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Hamlet's Blackberry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital AgeRecently a friend of mine told me about a book that he read and thought that I might be interested in. "Hamlet’s BlackBerry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age," by William Powers. I got onto the Internet and immediately ordered it.

I consider myself a “Digital Neophyte,” rather than a “Digital Native” as my daughter’s generation of 20-30 year olds is known. According to Powers, this generation has always been around “screens,” be they computer, cell or other integrated devices. I am of an older generation, one that enjoys a stroll in the park, without being plugged into an iPod or carrying a vibrating cell phone to distract me from the sounds and beauty of nature.

Conversely, at work, I spend the majority of my day in front of a computer screen, responding to e-mails, researching on Google, viewing listserv updates, writing electronic reports and submitting proposals via e-Grants or Fastlane.

When I return home in the evening, the last thing I want to do is look at another computer screen. A magazine, book, and newspaper become tactile, “non-screen” reading pleasures. Powers’ book resonated with me. Young Digital Natives are hard-wired 24/7 to their “screens” that they are consumed with Powers’ coined phrase of “busyness,” which leads to distraction and lack of focus. He researched how high-tech corporation Intel was discovering that this “screen busyness” was affecting the corporate bottom line in both loss of productivity and profit. Intel instituted an experiment called “Quiet Fridays” which were an opportunity for workers to disconnect from their “screens” and mingle with other co-workers, or conduct non-electronic thinking and strategic planning. Interestingly enough, managers were in favor of this, whereas the sales force would sneak away to check their e-mails and voice mails. The experiment was an example of disconnecting.

In the second part of his book, Powers looks back historically at Plato and his attempts to leave the crowd and seek solitude in order to have focused philosophical discussions with select contemporaries. Powers goes on to cite "Benjamin Franklin’s Thirteen Virtues" and contrasts them as values vsersus “busyness.” Then he goes on to describe Henry David Thoreau’s "Walden Pond" simplicity experiment  Then finally, coming into the 20th Century, Powers discusses Marshall McLuhan’s “Society Unplugging” and the “Global Village.”

What does Powers’ Hamlet’s BlackBerry have to do with effective grant writing? A lot! In my own experience, I assist numerous faculty and staff who are writing grant proposals. I have my own state of “busyness,” by searching for grant opportunities for them, helping them organize their proposals, and writing sections of the proposals. I receive numerous e-mails daily, and have to ferret out those that are critically important versus those that can be responded to later. The same holds true for voice mails. I generally see them as important to respond to, since someone has take the time to connect with me in a “non-screen” manner. Voice mails may also be an emergency that requires immediate attention.

So here are Juri Brilts’ nine proposal Ben Franklinisms:

  1. Keep your eye on the prize. (Focus on winning the grant.)
  2. Reply to critical e-mails ASAP. (Could be your boss.)
  3. Respond to voice mails. (Courtesy dictates.)
  4. Scan you e-mails for grant projects. (Get back to the writer.)
  5. Attend required meetings. (They are related to your profession.)
  6. Organize your writing day. (This is what you are getting paid for.)
  7. Take a break from your busyness. (Enjoy lunch under a tree.)
  8. Return back to your screen. (Go back to item 2.)
  9. Organize uncompleted tasks. (Place tasks on a to-do list for tomorrow)

At a small university where I worked 20 years ago, the President came into my office and asked, “Where are you with writing this proposal that is due in a week?” I replied that I was having difficulty in organizing it. ”Start at the beginning,” he replied. Then, he took off his coat, rolled up his sleeves, and showed me how to organize the entire proposal by using colored paper as a section divider for each of the parts of the proposal. Lay out all the miscellaneous pieces of information and data that you have been collecting, and organize them by the colored paper sections required in the Request for Proposal (RFP), or proposal guidelines.

The moral is: think clearly, work efficiently and manage your time effectively. This will keep your eye on the prize! Maybe William Powers might agree. <>