always available

My name is Stewart and I have a problem.

Over at We Live Simply Jonathan is thinking about ‘downtime’.

His thoughts really made me think.

We probably all have a sense that we are more available than we used to be.  The mobile phone sorted that out.  But the smart phone has taken our availability to a whole new level.

Email on your phone so people can contact you anytime, and expect you to answer.

Twitter.  Facebook.  FourSquare.  All designed to keep you ‘in touch’ but as this article on Life Hack suggests there is a huge downside.

…what’s actually happening in the life of many  professionals is not amusing at all.  Their companies  have taken the opportunity given them by technology and the recession to convince employees to spend more  “down time” doing work.  At the same time, they send a subtle message that  “staying in touch” with work also means being available 24 hours  a day for 52 weeks of the year.

Converting “Down Time” Nowadays, it seems, everyone with a smartphone has gotten into the habit of continuously trying to convert “down time” into useful, work time.  Here are some everyday examples of ways in which many professionals are converting their “down time.”

  • – a manager driving on the highway at 70 m.p.h. sends a text to his team  (while spilling hot coffee into his lap)
  • – an engineer in a meeting that’s going slowly, checks her email and replies (missing two action items assigned to her)
  • – an accountant watching his child play baseball on Saturday morning closes a deal in the fourth inning via cellphone (and lies to his  son about seeing him make his first catch ever)
  • – a supervisor attending 3 days of personal productivity training is unable to leave her smartphone untouched for more than 15 minutes (and later complains that  the trainer was ineffective)
  • – a consultant speaking to a client on the phone remembers that  he should have sent an urgent message to a colleague, and quietly does so (even as the client notes the sudden lapse in attention and interprets it as a lack of interest in continuing the relationship)
  • – a hard driving attorney once again takes his smartphone to the  urinal where he can multi-task (… and is noticed by his boss’ husband who happened to borrow his smartphone just five minutes earlier)
  • – a family cheers in unison when executive-Mom forgets her  smartphone at home 5 hours into the annual vacation (and falls into  despair when FedEx delivers it the next day)

I recently asked a client: “How did your big presentation to the executive team go?”  She responded: “OK… but the CEO spent the entire hour on his (expletive)  Blackberry.”

This was bad news for my client, whose project was now being viewed by the CEO as another chunk of his “down time.”

Rest is essential.  Spending time with the people you love is too.  These people need you to be available to them too.

For many people reading this your life, like mine, will be complicated by the fact that you work from home.  People call at mealtimes because they know you will be there.  People expect you to reply to email because they know you can pick it up anytime.  And we feed those expectations because we pick up the phone and answer the emails at 2am.  We like the versatility and the chance to arrange our days but we need to switch it off sometimes.

Working from home also brings isolation.  Twitter and Facebook give the feeling of company.  But like at work when you might chat to your colleagues over coffee there comes a time when you just need to get on with work.  That’s why you’re there after all.  The same is true when working at home.

So, I’ll be turning my work email off at 5pm and on at 9am.  It will stay off at the weekend unless I’m working.  When I’m off I won’t be looking and when I’m with my wife or my kids I’m going to try to keep my phone in my pocket unless I’m taking photos or using it to enhance our day.

So, what do you think?

4 thoughts on “always available”

  1. Those sound like some great steps Stewart!

    I think you’ll see a big difference! Perhaps we all need to be more public about when our downtime is as well. I remember a couple years ago I had an option on my website to click to IM me or to click and Skype or call me.

    I thought I was doing a great thing by making myself constantly available. Now perhaps I should be more public about when I’m not available instead.

    I’m also interested in Everett Bogue’s ideas to make it harder for people to contact you. I’m not sure that’s the route I want to take but it makes sense. If it’s harder for others to reach you, they’re less likely to contact you unless it’s a real emergency.

    It’s an ongoing journey – but you/we are not alone. Thanks for sharing!

  2. some good stuff here. not sure i can commit to only switching on work-related emails between 9am and 5pm. for me having access to information helps me feel in control and therefore allows me the flexibility to manage my work in an efficient way that suits me and my family. so, reading and responding to emails in the evening when the kids are in bed means i can do the school run in the morning.

    i agree it’s important to ignore the phone when someone calls during family time, a big help for me is to say no regularly so people are aware that i don’t accept every invitation, which can be a struggle as i’m still fairly new in my role!

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