Does this look like one of your workdays? You are at your desk, facing two computer screens. On one, the internet is open to do research, and the other screen has one of your four email accounts open (the other three notify you when a message arrives). You also have text messaging active, along with Google chat, in case someone at the office needs to connect. Around your neck is an LG Bluetooth stereo headset, ready for the next call that comes in on your iPhone; and iTunes is running in the background. Buried in the middle of all this technology is a project you are working on that’s due tomorrow. You’ve been working on it all week and just aren’t making the progress you thought you would, despite your skill in multi-tasking.
Turns out, research proves you can’t multi-task. John Medina writes, in Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home and School, that we are “biologically incapable of processing attention-rich inputs simultaneously.” Four steps must occur in your brain every time you switch from one task to another. It is time-consuming, and that’s why we find ourselves losing track of where we were and having to ‘start over.’ When you are interrupted, studies show that it takes 50% longer to complete a task, and you are likely to make up to 50% more errors.
I found myself experiencing real frustration over my work-life balance and technology in December of 2012. I was surviving instead of thriving. That’s when I picked up Medina’s book and figured out I had to build some boundaries around technology. I wanted my life back.
Here are seven choices I made that helped me set strong boundaries.
- I turn off iTunes, notifications for email and messages, and Google chat whenever I have a project to complete, a blog to write, or a training to design. I now get it done in half the time.
- I don’t check email after 7 pm in the evening. Too many nights I’ve laid awake upset by an email that could have waited until morning.
- I only check email 2 – 3 times a day, and I have no email notifications of any kind operating on my iPhone. This enables to spend quality time on the person I’m with or project I’m designing.
- I say NO to my iPhone. I usually don’t answer the phone when I’m with someone else, and I don’t use it in a checkout line. Face-to-face contact is precious.
- Sundays and vacations are days of rest from technology. I may talk to someone on the phone, but I rarely check or respond to email. This is huge, as it strengthens the other boundaries you’ve set around technology.
- I stopped trying to “do” Twitter. I have an account and enjoy tweeting to help a speaker or presenter; but, too many times, I found myself setting things up at 8 pm.
- When I first started blogging, I was told I had to do it 2 – 3 times a week in order to build a following. Now I write 5 – 6 times a year—and only when I think what I’m writing will benefit others.
Do you want your life back? Would you like to thrive in our 24/7 world? I encourage you to start small and set 1 or 2 boundaries around the technology in your life. You’ll find your relationships become richer, your sleep more refreshing, and your free time will really be free.