Over a coffee recently, a group of my friends was discussing a new “what the heck am I doing?” trend emerging among our cohort of working parents.
The topic was sparked by one super busy-professional-mother-of-young-children friend who was continually interrupted by her not-so-subtle vibrating iPhone.
Did I mention that she, like the rest of us around the table, had managed to steal some precious “me” time away from the family for our catch up – or that it was a Sunday afternoon – or that she was on annual leave?
“We’re starting merger talks and I feel I just can’t turn off,’’ she offered apologetically. “Truth be told, I feel I can never turn off – I actually get a bit jittery if I can’t check my emails and messages.’’
“Did I hear you say, ‘addicted’?’’ someone asked.
The unanimous feeling was that thanks to technology we are now never “off”. There’s no such thing anymore as true “after hours’’. Communications technology has leeched its way into what should be unadulterated personal time and has caused us all to ask, “what the heck am I doing?” tending to this email/sms/call when I’m supposed to be listening to little Johnny read; watch Susie’s dance performance or sing happy 90th birthday to Aunty Jean?
One of my own recent “what the heck am I doing?” moments was came while sending a work-related email. One of my children was trying to tell me about his day. “Uh huh,’’ I muttered automatically and repeatedly. Then aware his banter died down, I looked at his crestfallen face.
“Sorry, what did you say?” I asked. “Doesn’t matter, you’re always on the phone.’’ (I’m not – but perception is everything) “What the heck am I doing??” My heart sank, I felt terrible and finally found out that he’d been chosen as speaker at his forthcoming class presentation.
It seems that for some working parents, many who spend fewer hours in the office or who have to organise their work around children, there’s a fear they are viewed by other colleagues as being less professional or somehow less committed to their career and employer.
There’s a sense of panic if we aren’t connected and contactable at all times. We feel tethered to the office via email, texts, mobiles even when technically “off-duty”, finding it a juggle to do the “other job” at home, spend time with family, enjoy some kind of social life, or simply to relax.
A straw poll of others around the table threw up some of these life-work-technology balancing tips:
Turn off and give your mind a break. No matter how much you love your job, no matter how big a part of your life it is, you must be able to “turn it off” and spend some time not working.
Don’t let technology master you. Start by turning your phone off for an hour a day – either at dinner time, homework time, bedtime – whatever works best for you and your family. When you realise the earth doesn’t stop spinning, turn off for longer, especially on weekends.
Master it. On weekends designate an hour or half an hour to check your phone and tend to work matters, rather than feeling you have to constantly check in “just in case” something’s come in.
Maximise your office contact time. Be as productive as possible during work hours, so that only the really urgent or unforeseen matters creep into your life after work.
Explain. Let your children and partner know what’s going on when you have to take calls, make calls or do some work from home. Don’t bark “be quiet, I have to make a work call, can you watch the stove’’, then disappear into another room.
Communications technology is amazing and can save us a ton of time and energy – if we use it properly – but that’s up to us.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on balancing priorities or how to keep technology in its place.
Catherine Bauer has more than two decades experience in South Australia’s media, communications and public relations sectors – from local government reporter, senior journalist and columnist at Messenger Newspapers to political journalist and local government columnist with The Advertiser, Sunday Mail and Adelaide Matters features and lifestyle writer, State Government media adviser and public relations/communications manager in the health sector. Catherine is now works for Hughes Public Relations and has the capacity to provide strategic advice across this broad spectrum as well as bringing high level writing and editing skills and a range of media, public and private sector contacts to the Hughes PR team.