giving us the ability to know what we need to do in the first place and how best to do it. By doing that and only that we can leave more time for the things not that we need to do, but that we want to do. The American dream, loving spouse, kids, talking dog, robot cleaner, flying car and most importantly, a 9-hour work week, is sure to follow.

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