Technology: Friend or Foe of the Working Parent? Part II

Anne Tergesen

In my first entry to this Blog, I wrote about the challenge many of us face in managing our mobile offices without becoming a slave to the very electronic devises that can liberate us from our real offices. As a parent, I feel I've got to impose fairly strict limits on my use of these devises. After all, there's no point to taking time off for a soccer game or playdate only to spend the entire event glued to a cell phone or BlackBerry.

Why not simply forego electronic devises entirely? That might work for some. But as a part-time employee, I need mine. On the two days of my part-time work week when I’m at home with my kids, I’ve got to respond to important email and phone messages. I’ve also got to organize my email “in-box” so as not to become overwhelmed when I log on at the office the next day. But danger lurks when the ability to be in touch with the office at any time turns into a compulsion to be in touch all the time.

For advice, I turned to a book slated for publication on April 1 that’s got a great title: CrazyBusy: Overstretched, Overbooked, and About to Snap—Strategies for Coping in a World Gone ADD. The author is Edward M. Hallowell, a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating patients with ADD. What does ADD have to do with email? Hallowell’s premise is that just as technology enables us to “get more done in a minute than used to get done in a month,” it also allows us to cram more and more into our busy schedules until we're so frenetic we resemble someone with ADD. I highly recommend the book for those of you who, like me, juggle a potentially overwhelming number of obligations and roles.

Hallowell addresses a wide range of topics. But he devotes a fair amount of ink to “screen sucking” – his catchy term for an addiction to surfing the web or tapping-out messages on a BlackBerry. Here are some of his recommendations:

• Turn your mobile phone, BlackBerry or Treo off at specific times. Limit the time you will take calls.
• Move your screen to a different room.
• Put an alarm clock next to your screen to signal when you’ve gone past a certain amount of time or program your computer to beep every 10 minutes.
• Train yourself to work for an extended period before you allow yourself a “screen break.”
• Set a fixed time when you open your mail and stick to it.
• Beepers: get rid of them if you possibly can. If you must have a beeper, train people not to beep you unnecessarily.

This advice may seem obvious or basic. But to implement the recommendations requires serious will power. And that’s Hallowell’s point—that we’ve got to learn how to be in control. Armed with this advice, I plan to limit my email checks to three-O.K., four at most-times a day while at home.

Feeling addicted? You’re not alone. Hallowell says he has treated more than a few cases of “screen addiction.” His remedy: “The same treatments used for any other addiction: Some combination of psychotherapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, group therapy, meditation, physical exercise and dietary changes, a 12-step program, and sometimes medication.”

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