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4 Times You Should Step Away From the Computer

Although technology wildly increases the speed of business growth, if entrepreneurs aren't careful, it can also adversely affect their companies. Here's how to keep it in control.

Technology is so crucially important to my business; it's difficult to imagine how I would successfully run things without it. It allows me to stay connected to my customers and partners in other parts of the world, work seamlessly when in remote locations, and simplify tasks that if done manually would suck up an unimaginable amount of my time. The benefits of technology are also essential to us competing neck and neck with companies that are much bigger than my own.

Be that as it may, the dangers of technology are not to be underestimated. As with most things in life, if not properly managed, the pleasures that technology provides can quickly turn into pain. This is why I encourage entrepreneurs to be mindful and avoid the sting that comes with relying too heavily on technology.

Here are some of my tips for practicing technological moderation:

When establishing relationships.

When establishing a relationship with potential clients and partners, I suggest foregoing email and Web conferencing programs in favor of in-person meetings so that you can get a solid sense of each other's personality, style, and needs. That way, as things progress and you celebrate the successes, or troubleshoot the snags that make entrepreneurship so exciting, you hopefully are working from a sturdier foundation and deeper commitment to each other. It is of course also important to regularly meet with people in-person as you cultivate relationships. But setting the stage in person is particularly essential.

Complexity? Stress? Sensitivity? Ditch the email. 

I doubt I'm alone in the experience of occasionally encountering people who seem to falsely believe that email offers some kind of cloak of invincibility that frees them to electronically dismiss manners that would normally be observed through in-person interactions. Email behavior that we at my company dissuade includes passive-aggressive communication, and using the "cc:" and "bcc:" features as weapons. Plus, when emails start 'ping-ponging' and it's clear that people are missing each other's points, it's time to take things offline, pick up the phone, or walk down the hall. While email is great for many things, it's usually not the best medium for complex issues, stressful situations, or sensitive matters.

When you're defaulting to multitasking.

Another lure of technology is the tendency to multitask—this one is particularly tempting for me. There are plenty of studies that show that rather than multitasking, it is better to successively focus on one project at a time. The rub is, life often just doesn't work that way. As soon as I receive an urgent call on my cell about a customs issue preventing my wine from arriving on time from South Africa, I get an email from a retailer in need of an instant reply, and then my home phone rings because one of my boys needs to be picked up from school due to an ear infection. Now while these types of emergencies certainly are not rare, there is plenty of non-urgent time when I can deliberately choose to work more effectively and resist the urge to multitask—even though it's counter-intuitive! So instead of simultaneously toggling back and forth between screens, speaking on the phone, and reading mail, I work to focus on one task at a time.

When showing gratitude. 

Sometimes, old-fashioned communication is simply better. When someone goes out of their way to show you deep kindness, interrupt your busy day and take the time to handwrite a note of thanks. Sure, it's easier to instantly email your thanks. But easier isn't always better...pause for the cause, break out your pen, and thank someone appropriately. They will appreciate it more than you know.

Although it takes discipline, adapting a more deliberate, moderate, approach to technology can improve your business, and ultimately, reduce your stress. Give it a try, and let me know your results!

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IMAGE: Getty Image
Last updated: May 10, 2012

SELENA CUFFE | Columnist | President and CEO, Heritage Link Brands

Selena Cuffe is the president & CEO of Heritage Link Brands. Previously, Selena served as a marketer for the Council on International Educational Exchange and the Procter & Gamble Company.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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