5 Ways to Stop Your E-Mail from Taking Over Your Life
Five years ago, on a trip with my family, I noticed a guy in FAO Schwarz playing with his kids and checking his Blackberry all at the same time. I was outraged. I blogged about it. And I got hastily shot down by a number of people. He was being efficient, they said. He was multi-tasking, they said.
A few months later I started using a Palm Pilot. That was when I sympathized with my FAO friend, agreed with my blog detractors and realized the beauty and evil of smart phones.
They are indeed the office in your pocket. But do you really need your office in your pocket, 24/7? My Protestant upbringing suggested absolutely yes, but my wife and the complaining kids had a different view.
So how do I manage the greatest piece of technology ever made while attempting to be Father of the Year? These are my top five tips for keeping the beast under control.
1. E-mail ≠ Work. I remind myself daily that email does not equal work. E-mail allows you to send and receive work. E-mail can, however, become a huge time suck if you delude yourself into thinking you are actually working -- when you are really just scanning a ton of e-mails you don't actually have the bandwidth to deal with because you're meant to be with your kids. If something is really urgent, someone will call.
2. Be proactive, not reactive. You really don't need to check e-mail before you get to work. If the building is on fire, you will get a phone call. One great way to stay disciplined is to check email just twice a day, at 11am and 3pm. On my phone, I usually have my work e-mail shut off and just leave a personal account on; that way, I can send e-mail out if I need to (proactive = good), but I am not addressing work emails that come in (reactive = bad).
Reacting to emails while you're meant to be playing with your kids is disrespectful to your kids -- you're showing them that work is more important than they are -- and it makes you a poor role model to your colleagues ("Bob's checking email when he should be with his kids," they'll think: "That must mean I need to do that too"). If it's truly an emergency, make a phone call. If it is not, wait until you have the time and head space to craft a response on an actual computer. The more reactive you are, the more people will expect you to react to every email they send you.
3. Be a good role model to your kids. However you use your device, your kids will do likewise when they get a phone in the future. Think about that. I am sure we have all seen a family having a meal out and the kids are all glued to their phones (as dad often is also). It's not hard to see why. Whatever you do, the kids will do -- so no devices at the dining room table would be a good first step.
4. Don't fuel your distractions. If you are having a conversation with someone, have a conversation. Don't have a conversation and check your phone at the same time. The sooner we can establish that behavior as the height of rudeness, the sooner we can return to a civilized world! It's like the guy at the party or conference who is talking to you but sneaking a glace over your shoulder to see if there is any one "better" to talk to. Not nice. And if you do while you are talking to your kids, they will do that to you: Quid pro quo.
5. Drive or use your phone. But don't do both at the same time. When you are in control of 2,500 pounds of steel with loved ones aboard, it is really important to focus on controlling said 2,500 pounds of steel and not fiddling around with a phone. Hands -free or not, it's a distraction. And the more you attempt this lethal form of multi-tasking the more your kids will think it is OK when they learn to drive (see #3).
Bonus Tip: My kids give me heat when they see me on my phone when I am with them because they assume I am working. But as we all know, smart phones do so much more than work. If I am on my phone with them I am usually looking up a movie on Fandango for them, checking the weather coming up to the weekend, getting directions to one of their sports events etc. It's important they see that it's not all work, all the time and is in fact a device that makes all of our lives easier.
Photo: rwkvisual/Creative Commons
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