When Technology Addiction Takes Over Your Life

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Jenn Hoffman, Phoenix-based CEO of The J Brand Group, should have been enjoying a relaxing vacation on the Cote d’Azur. Sipping champagne and nibbling on cheese at the posh Louis XV restaurant, she was eagerly awaiting her entree, a poached Breton lobster. But then, poised next to the breadbasket, her BlackBerry Pearl came to life, and so did her technology addiction.

She lunged for it and swiftly pecked out a response to my request for BlackBerry anecdotes: “I’m so addicted to this device that I stopped mid-bite to rush to send this message. My dining partners are staring at me with contempt as I write this.”

“My BlackBerry runs my life,” Hoffman says. She’s got a 24/7 technology habit, even checking messages from the bathroom, a Whistler ski lift, and a pool raft at L.A.’s Chateau Marmont hotel. Her boyfriend calls her laptop, which she brings to bed every night, “the other man.”

Hoffman is not alone in dealing with technology overload. Email, PDAs, iPhones, laptops, and cell phones dominate our modern world. Our uber-connected lives have made us virtually available at any time, at any place — the movies, the golf course, traffic lights, you name it. Here, we look at simple strategies to reduce the electronic overload and regain a healthy balance of life, work, and technology.

(Are you addicted to technology? What heart attack,” she says. “But if you’re not getting away from it enough, it could become dangerous.”

Jetsetter Hoffman suffers from brain to overheat, like a car engine, says Hallowell. “The longevity, your enjoyment of life.”

New Solutions for a New Age

Nearly two years ago, Scott Dockter, president and CEO of PBD Worldwide Fulfillment Services Inc., decided to take Casual Friday one step further, and created email-free Fridays, where employees are encouraged to talk offline to resolve issues, by picking up the phone or meeting face-to-face.

As a result, he saw an 80 percent email drop-off in the first year and noticed a reduction of unnecessary reports sent and excessive cc’ing.

The policy changed habits, not just on Fridays. “People started talking to each other,” says Dockter, who now leaves his Treo at work at day’s end. “[Before] we were robbing each other of our culture.”

Hotel manager Rick Ueno went cold turkey from his PDA two years ago. Following his recovery, he started the BlackBerry Check-In Program at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers, allowing guests to detox without their gadgets during their stay.

A Canadian government agency has barred employees from using BlackBerries for work overnight, on weekends, and holidays “because they’re throwing off staffers’ work-life balance.”

How to Work Smart

It’s very much possible to disconnect, says Tim Ferriss, best-selling author of The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich. “The single greatest enemy of creativity is overload,” he says. “I believe creativity requires a relaxed acuity, which is rendered impossible by checking email every half hour.”

  • Experiment with short periods of inaccessibility. Your life won’t implode, Ferriss says. “As with any addiction, there is a period of withdrawal and anxiety.”
  • Leave your cell phone and PDA at home one day a week. Saturday is a good day to cut off email and cell phone usage. “For most people, it will feel like a two-week vacation,” Ferriss says. “The psychological recovery it offers is pretty unbelievable.”
  • Set a “not-to-do list.” Don’t check email before 10 a.m. to avoid immediate reactive mode, Ferriss suggests. Set intervals to check email, for example, at 10 a.m., 2 p.m., and 4 p.m. Use an auto-responder to explain that you can be reached any time on your cell phone.
  • Eliminate rather than streamline whenever possible. Lose the RSS feeder, Ferriss says. “If you have an addictive impulse with tools, lose the tool,” he says.
  • Hire a virtual assistant. “A big part of priority management is teaching others tasks,” he says. “A big part is getting over yourself. You don’t have a superhuman email checking ability.”
  • Buddy up. Don’t go it alone on the road to recovery, Hallowell says, because you’re likely to revert to your old habits. Ask a colleague, administrative assistant, or spouse to help you enforce the new rules.
  • Learn moderation. “I’m not anti-technology,” Hallowell says. “Some is good for you, but too much is really, really bad.”