The advances of modern technology has brought us many useful tools. Most of these advances have been in the area of communications, making it easy to stay connected for work and pleasure. Telephones and voice mail are common tools for both business and personal use. Cell phones have the advantage of being able to keep in touch by voice, short text messages (SMS), picture messaging (MMS), and even e-mail wherever we are.. Computers also allow us to stay in touch with e-mail, instant messaging (IM), video conferencing, and chat programs. Inexpensive broadband connections allow people to work from home using Voice-over-IP (VOIP) and Virtual Private Networks (VPN). With all these technological advances, and the ubiquitousness of wireless phone and computer networks, the lines between work and home are blurring. When you’re self employed (or otherwise work from home like telecommuting), those lines get even blurrier. Sometimes, those lines disappear altogether without us noticing, keeping us “on-the-job” all day and weekends too. Once those lines blur or disappear, what does that do to our lives?
E-mails, voice mails, SMS messages, pages, faxes; 12, 18, even 24 hours a day. 5, 6, 7 days a week. Convenience and ease of access can be a two-edged sword. When you’re always available, people will contact you whenever it’s convenient for THEM. When you’re able to make a “quick call” right now, chances are you will. More often than not, when you make a quick call, or quickly check your e-mail, it can quickly suck up a lot of your time. Without realizing it, we become a slave to the machine; “always on” takes on a new meaning, like “always working” or “always busy”.
“Slave to the machine”; what a bizarre topic for a technology consultant. What we forget is that technology is neutral; computers, cell phones and handhelds are TOOLS, and tools are meant to serve those who wield them. Many of these communication tools run 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Do YOU really want to keep those kinds of hours?
A tool is simply defined as something that is a means to accomplish a task or objective. Early tools were designed to be labour saving devices. Computers were also designed to be labour saving devices. So why are we working longer hours than ever before? Let’s go back to the definition of a tool; “a means to accomplish a task or objective”. The person who wields the tool would define the task or objective, and would also define the successful outcome of the application of the tool. So, what are your objectives? Are your tools helping you meet them? What is the successful outcome of the application of your tools or possible tools?
One thing I hear from people who are sick of their Blackberrys is that they don’t get any peace; “the damn thing is always beeping and buzzing”. And that’s just for e-mail and text messages – phone calls and voice mails are on top of that. Studies have also shown that the excessive checking of e-mail is actually a productivity killer. For some of these people, being “always on” has gotten them to the point that they want to change tools – or even turn their backs on technological tools – to get their lives back. It doesn’t need to come to that. There’s a few simple tricks to get your life back and have you master the machine.
- Clearly define your “working hours”. Make a commitment to yourself and your family that you won’t do work outside of those “work hours”.
- Switch your e-mail device/cell phone to silent mode and put it away. Out of sight is out of mind. You’ll still get e-mail, messages, voice mails and Caller ID info, so you can get back to folks at YOUR convenience.
- Don’t be afraid to turn it off if silent mode doesn’t work for you. That’s what voice mail is for. E-mail and text messages will get delivered later when you turn it back on.
- Consider a different type of tool that allows you to customize how it works for you. One of the first programs I installed on my Treo allows for profiles that affect the sounds – and will even turn off the wireless radio – based on the times of day. You can also change e-mail programs to allow you to choose “push e-mail” like the Blackberry, or “pull e-mail” at times you choose.
It’s actually a kind of funny coincidence; after I had started writing this blog on my Treo, Ed Hardy of Brighthand wrote an editorial on this same subject. I didn’t want to cover the exact same stuff as him, so I tweaked my blog a bit to be a bit more general in some respects. I totally agree with Ed on his observations; I have also seen people out for dinner with a special someone, and one or both of them spending time on the cell phone talking, or text messaging other people. I wonder what Emily Post would think… Who knows, maybe sometime soon we’ll see pages on Cell Phones and Blackberry’s on the Emily Post Institute’s Technology Pages.