As a child, I remember rushing home to catch my favorite TV show, “Dr. Who”, and I would sit, glued to the TV, as my hero fought the next batch of aliens foolishly trying to take over the world. And, yes, we even watched the ads.
Back then, you either watched the show as it aired, caught up with friends, or pieced together what happened from the next episode. If it was the last episode of a series, well then you were out of luck.
Those days are long past, and modern technology is providing us with an On-Demand world. A world where tools such as DVRs, Blackberries, and laptops allow us to choose not only the time, but also the place, that tasks can be accomplished.
But beware! While On-Demand and remote technologies can be a huge boon to productivity, they can also be a curse that eats away at your free time like a cancer, leaving you trapped in a time debt that can be as serious as any financial crisis.
Time is a commodity that is becoming ever more precious, and advances in technology are allowing us to shift tasks to a time that is more convenient. Unfortunately “more convenient” often means getting less sleep, or moving work tasks into our precious family time. I have news for you – being in the same room as your family with your nose buried in a laptop is NOT the same as having quality family time. And when you find yourself skipping pages in your child’s bedtime story, because you have to get back to work, you know you need help.
The encroachment of work into our personal lives has reached the point where vacation time is now an “occupied territory”. You know how it goes. You go on vacation and come back to find yourself backed up with 500 unread emails, and 15 hours of recorded TV shows waiting for you.
You know that you will never clear that email backlog while you are actually in work, so you spend the last weekend of your vacation cuddled up on the sofa with your laptop, wading through the email bog, ignoring your family and listening, with half an ear, to the shows you wanted to watch.
So…the next time you go on vacation you take your Blackberry, “just to keep on top of those pesky emails”, but the siren call of the little red light draws you in every time it starts to flash, and you find yourself looking more at your emails than the scenery. Finally your spouse reminds you that you are supposed to be spending time with the family, and threatens to throw the damn Blackberry in the toilet…which is where you find yourself checking it from that point forwards.
The pressure to be “always-on” has never been higher – and if your Blackberry is on, then so are you! That pressure to respond immediately forces us to borrow time from the present, leaving many of us in a situation where we are not only in a serious time debt, but we can barely make the minimum payments!
So, how do you get yourself out of this backlog, and avoid repeating it in the future? Well, here are a few tips that might help:
The Big Rocks story tells us that we must put the important things into our lives first.
So start by making a list of thing things that are most important to you, and then put them in order of priority. Make sure that you involve your spouse in this step, because they almost certainly have ideas on what your priorities should be. Knowing what your priorities are is a key step to getting things back under control. Once you have that list, carve out time on your calendar for each “Big Rock” to ensure it gets the right attention.
2. On vacation:
Before you go on vacation, change your Out of Office message to say you are on vacation and will have no access to email. Trust me, if you say something like “limited access”, people will interpret that to mean you are checking email and will be p’d off if you don’t respond. And don’t reply to any emails – people talk and do tell each other that you are responding.
Leave your Blackberry behind if you can. If you must take it, because it doubles as your phone, then turn off the emails or, at the absolute minimum, set it so that emails do not make the phone beep or vibrate.
If the work pressure is so intense that you simply cannot avoid emails, set aside a specific time of each day to check and respond to emails -and then enjoy the rest of your vacation time.
Most important – when you return, don’t spend hours wading through hundreds of emails. Find out who sent you things and…gulp!…actually call them! Ask them what was important, what you missed, and whether there are any emails that need to be responded to. And then tell them you are going to ignore the rest of their emails – you will be surprised how often a 10 minute phone call can save you hours of email wading, and actually be more beneficial.
If you find yourself so far behind with email backlog that you will never catch up – Declare Email Bankruptcy! Mark all of your unread mails as read, move them to a folder (don’t delete them – just in case), and then ask people to re-send anything that was vitally important. This will annoy some people, but most people will find it amusing and wonder why they didn’t think of that.
4. Limit TV Recordings:
For all but your most favorite TV shows, change your DVR to keep only two episodes. And treat the addition of future shows as if you were using a credit card. If you can’t make substantial payments on that debt, then don’t do it!
5. Change Attitudes:
Perhaps, more than anything else, the biggest problem today is the pressure that is put on us by the changing attitudes of employers, and even co-workers, to the point where people are now expected to be available 24/7. But burn-out is a serious problem today, and this is not good for the employee nor the employer in the long run. Remind your boss and coworkers, that home life is not only important, it is essential, and helping employees to achieve a good work-life balance can actually be a great way to attract the best talent. Take every opportunity you can to spread the gospel of work-life balance using resources such as the Alliance for Work-Life Progress.
Used correctly, technology can provide a huge boost in efficiency. As an example, I once downloaded 40 hours of free lectures from Berkeley onto my iPod, and turned normally unproductive commuting time into a classroom. I passed that exam without attending a single class. Technology is not evil unto itself, but must be managed and controlled.
If you are wary of the dark side of the On-Demand world, you can reclaim your life, your family and, just maybe, get back to watching a TV show that actually aired the same week. But, feel free to skip the advertisements