One of the pieces of news that caught my eye this week was that people are becoming ‘screen slaves’ by continuing to work long after the office closes: during the daily commute, at home and on holidays.
This didn’t surprise me in the least. Smartphones, tablets and laptops give people a more flexible working environment and have the potential to help with their work / life balance. Unfortunately, it is becoming apparent that instead they are contributing to a new era of workaholics. This isn’t good for businesses or people’s personal lives, but here are some simple tips to help set screen slaves free:
1. Break your addiction
Do you find yourself checking your phone after dinner just because of a lull in conversation? You always do it and then start to get bogged down answering emails. If so, break the habit! Turn it off when you come home from work. Create a new routine that doesn’t involve checking emails. The key to kicking the habit is finding something to replace it with.
2. Be clear about your availability
If you use a mobile phone or web-accessible email, establish clear boundaries around your availability and highlight that you will not be contactable outside of these times, even if the other person deems it ‘urgent’.
3. …and stick to it
If you say you will not be available outside of specific times, never make an exception – doing this once will lead to colleagues and clients expecting you to be available out of hours on a regular basis.
4. Set clear parameters
If you operate a flexible-working policy in your business, establishing clear parameters is crucial to ensure a happy and productive workforce. Always pactice what you preach, so that your staff understand your expectations and what is acceptable.
5. Agree a hierarchy of urgency and importance
We all understand that there are issues which require urgent attention and there will be times outside of our working day where we will need to respond to an emergency. However, this should be the exception rather than the rule. Agree with colleagues exactly what constitutes an emergency – and this does not include running out of toner.
6. Be clever online
It is important that you don’t get sucked into the world of social media addiction. While tweeting regularly is important for maintaining visibility and engaging with your customers and employees, this does not mean that it must take over your life. Set a regular time each day to update your feeds and take advantage of systems such as Tweetdeck that can help you schedule tweets throughout the day in one go, so you’re always there, but not…
7. Do not, under any circumstances, check your emails before bed
The bedroom should be a no-go area for smartphones. Do not use your phone as an alarm, as it is far too easy to slip in to the habit of checking your emails or messages before bed. You must be able to completely switch off before going to sleep in order to be well rested and keep a healthy balance in your life.
8. Cut yourself off
Ensure you take time away from work by putting yourself in different environments, where it is not possible to reach for your smartphone, tablet or laptop. This could include anything from an exercise class or the cinema. For me, it is kayaking, which allows me to completely re-focus my attention – with the added bonus of a spot of exercise.
9. Don’t allow late-night emails to become the norm
Working extra hours outside of the office can relieve pressure in the short-term, but when you’re doing it every single night, there is something that needs changing. It’s sometimes difficult to spot when staff are over-worked, but regular late-night emails could be a sign that all is not well.
10. Create boundaries to keep your work and personal life separate
It is important that the boundaries of your personal life and your work life are not blurred. Weekends and holidays should be for family and friends only. Record a message on your voicemail telling callers that you are unavailable and switch off.
This article was featured in Management Today on Friday 13th July, 2012.