Controlling Your Technology
by Jeff Irby


"I'll never get a BlackBerry…"

Riding in an elevator the other day, I overheard this conversation:

First guy: "Wow, is that the new BlackBerry?"

Second guy: "Yes, I love it."

First guy: "I'll never get one of those things. If I do, I'll never stop doing email."

Herein lies the issue. For some reason, we have changed our work patterns to believe that email communication is the most important and highest priority for focusing our time. It is as though we have all become customer service representatives whose sole job is to respond to email communication.

Many information age workers treat their daily routines as though the best way to accomplish their goals is to process emails quickly. This of course is simply busy work. Sampling has shown that less than 20% of all email volume is actually actionable. 80% is noise.

Setting aside the obvious problem of being busy but not effective, (effective being accomplishing work that will help you achieve your goals), being hyper-responsive sets an unreasonable expectation for those who interact with you. For example, take this out of office notice from a very senior corporate officer: "I'll be away from my computer for the next two hours. I'll respond to your email when I return."

I could not believe that I was reading this message. This executive is training everyone around her that she is hyper-responsive to email communication. Surely corporate America has not turned all of us into customer service representatives via the email tool?

You may be thinking, "What's wrong with this approach -- leaders are supposed to be responsive." Yes, that is true, but they are also supposed to be proactive and deliberate in their actions -- not reactive. Allowing email traffic to dictate your focus and the use of your time is a highly reactive state and, frankly, does not bode well for proactive leadership.

The man who is afraid of a BlackBerry actually has a different issue to wrestle with: his personal responsibility to make good choices with the use of his time and energy in order to accomplish his goals. To blame the technology is an excuse to not be accountable for your own actions.

Here is the solution:

  • Accept that you are responsible for how you spend your time and your energy

  • Know that you have the power to choose when to engage with technology

  • Set limits around accessing technology -- for email I recommend three visits a day, early morning, noon, and late afternoon

  • Turn off the devices when you are with people -- give people a higher priority than technology

  • Focus on one thing at a time

Technology has been good for our country and economy. It can be very good for your life, if used properly. The key is to use technology to serve you, not the other way around. This requires you to make deliberate choices of when to engage with technology so that it aids in your accomplishment of what is most important in your life. You own it, it does not own you.


The Author

Jeff Irby Jeff Irby is the Principal at Speed with Purpose, a training company with a mission to change the way America works so that businesses thrive, employees perform at their very best, professional and personal relationships are rewarding, and families prosper. Based on thirty years of industry experience, Irby has taught thousands of individuals a unique method that combines work-life balance principles with a corresponding, tangible workflow. Most recently, his titles have included VP of Middle Markets for BearingPoint Consulting and Faculty member for BearingPoint's Yale School of Management Executive Development Program. Irby received his Juris Doctor from Thomas M. Cooley Law School and his Bachelor of Science from Indiana University. More information about Speed with Purpose can be found at
Many more articles in Communications in The CEO Refresher Archives

Copyright 2008 by Jeff Irby. All rights reserved.

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