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Go-Go Gadget! Making Technology Work for You


I vividly remember when I purchased my first smartphone in June 2010. I thought I was fairly behind the times around then based on the rate in which friends and family were showing off their new iPhones. However, the Pew Research Center shows that it wasn’t until last year that the majority of cell phone users reported having a smartphone (and even then, it’s only estimated at 61 percent).

What I remember most about that summer is my newfound anxiety due to that little device. Without thinking, I agreed to receive "push notifications" on my email so that it would buzz or ding every time. That was a huge mistake. I found myself conditioned to constantly check the phone, regardless of what I was doing at the time (does Pavlovian response ring a bell?). I would even sometimes feel phantom vibrations on the rare occasion that there was a long time-span without new email and still check the phone.

This experience got me thinking about one of my favorite shows as a kid called Inspector Gadget. For those of you unfamiliar with early '80s cartoons, the main theme of this show was an agent to solves problems using his technology, often yelling "Go-go gadget!" when needed. Unfortunately, his gadgets usually backfired or didn’t work at all. The show’s problems were usually resolved when his technology savvy niece, Penny, intervened.

Fast forward a few decades, and you can see the parallels to modern life. We increasingly rely on our "gadgets" to solve problems for us, like helping us balance work and home demands through increased flexibility. However, we’re also finding that sometimes they make things worse by cutting into our recovery time at home and increasing distress.

Recent research finds that smartphones are interfering with our sleep—even more so than other technological devices—and leaving us too tired the next day to be fully engaged at work. This finding highlights that the biggest irony of our need to stay connected is that it often causes us to check out when we’re needed the most. During my "summer of the new smartphone," I could definitely see that I was becoming more unfocused and anxious during the day because of the notifications cutting into my sleep (and relaxation time before bed).

As a natural work-home separator, it didn’t take me long to realize that this was not going to end well if I didn’t set some ground rules on managing this new technology. I took off the notifications and set the phone so that I would have to manually go in and download new email. This put me back in control of my email access, instead of being a victim of it. I turned the phone to "airplane mode" after 9:00 p.m. so I wouldn’t receive calls or texts, but could still use the alarm for waking up. I also set three specific times to check and respond to email during the morning, afternoon and evening and stuck to them. My sanity was restored!

My research (partially inspired by this experience) has also found that creating clear boundaries about technology use at home can help employees take a psychological break from work and protect their sleep without instituting a zero tolerance policy on working from home. That is, the amount that employees check in only seems to matter if they don’t have some "gadget ground rules" on when they check and respond. Thus, you don’t need to go cold turkey on your gadget habit, just be more strategic on when and how you indulge. This allows you to really focus on enjoying your family, friends or leisure during "no gadget" time while also benefiting from the flexibility of working remotely.

It’s also important to note that you need to communicate your boundaries with others; otherwise, you will feel intense pressure to check in and respond immediately. Explicitly discussing your availability and response time expectations with others will go a long way toward alleviating disconnection guilt. With firm boundaries in place, you can go back to making your gadgets work for you, instead of the other way around.

Do you have any "gadget ground rules" at home? Please share!

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/drexler / CC BY 2.0

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Dr. Larissa Barber published on February 10, 2014 9:15 PM.

Mindfulness and Business: A New Frontier? was the previous entry in this blog.

Fall in Love...with Your Job is the next entry in this blog.

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