Is technology helping us be more efficient or causing us to work more?
Do you love technology? I do. The goal of technological innovation is to enable us to work more efficiently, and therefore have more time to pursue non-work interests (a.k.a. fun). Instead of the arduous task of making clothing by hand, a sewing machine puts the pieces together in half the time. Instead of The Pony Express, we have email, which lets us connect with people around the world in the blink of an eye; but what about the downsides of technology?
Mobile devices have been linked to both “tech neck” and “text neck” (here are 4 ways to correct that), sitting at a desk for 6+ hours a day makes us more stressed and less healthy than our active ancestors, and excess time in front of our computers can isolate us from the natural world. This made me curious:
Is all this technology good for us? Or are we bordering on overload?
One Gallup poll has indicated that mobile technology has increased employee stress, especially for those employees that are using technology to stay connected to work outside of working hours. However, those people who have a tendency to check their e-mail outside work are much more likely to rate their lives as “thriving.” That means that they have rated their current and future lives better according to the Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale, which basically asks them to rate their current and future lives on a scale of one to ten.
So, those who use technology outside of work may be more stressed, but they also tend to rate their life (as a whole) better than those who do not, which seems completely counterintuitive. Gallup suggests that perhaps the mobile-connected people associate working outside of work with “greater personal success and accomplishment,” or their stress may be “productive stress.” Generally, productive stress (eustress) is more motivational than it is debilitating, although both affect the body in a similar way.
With the rise of telecommuting, mobile devices, and remote offices, work expectations have dramatically shifted. Another Gallup poll explains that most workers (79%) think that being able to stay connected to work outside of working hours is a “somewhat or strongly positive” development. The positive attitude is beneficial, because roughly 68% of people say that their work outside of working hours has increased because of mobile technology.
It seems like the jury may still be out on whether mobile working is detrimental or positive. However, it does seem like there is at least some concern, otherwise countries like France wouldn’t have banned checking work e-mail after 6:00 p.m. Specific companies around the world (such as Volkswagen) have adopted similar polices.
Keeping the peace — self-awareness is vital
If you can obtain a healthy balance between your “real” life and your “work” life while still working after hours, then perhaps you’ll be just fine. You should start getting concerned when the productive stress becomes less-than-productive stress. Staying in tune with your mood, body, and relationships will help you achieve this balance. Are you tired? Frustrated? Snappy? Will you scream if you get one more stupid e-mail? Stop everything, and turn your technology off. You won’t be productive at this point anyway. Give it a rest for the night and come back to it tomorrow.
In fact, sometimes you may get to the point where you just need a few tech-free days. (Check out the benefits of a tech-free weekend here). Everyone is slightly different, so do what you need to do to be sure that your stress-level does slide into something uncontrollable.
If it becomes a serious issue, talk to your employees or your boss about trying not to send e-mails after a certain time or simply let people know that you will not be responding to e-mails after, for example, 7 p.m. (In The 4-Hour Workweek Tim Ferris talks about setting up autoresponders to let people know when you’ll be checking email.) If you set expectations or draw a line ahead of time, then people are much more understanding. They may even appreciate that you spoke up so that they could do the same.
Technology is a wonderful thing, but if it is not used correctly, it can be overwhelming. Be sure to keep a close eye on your dosage so you don’t burn out.