Turn Your Devices From Distractions Into Time Savers - Kanebridge News
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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

By NICOLE NGUYEN
Mon, Jan 22, 2024 9:31amGrey 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.



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I.M. Pei was the confident visionary behind such transformative structures as the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong and the Louvre Pyramid in Paris, but he was also humble, and for years resisted a retrospective of his work.

Pei, a Chinese-American architect who died in 2019 at 102 , would always protest any suggestion of a major exhibition, saying, “why me,” noting, too, that he was still actively at work, recalls his youngest son, Li Chung “Sandi” Pei. A decade ago, when Pei was in his mid-to-late 90s, he relented, finally telling Aric Chen, a curator at the M+ museum in Hong Kong, “all right, if you want to do it, go ahead,” Sandi says.

A sweeping retrospective, “I.M. Pei: Life Is Architecture,” will open June 29 at M+ in the city’s West Kowloon Cultural District. The exhibition of more than 300 objects, including drawings, architectural models, photographs, films, and other archival documents, will feature Pei’s influential structures, but in dialogue with his “social, cultural, and biographical trajectories, showing architecture and life to be inseparable,” the museum said in a news release.

As a Chinese citizen who moved to the U.S. in 1935 to learn architecture, Pei—whose full first name was Ieoh Ming—brought a unique cultural perspective to his work.

“His life is what’s really interesting and separates him from many other architects,” Sandi says. “He brought with him so many sensibilities, cultural connections to China, and yet he was a man of America, the West.”

Facade of the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong in a photograph commissioned by M+ in 2021.
© South Ho Siu Nam

Pei’s architectural work was significant particularly because of its emphasis on cultural institutions—from the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., to the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar—“buildings that have a major impact in their communities,” Sandi says. But he also did several urban redevelopment projects, including Kips Bay Towers in Manhattan and Society Hill in Philadelphia.

“These are all places for people,” Sandi says. “He believed in the importance of architecture as a way to bring and celebrate life. Whether it was a housing development or museum or a tall building or whatever—he really felt a responsibility to try to bring something to wherever he was working that would uplift people.”

A critical juncture in Pei’s career was 1948, when he was recruited from the Harvard Graduate School of Design (where he received a master’s degree in architecture) by New York real estate developer William Zeckendorf.

With Zeckendorf, Pei traveled across the country, meeting politicians and other “movers and shakers” from Denver and Los Angeles, to Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Boston, and New York. “He became very adept at working in that environment, where you had to know how to persuade people,” Sandi says.

During the seven-year period Pei worked with Zeckendorf, the developer fostered the growth of his architecture practice, supporting an office that included urban, industrial, graphic, and interior designers, in addition to architects and other specialists, Sandi says.

When Pei started his own practice in 1955, “he had this wealth of a firm that could do anything almost anywhere,” Sandi says. “It was an incredible springboard for what became his own practice, which had no parallel in the profession.”

According to Sandi, Chinese culture, traditions, and art were inherent to his father’s life as he grew up, and “he brought that sensibility when he came into America and it always influenced his work.” This largely showed up in the way he thought of architecture as a “play of solids and voids,” or buildings and landscape.

“He always felt that they worked together in tandem—you can’t separate one from the other—and both of them are influenced by the play of light,” Sandi says.

View of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, on the mesa, in a photograph commissioned by M+ in 2021.
© Naho Kubota

Pei also often said that “architecture follows art,” and was particularly influenced by cubism, an artistic movement exploring time and space that was practiced in the early 20th century by Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and the sculptor Jacques Lipchitz, among others. This influence is apparent in the laboratory at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., and at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, N.Y. “Those two buildings, if you look at them, have a play of solid and void, which are very cubistic,” Sandi says.

Yet Sandi argues that his father didn’t have a specific architectural style. Geometry may have been a consistent feature to his work, but his projects always were designed in response to their intended site. The resulting structure emerged as almost inevitable, he says. “It just was the right solution.”

Pei also intended his buildings “not only to be themselves a magnet for life,” but also to influence the area where they existed. “He never felt that a building stood alone,” Sandi says. “Urban design, urban planning, was a very important part of his approach to architecture, always.”

After he closed his own firm to supposedly “retire” in the early 1990s, Pei worked alongside Sandi and his older brother, Chien Chung (Didi) Pei, who died late last year, at PEI Architects, formerly Pei Partnership Architects. Pei would work on his own projects, with their assistance, and would guide his sons, too. The firm had substantial involvement in the Museum of Islamic Art, among other initiatives, for instance, Sandi says.

Working with his father was fun, he says. In starting a project, Pei was often deliberately vague about his intentions. The structure would coalesce “through a process of dialogue and sketches and sometimes just having lunch over a bottle of wine,” Sandi says. “He was able to draw from each of us who was working on the project our best efforts to help to guide [it] to some kind of form.”

The M+ retrospective, which will run through Jan. 5, is divided into six areas of focus, from Pei’s upbringing and education through to his work in real estate and urban redevelopment, art and civic projects, to how he reinterpreted history through design.

Sandi, who will participate in a free public discussion moderated by exhibition co-curator Shirley Surya on the day it opens, is interested “in the opportunity to look at my father anew and to see his work in a different light now that it’s over, his last buildings are complete. You can take a full assessment of his career.”

And, he says, “I’m excited for other people to become familiar with his life.”