Balancing Two Four-Letter Words

Broadway, 9 pm. The soft blip! from my pocket filters past an excited muppet’s
voice. Office mail, marked ‘important’. I step out of Avenue Q and check my
Blackberry. It’s a draft of an e-mailer going out today, ‘FYI’. Wait, I
don’t like this para…

I spend 18 minutes of a two-hour, $100 show, on email. Two hours later, I’m
back in my room, away from Manhattan streets and snow, laptop open, discussing
the plan online. It’s 3 am when I hit my bed, lunchtime in Delhi.

The power of connectivity, the mobile office. Or a work-day that’s expanded
to 24 hrs, in a brave new you-can-never-hide world?

A recent CIO panel on wireless that I chaired veered to the latter view. We’re
‘on call’. Time was, you left office, and got away. Now, you get a query on
MSN or ICQ, or an SMS, and you’re expected to respond. A panelist called it
"a 24×7 face-off between two four letter words called work and life."



I looked at the wireless devices on me: not counting things like my RFID
access card, the list crossed a half dozen: phone, Bluetooth headset,
Blackberry, Palm with infra-red link to GPRS phone, Laptop with Wi-Fi and CDMA
card. Like many of those devices, I was ‘always on’. Reachable. Responding.
Which did not do much for my life, and its balance with work. There are few
places where I am "cut off" and can sleep in peace. Flights used to be
one of them, but on transatlantic ones, I’m now connected.

How do we tackle this? It’s not easy. The world today demands that you be
in touch, or fall behind. Even a taxi driver today has to have a mobile, or lose
business.

The ideas are not new. Read email at fixed times. Resist the urge to check it
the moment it’s in. It’s tougher with SMS, or a wireless ‘push’ mail
device such as a Blackberry that will deliver mail to you instantly, wherever.
But you can use filters. For instance: "Only company mail with ‘urgent’
in the subject, to be sent to my PDA." You can also do this on your regular
mailsystem to sort mail into folders.

One CIO said he used instant messaging only within two fixed one-hour slots
in the workday when he was ‘visible’. Another said he used an auto-feature
on his smartphone that kept it off from 9 pm to 7 am, though many said they
would not do that.

Whatever your preference, one thing is certain. We will be better connected
in 2005 than we were last year. We’ll get more instant updates and queries and
will be expected to respond faster. How well we manage these technologies for
our benefit, without letting them take over our lives, will determine our
work-life balance. And our effectiveness and productivity, and possibly our
sanity.

Prasanto K Roy

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