Managing work and life: Technology

we have so much fun at our school

we have so much fun at our school

I just read a terrific piece in the Harvard Business review entitled: Manage Your Work, Manage Your Life: Zero in on What Really Matters by Boris Groysberg and Robin Abrahams. The authors address a topic covered extensively in the literature… every literature: balancing work and home. One topic the authors took up especially focused my attention:

Managing technology:

Three quarters of those surveyed felt that technology is a distraction from their home life. The other respondents felt that technology was an enhancement. The authors use the example of the busy executive who can attend her son’s volleyball game because she has her phone with her to stay on top of e-mails from the office. This provoked reflection on my part. I have all my e-mails forwarded to my phone, personal and professional. I receive an average of about 120 e-mails a day on my work account (yes, that counts blog posts from Diane Ravitch [no offense Diane, but it’s true…]). When I first set up my phone to monitor my e-mails, I realized that I enjoy knowing what I will face when I got back to my computer, or to my office. I felt that I was better off knowing if there were issues that staff or parents wanted to bring to my attention.

This suits my problem solving style which is purposeful and deliberative. I tend to bounce ideas off others and ruminate on issues before making decisions. I do my best thinking while driving, or listening to music, or running, or cooking, or watching T.V…. see, that’s the problem, I do some of my best thinking anywhere, anytime. Some people, when there is an issue that needs attention, will focus on that issue until they have found a resolution. My attention span wants to “bounce” from one subject to another. If there is a pressing issue, at home or at work, my mind will keep returning to this topic, but it won’t stay there so long that it arrests my attention to the exclusion of everything else. Consider the following scenario:

I think the car insurance is due, but I keep wondering why the character in the book I’m reading wants to contact his wife even after what happened between them, wouldn’t it be cool if my skin was made of aluminum, do I have any more gum, I never changed that light bulb, is the car insurance due this week, would my skin dent?

This is a typical train of thought for me. The point is, the car insurance always gets paid, but I do not have a linear process of getting to pressing issues.

But to the point of technology, having access to my e-mail (not to mention Facebook, Twitter and Google +) 24/7, for me is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, yes, I am thankful that I have access to e-mail when I am out of the building, but many an evening and weekend has been sullied by an e-mail that alerted me to a problem that needed attention.

Another way that I find myself using technology at home to participate in my professional life is through social media like Twitter and Google Hangouts. On Saturday mornings I participate in #satchat which is a live Twitter chat on various issues in education. This takes place on Saturday morning at 7:30 AM. I find that participating in this discussion with other educators makes me energized and ready to spend the weekend in more productive pursuits, or, if I decide to spend a lazy unproductive weekend, then at least I know I did #SatChat, so I did something productive. On Monday nights, I participate in #NYEdchat. On Wednesdays night I join #PTChat which focuses on parents in education and on Thursdays I choose from #SBGChat which is a discussion of standards-based grading or #MSchat which is a discussion of middle level education.
I love the seamless flow of information and learning that occurs when you are on social media. But certainly, this impacts the balance between home life and professional life.

Juliet Catherine Gately

Juliet Catherine Gately

Another point the article takes up is the role that your partner takes in helping with the home/work equation. I think I’ll reserve this for my next post but, in short, I have the most supportive partner imaginable (@dmgately) who shares many of the same passions that I do. So for me, participating in social media discussions at home is not as intrusive as it might be for someone whose spouse is not in the same field as they are.

For me, I think I lean towards the 25% who believe that technology is a major enhancement to the home/work equation. How about you? What role does technology play in the balance between your home and work life?

About dfgately

Middle School Principal Jericho, NY
This entry was posted in Educational Focus, Personal Best, Reflections. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Managing work and life: Technology

  1. Hi Don,

    Thoughtful post as usual. I used to have my work email pushed to my cellphone but stopped a couple of years ago. As important as our work is, we need to remember that it is still work and we need to prevent its demands from becoming overly intrusive into other aspects of our lives. Equally, or more importantly, are our responsibilities to family and self. I had found myself checking my work email and messages throughout evenings and weekends. It became difficult maintaining the needed “balance” among responsibilities when my phone kept pinging with messages to check.

    When we are spending time with family and friends, we should be focused on them…not distracted by work. When I attend my daughter’s performance, I don’t want to be distracted by a message I received just before the show started and I now feel needs follow up. It is unfair to my family and me.

    I check my email when I choose to check it. Similar to you, I like to see what I should expect before I get to work. So, I check my email in the morning while still home. I also tend to check email in the early evening just in case someone emailed me and is upset. But, I don’t let it intrude on other relationships and I no longer check in the late evening. At first, I felt I needed to check more often, but I found that this was more based on feelings rather than the objective reality of the situations that arose. Nearly everything can wait for us to get to work for follow up. Also, we need time for ourselves….reading a book, watching a movie, etc. A buzzing cellphone that distracts us from the personal things we enjoy is not healthy.

    So, my advice to new administrators is to NOT push your email to your phone. If someone really needs to reach you, they will call. Guard your personal time and focus on real-time relationships. You can still check as often as you want anyway.

    Best wishes, Pete


  2. pminikel says:

    I know I spend more time on the computer than my husband would like. He complains he is always looking at the back of my head while I’m playing on the computer.

    Pat Minikel

    Jericho Middle School Librarian

    I’m currently reading Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage What are you reading?


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