If you have a love-hate relationship with technology, you’re not alone. As entrepreneurs, we usually welcome how technology helps us be more productive in less time, with less money and fewer employees. But other times, we (and our loved ones) feel trapped by technology’s ever-present hold on us.
Is technology saving your business, or ruining your life? Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.
Consider the mixed messages in a report by the USC Annenberg Center for the Digital Future. Three-quarters of Americans polled say technology helps them get more done in less time. Good for your personal life, right? Not so fast: Three out of 10 people say technology has made it harder for them to separate work from their personal lives; 25 percent say they’re stressed out by the feeling of being “on call” 24/7; and 20 percent believe mobile technology, in particular, has made their lives more stressful.
Especially interesting is the millennial employees’ take on tech. The stereotype is that millennials love working from wherever they are. But this age group is actually more bothered than any other by the way technology blurs the line between work and personal time. Nineteen percent of millennials say their personal lives have suffered due to work technology, compared to 15 percent of non-millennials; 25 percent of millennials say being accessible to their jobs via a mobile device makes their lives more stressful, compared to 20 percent of non-millennials.
A Harris poll found even more dire results. Just 34 percent of respondents credit technology with making them more productive at work, while 70 percent say it's too distracting. As in the Annenberg study, millennials were more likely than other generations to say technology negatively affects their personal and work productivity, their relationships with friends and family, and even their happiness.
Finding A Happy Medium
How do you decide when technology has reached the “tipping point” where it’s hurting more than it’s helping, and how can you restore the balance for yourself, your loved ones and your employees?
Start by being honest with yourself:
- Do you grab your smartphone to “quickly check email” after dinner and not come up for air until hours later?
- Do you ever enter a vicious circle of checking email, voice mail, social media and then, when you’re finished, start the cycle all over again … and again … and again?
- Do you regularly send employees emails, text them or call them on weekends, on their vacations or even just long after the workday has ended?
Next, check in with your loved ones:
- Any complaints from family or friends about ignoring them because you’re immersed in your technology?
- Do you increasingly find that when you have family time, everyone is in their own world, staring or tapping away at their mobile devices?
- Do you attend family events, such as children’s school plays or sporting events, but spend the whole time on your phone or tablet?
Last, but not least, investigate how technology is affecting your employees:
- Do issues that could quickly be handled in person instead lead to endless email chains of CCs and Reply Alls?
- Do employees regularly work after hours or on weekends not because of urgent deadlines but to keep up with appearances or fulfill what they think are your expectations for them?
- Are employees “checked out” at meetings because they’re staring at their devices or frantically texting under the table?
If you realize you or your business is getting sucked into a technology vortex, take these four steps to break free:
1. Establish regular times when you check email, social media and voice mail. Let employees and key customers know how they can reach you in an emergency (and what constitutes an emergency). You’ll find that most understand what you’re doing and are happy to help you maintain these limits.
2. Set up email filters, alerts, ringtones and the other features on your mobile devices so you don’t miss truly urgent communications from key people. This way, you can relax knowing you don’t have to constantly check in.
3. Create rules for employees' technology use. These could include limiting work emails, texts and calls to certain hours; limiting device use during meetings; and limiting email Reply Alls or CCs.
4. Establish family technology rules. These could include limiting screen time for kids, creating a “no phone zone” at the dinner table or setting certain hours when no one's allowed to check their tech. Remember, kids will “do as you do, not as you say,” so don’t set a rule you yourself can’t live by.
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