Along with the ubiquity of smartphones comes the expectation and opportunity to be available around the clock. No more waiting until office hours to contact an employee. No more unplugged vacations. We can reach each other anywhere, at any time.
But it’s time we face our current state of affairs. We’re up against a foreign invasion that could rival any bad sci-fi flick. They’ve invaded our commutes, our dinner tables, and — worst of all — our bedrooms. These digital suckers supposedly make our lives easier and more productive, but new research isn’t so sure.
We're not doing ourselves any favors. In a study of high-paid consultants, Harvard professor Leslie Perlow found that unplugging after-hours was associated with more productivity, not less.
Since work can’t be kept within the confines of a building anymore, how do we separate our personal lives from our work lives? How do we set boundaries on acceptable hours of connectedness? How do we establish a healthy relationship with our smartphones?
Here are five ideas:
1. Remember that while smartphones are an enabler, you’re the mastermind.
The first thing to acknowledge is that you’re the one choosing to pick up the phone or respond to that email. Sure, smartphones make it easier, but before them desktops and late nights at the office were the villains. There will always be more work that can be done and more productivity to be achieved, so you need to strike a balance that works for both you and your business. Smartphone addiction can be a sign that you’re overworked or over-involved in your job.
2. Don’t invite the whole world into your bed.
Using your smartphone means connecting to somebody else. So, as a rule of thumb, if it’s a situation where you wouldn’t invite another person to join, you shouldn’t be on the phone, either. Your significant other probably didn’t invite your entire company to bed. Your bedroom should be a place for sex and rest — nothing more. So kick your phone to the curb, and enjoy connecting with a human for a change.
3. Make your boundaries the life you want.
Across the board, people usually look to us for directions on how we want to be treated. If we answer the phone after 8 pm or respond to emails all hours of the night, they’ll assume that’s OK. But we can’t blame them for following our poor directions. Whatever boundaries you’re comfortable with are fine; you just need to establish them from the get-go. Whether it’s no phone calls after 6 pm or only checking emails once per night — you get to set the rules for acceptable and unacceptable behavior.
4. Power down if you don’t need it.
Resist the temptation if there’s no need. If you’re having a picnic with a group of friends or going on a daylong hike, bring your phone along and switch it off. That way, if there’s an emergency situation, you’re still able to reach people, but no one can contact you without your consent. This works especially well if you’re a writer and don’t want to be bothered by distractions (not that I know anyone who does that …)
5. You’re not as important as you think you are.
At the root of our connectedness addiction is the belief that the world will collapse without our 5-second response time. If you power down on vacation, your company will figure it out without you. If you shut down at night, that client will learn a lesson in patience. And, let’s be honest — smartphone or no smartphone — in today’s digital world, they can get to you if they really have to. But a healthy slice of humble pie may be just what you need to unplug.
In a world where people are more concerned with the popularity of their Instagram photos than with the actual experience they captured, it can feel like we’re working for our smartphones, not the other way around. But, with a healthy set of boundaries and a serious reality check, we realize that we can plug in or power down whenever we want.
In this Matrix, the choice of red pill or blue pill is completely yours. You’re in control, and you always have been.