Is it just a fact of life now that we all need to be ‘on’ 24/7? Most would agree that we feel obligated to carry our smartphones and tablets everywhere, answer emails after hours, and from vacation. Our vacation bounceback messages often hint that emails will be checked from time to time, and so we continue to stay connected. It is hard for many people to write a vacation email that states they are completely unavailable to answer emails. How would it look to our clients and employees? Would it seem like we don’t care about their messages? The pressure is on when so many of our colleagues continue to show how dedicated they are by answering emails during their time off. So really, we never really ‘turn off’ and our stress levels continue climb.
In a Wall Street Journal report, Dr. Jennifer Deal, a senior research scientist at the Center for Creative Leadership, explains our compulsion to stay connected and how much time it is taking up: “My research shows that people use their smartphones so much outside of business hours—reading and responding to streams of messages from the office—that many end up putting in 13 hours or more a day. But they’re not doing that extra work because they want to. They’re doing it because they feel compelled to, and because the smartphone makes it so easy.”
From WSJ Report, 10/27/14, "How Technology Can Help Work/Life Balance"
Two recent articles, published the same day (one in the US and one in Great Britain), address this issue of stress related to over-connectivity and they provide two very different sets of solutions.
The BBC did an article that introduced some new technologies to help deal with personal stress. According to the report, “the biosensor device, called Pip, is gripped between the thumb and forefinger, looks a bit like a small iPod, and measures sweat and electrodermal activity associated with stress levels.” This is then supposed to make you more mindful of your stress levels. If this device indicates high levels of stress, they suggest going online to play some stress-relieving games. (Perhaps there will be a renewed interest in Atari’s Pong for such times?) They even suggest you can use a stress reduction texting app in Britain called “Buddy” to share how stressed you are feeling each day.
Then there is the previously referenced WSJ article by Dr. Deal that provided some practical tips to help return a “work/life balance” by modifying a few behaviors in the workplace. Here are a few tips based, in part, on Dr. Deal's recommendations:
1. Email Senders Should Prioritize Emails
Problem: Not all emails are equally urgent, and some don’t even require a response. However, this is a time drain since employees have to read through each and every message to determine how important a note is and whether they need to answer it.
Solution: Make the priority of your email clear to the recipient. Let them know when you expect a response and especially if this is low priority or just FYI. If you do this with recipients of your email, they might notice and give you the same courtesy – saving you both time.
2. Put Emails on Hold
Problem: We are pulled away from our life when people who get an idea after work hours want to pass it along before they forget, or want to send us information late in the day so we have it first thing in the morning.
Solution: Turn off the notifications on your email program and mobile device so that you can check email when you can fully focus on responding completely. In time your recipients will get in sync with your rhythm and give you more detailed and complete requests and responses.
3. Don't Overschedule Yourself
Problem: Another reason people work after hours is that they have overbooked their day, leaving little time for at-work tasks so they still have work they have to get done during off hours.
Solution: Leave discrete time in your schedule to respond to emails and prepare for upcoming meetings or calls. These little bits of time will make your use of scheduled time much more efficient so you can get things done during work hours rather than playing catch-up in off hours.
Here at Sinu we believe people matter, objects don’t. Let us know if we can help you fine tune your technology to prevent time-wasting, support productivity and efficiency, and find a work/life balance, while still retaining the option to work anywhere and anytime.