‘T is for … Taming our Technology Use’

T is for Taming TechnologyI love technology. I really do. If you’re reading this you probably know that. I love how it connects people. Increases learning exponentially. Crosses boundaries, enhances lives and improves outcomes for both teachers and students alike. And chances are if you’re reading this, its probably because of a connection we share in cyberspace, like through Twitter (most likely) or Facebook.

I also love my devices. And through necessity and to an extent ‘just because’ I have accumulated a small collection (like many of you will have) of computers in different shapes and forms. And the beauty of these devices all being interconnected is simply astounding. Calendars and music and contacts all synched and anyone who wants to can contact me any time, anywhere… how marvellous. In theory.

But what happened when we discovered that our devices could receive our emails from work was that our work began to slowly encroach upon our private lives. We began to be able to receive emails anytime and anywhere, interfering on our time outside work. And it not so much matters that these emails are being sent at any time of the night or day, but more that if that is when we receive (and open) them then we can potentially become unwittingly consumed by work related affairs 24 hours of the day. And from where I’m sitting (in the Counsellor’s chair) I can see this is causing HUGE problems for education professionals who are already up to their eyeballs in out of hours work.

Ever since I knew that it could be done, I have actively avoided having my work emails directed to my phone and remote devices. As far as I’m concerned my work emails go to my work computer which I can (and will) only access when I am at my work desk. My school emails go to my school computer which I can (and will) only access when I’m at my school. I’m not paid penalty rates for being on call or night duty or getting paid double-time for working on a Sunday and although (you know as well as I do) by necessity we all do work when we aren’t physically at school, I’ve found this to be a really good way to manage the intrusion on my ‘me’ time that is so essential to restoring my sense of work-life balance.

I am passionate about my work – why, I run my own business and take communication with my clients very seriously.  I work hammer and tong in my position at school – I have a duty of care to the students I work with and have committed to support them to the best of my ability during my current tenure. Both my business and my school position are my source of income.

But there are other things that are more important to me than money, and they are (in no particular order) my health (including my mental and emotional wellbeing) and my family. As a principal said to his staff when I worked at his site a couple of weeks ago, it’s imperative that we take care of ourselves so that we are well and available to those who love us the most. His words were that if something bad were to happen to us, the reality is we would be replaced at work in 24 hours, but would leave a hole in the hearts of our family members for ever – a sobering thought, I agree. And being contactable (and so mentally connected to work) at all times detracts from our ability to be truly present with our family and friends during interactions which are so important for us to have as they support our wellbeing.

If you find yourself being consumed by electronic contact during out of work hours and are wanting to try to reduce it, these strategies might be helpful:

– disable work emails being directed to your phone or home devices – immediately

– don’t send emails to people out of hours either (this gives a message that you aren’t available at this time)

– tell people (clearly but firmly) that you have done this

– in the face of opposition, explain what your priorities are and why (personal health and family responsibilities are a good place to start)

– respond to emails within a given time (24 hours is completely reasonable)

– in the event that you are concerned re a backlog of emails after a period of time away (e.g. the weekend or holidays) allocate a set amount of time to attend to those that are urgent by getting into work early once you’ve returned

– ask people to call or SMS you if the matter is urgent (and be clear of your definition of urgent from the outset)

I want to be clear here and have you understand that I’m not saying don’t work hard, I am not saying don’t do your damnedest by your students and your colleagues but know when enough is enough. Set and maintain some clear boundaries between your personal and professional life so that both become more clearly defined. Acknowledge that other peoples’ emergencies do not need to become yours and that in order for you to be truly present to those people in your life who matter to you the most, the ability to be ‘switched off’ (mentally, electronically an metaphorically) is of utmost importance.

I think that the pervasiveness of technology has slow;y crept into our lives with out many people actually realising it’s even happened. I hear and see the negative effects about this issue from my school based colleagues and in counselling sessions I have with school based staff and see the distress that can be caused by the feeling of not being able to ‘escape.’ I acknowledge that it is a real issue for some people and think in addition to the strategies that I have written above, the best way to improve this problem is for sites to actually develop their own policy around appropriate contact and etiquette in regards to electronic contact and communication outside of working hours. Anyone got a draft?

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts and experiences relating to this topic. Please feel free to share and reply.

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