We now have the possibility to be connected continually: text messages, emails, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn… all of which can be accessed from our smartphones, our iPads, our computers. And yet, for the first time in our history, we are not in charge of our technology. Technology is in charge of us. How many people have you almost bumped into this year because they (or you!) were texting while walking? How many times have you responded to a work email while you were supposed to be having dinner with your spouse? How many times have you written something you regretted in an email because you were in a hurry and clicked send without thinking? Technology is an incredible tool— but only when it is controlled.
1. Disconnect from work when you leave the office.
Thanks to smart phones and laptops, business owners are now able to be on call 24/7. While I love that I can go to a doctor appointment and continue to work from the waiting room, I also find it drains my energy to be connected non-stop in one way or another. I am in my office 10 to 12 hours per day. Remaining accessible beyond that directly affects not just the quality of my life, but also the quality of my decisions. I now choose to disconnect in every way when I have leave the office for the evening.
2. When it's for personal reasons, use Twitter, Facebook, and the like after hours.
At many companies, employees have the freedom to do personal things like check Facebook during the day. This may seem like a cool thing to allow when courting new hires, but the result is reduced efficiency for businesses and employees. Deadlines that were once set in stone are now moving targets that can always "be finished at home," resulting in longer time for project completion. I do not allow these kind of blurred borders at my company. My employees are expected to complete all work in the office, and personal activities like texting, Tweeting, and Facebook are limited to personal time. Many technology addicts mmay be thinking they would never want to work at my company, but consider the benefits of the "work belongs at work" mindset: my employees go home on time every night, have a rich life outside of the office, and come back refreshed and ready to make huge inroads for our business the next day. Preventing burnout, and thus hanging on to valuable contributors, is my highest priority.
3. Keep email concise and complete, and off your screen.
Email is a great way to correspond with someone, both because it is fast and less obtrusive than calling, but when we fail to control our use of it, it diverts focus away from actual projects being worked on. We are constantly scanning for the red ball to pop up and provide us with a new distraction. We have become addicted to responding, and doing so quickly—at all costs. Think I am exaggerating? How many times have you sent an email to someone asking several questions only to receive his reply minutes later answering only one of the questions? Now consider how many times this happens to you each day, and all the follow-up emails this lack of thoroughness generates! I have made it a rule to re-read all emails twice before responding, and then to double check that my response answers the entire inquiry. And most importantly, I close my email box when I am working on other things, so that I can give 100 percent to the task at hand.
4. Work-related texts and Tweets should be quick, but right.
In business, it is important not only to be fast thinking, but also to be able to fully develop ideas. Pertinent questions must be asked and clear paths charted in order to problem-solve and grow. Today's technology users have yet to strike a balance between rapidity and complex communications. A customer expecting instant feedback does not want to get a half-baked answer. They want to be answered quickly, but also correctly. Business partners expecting to be answered at midnight are still in need of impactful solutions rather than impulsive ones. I try to separate my tools into categories. Emails are for fully developed ideas, texts are for quick practical information, and the phone is still my best tool when I need to get a deal done.
5. Interaction is not engagement.
With all of the great communication tools we have, it is easy to assume being omnipresent is all that's needed to generate success for your business. A company's Facebook page may be an indicator of how many people know about a brand, but in the age of technology, that does not always translate to how many people care about that brand. I think about my company's communications with our customers in every format as a means of engagement, not just a fleeting interaction. Putting it in traditional terms: as a business, having a thousand "first sales" is great, but you will survive and thrive only with repeat business. Technology can help us make the first sale, but it is how we use it that will bring the customer back for more.
Technology is a powerful tool, but only as powerful as the mind in control of it. As a business owner, you must be especially aware of this, because how you use technology not only reflects on you personally, but also on your company and its reputation. Consciousness is the first step to regaining control so that technology can work for rather than against you.