Technology makes things easier and improves our quality of life. But it also brings complication and creates stress unique to its very presence. How can we keep technology on the helpful side of life?
This episode wraps up our summer series on work-life balance.
We have a complicated relationship with our technology — which we both love and love to hate!
On the one hand, technology makes our lives easier. But it also creates complexity and stress. In other words: technology both helps and hurts work-life balance.
In this final episode of our series on work-life balance, I explore why and when it’s helpful and why/when it’s not. I also share my thoughts on what we can do to keep technology on the useful side.
All technology, since the beginning of time, was invented to help make our lives easier.
Think of the different modes of transportation — from the horse and buggy to the first automobile to Tesla. Or how technology helped us consume the written word, from the first printing press to the Kindle. Or the evolution of our means of communication, from snail mail to email, from the telephone to smartphones.
The value proposition of any technology has always been to improve our quality of life.
And technology has done precisely that. It has delivered on its promise.
Technology makes things easier and faster for us to do. Google has made it exponentially easier to find information. And with voice search (think Siri/Alexa), searching for things is now even faster. YouTube makes it easier to learn all kinds of things. PayPal makes paying and sending money faster and stress-free.
Technology makes things more accessible and available when we want/need them. Internet access through our smartphones makes (almost) everything easily accessible, everywhere, anytime. Cloud-based technology gives us access to our work wherever we are, whatever device we’re using. Kindle (my favorite electronic device) gives me easy access to the books I’m reading without the hassle of carrying their bulky versions.
Technology helps us stay informed and connected to the people, things, and places with which we want to remain connected. Social media makes it easier to stay connected to family and friends. Streaming media technologies connect us to our music, movies, TV shows, and podcasts on demand.
But those are not the only things that technology brings.
With it comes a myriad of stresses, complications, new tasks, and to-dos – things that we wouldn’t otherwise worry about had it not been for the technology that made it a requirement.
(1) Technology can create the pressure to always be available, to always be on. Think about your habits around emails and texts. This technology made communication easier and faster. But it also brought with it the pressure to read and respond to the message as soon as it comes. Of course, this isn’t necessarily true. But we feel the pressure anyway.
(2) Technology introduces a level of complexity. Consider the number of passwords you now manage across your devices, the apps, and the websites that you access.
(3) Technology creates new stress. The reason we want strong passwords is to protect our information from security breaches. The thing is, even if we kept a robust password management process, we’re not entirely safe from security breaches that happen to the companies with whom we do business.
There’s also the stress you feel when you get locked out from your account!
Or the stress that comes after you’ve hit the send button on that email or that text a little too fast. This was not so much of an issue when communication was primarily made in person or via snail mail!
(4) Technology can promote addictive tendencies, which then eats up our time. Apps such as Facebook and Instagram, and all the video games, are designed to be addictive, which then takes up (wastes?) a lot of our already limited time.
(5) There is always a learning curve, and we feel like newbies all the time. In his book “The Inevitable”, Kevin Kelly writes that technology is always in a state of becoming. The apps, devices, and software that we use are constantly being updated. Technology is always evolving.
Here’s a small example. Apple announced that it is retiring iTunes — a technology that’s not too old itself. Apple is replacing it with a set of apps with better functionality that’s more targeted to our specific needs (e.g., listening to music versus listening to an audiobook versus a podcast). In the long run, these apps will likely prove to, in fact, be better. But in the short term, we have to figure out what these new apps are and what happens to the stuff already in our library. Of course, there are always hiccups whenever anything new is being rolled out.
This iTunes change is small and inconsequential. It probably won’t take us very long to figure things out. But I’m sure you’ve had similar experiences at work with new system updates. There’s always a learning curve and a period of getting acclimated before things become normal again.
These are some of the negative effects of technology, and you can probably come up with a few more.
So given this, what can we do? How can we make sure that the technology we’re using isn’t ruling us and our lives?
Here are five things we can do to make sure our technology is helping not hurting our work-life-balance. And if you have other suggestions, I’d love for you to add your thoughts in the comments section below.
1. Set boundaries for your technology use – both for work or personal use.
With all the technology that run our lives, there is no off time anymore. We have to create those boundaries ourselves. We have to determine how much or how little technology will play in which of our experiences, or when.
For example, I often read a book before I go to sleep. I’ve decided that Kindle makes it easier for me to read a book at night – it’s easier on the eyes because it is backlit. So I allow this technology, the Kindle, in the bedroom, or near my bed. But I no longer bring my laptop or iPad inside the bedroom – something I used to do. Because those technologies entice me to do other things that I don’t really want to be part of my bedtime routine.
2. Remember that many of the free apps are designed to be addictive.
Facebook, IG, Twitter, and other social media apps were all designed to be addictive. These are free apps, and the way we pay for them is through our attention and our data.
About a year ago, I decided to quit using my personal Facebook account. It surprised me that I’ve had to actively fight the urge to check the feed for the first few weeks. I had to do everything to make it more difficult for me to go on FB.
That’s when I realized that while I wasn’t paying attention, I had become addicted to FB. I had become addicted to the dings and the hearts and thumbs up and the comments. FOMO (fear of missing out) had planted a flag inside me way before I realized it had landed. And I only realized this after I decided to quit using FB.
It’s close to a year now since I quit using FB. I don’t feel the urge anymore. There is zero desire to check the feed. I suppose I’m cured of my addiction. But just like all other addictions, it’s easy to relapse. So I’m vigilant about falling off the wagon.
3. Use what works for you, not necessarily what’s new and shiny.
I hear of new apps or new tools almost every week. There was a time when I would eagerly download or subscribe to these new apps – all promising to be better than the ones I’m already using.
But I found that every time I did that, it ate up so much of my time. And the rewards or the incremental improvements were not worth it.
Now, I don’t jump too quickly. I do a bit of recon. I look for an example of a use case (i.e., how someone is using it). One thing that’s been helpful when checking out a new tech: I identify one specific task that I’m already doing today (whether manually or through another tool), and I try to work on that same task using the new tool or new app. This helps me decide whether switching to the new tech would be worthwhile or not.
4. Resist the urge to multitask.
I’ve included this here because technology makes multitasking easier. You’re attending a meeting AND also reading and sending out emails. You’re watching Netflix AND also working on your laptop AND texting with your friend or co-worker.
Doing several things at once is a trick we play on ourselves. We think we’re getting more done when we do things simultaneously. In reality, our productivity goes down by as much as 40%. The thing is, we’re not actually multitasking. We switch-task, rapidly shifting from one thing to another. We are interrupting ourselves unproductively, and losing time in the process.
So if anything, multitasking simply splits our focus and spreads it across the different things we’re trying to do simultaneously — which ends up taking more time, more energy and often leads to increased stress.
5. Spring-clean your technology at least once a year.
This is about organizing, clearing out, and cleaning the technologies that clutter our digital life. Here’s a great article by Inc. Magazine that outlines the five things we all should be doing at least once a year, to organize and clear out our technology.
• • •
It’s helpful to remember that technology – in and of itself – is neither good nor bad.
The reality is we now live in a digital world. It’s easier than ever to communicate beyond the office walls.
The boundaries between our personal and work lives are fuzzier than it’s ever been. How we use technology can determine whether it can help or hinder work-life balance.