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Open All Hours?

My all time favourite song is I.G.Y by Donald Fagen.  The song, if you don’t know it, is all about what the world will be like in the future as envisioned by someone in the early 1960’s.  (Stick with me, it gets easier).  That world as envisioned by the young Don is one where technology will make life so much easier for us.  Everything will be great and we will all have an extra few hours a day to relax and enjoy ourselves.

Thankfully music is Donald’s great talent and not looking into the future.

Can anyone on this site honestly say that they work less because of technological advancements? (This doesn’t refer to you if you were previously employed as a telegram boy, I’m talking about different technological advancements).

Working more, working longer

Since mobile phones became ubiquitous I think more of us are working more and working longer.  I think that for many of us the boundaries of work and home life have just blurred.  Do you check emails on your phone at night? Do you update your corporate Facebook or Twitter stream outside of working hours?  Do you take work related calls while on holidays or out of hours?

I am as guilty as anybody of allowing new technological advancements eat in to my personal time.  When Donald Fagen promised ‘more leisure time for artists everywhere’ I honestly believed him.  Now, I listen to the song and say ‘yeah right!”

How do we reclaim our own lives?  Some would argue that once a precedent has been set people will begin to expect instant replies to emails at all hours.  After all, don’t we live in a connected society?

For me, my father embodied the strict divide between work and home life.  He was a senior executive in a multinational company.  He travelled quite a lot but when he was at home his car pulled into the driveway before 5pm every evening.  Once in the 34 years that he worked for his last employer I remember a phone call coming into the house out of normal working hours.  I think that the factory may have been on fire.  It was something akin to that.  That is how important it had to be for work to interrupt his home life.

I could list off fifty or more people that I could call about a work related issue at any time up to midnight on any night of the week.  I draw the line at midnight.  Not that I do call them, but I know that I could.

Is that healthy?

I’m no doctor, but I guess not.

Would your company or your employers company grind to a halt if you stopped answering emails outside of working hours?  If it is a risk that you are willing to take you should try it.  Here is how you do it.  When you park your car outside your house switch off your phone and don’t switch it on until the next morning.

Using your phone as an alarm clock and you need to have it on?  Ah now, that’s a chicken excuse.  Buy an alarm clock.  They are very cheap these days.

I did this and the first night I did this I was like somebody going cold turkey.  I was still able to stay in touch with friends through Facebook and Twitter.  I just shut off work and used tech for enjoyment.  It was hard to do, to block out work related issues on my Twitter stream but I learned to do it.

Those who know me will tell you that this self imposed censorship hasn’t resulted in a smaller waistline (I blame the weather.  Isn’t it terrible?).  I do know more about British history because I’ve read a load of books about 20th century Britain.  My kids get more time with me, as does my wife (the poor woman). I now have stuff to talk about that doesn’t involve work when I meet people.  The organisation that I run hasn’t come crashing to the ground.  I just work more effectively when I’m supposed to be working.  And there’s always wriggle room.  I’m not advocating a ‘na na na I can’t hear you’ attitude to work – I am just suggesting that the office door does not have to be open all hours of the day.

A few years ago I received an email at ten to two in the morning.  I replied within three minutes.  The original sender wrote back “I can’t believe that you replied at this time of night” to which I replied “You started it!”

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