2015: Time to salvage yourself from your digital wreckage of a work-life


10 years ago, you most likely checked your email once in the morning, once after lunch and once at the  end of the day.

You actually spent your day being productive, writing reports, presentations, attending meetings that actually had agendas, going to client meetings that had been organized weeks’ ago. You might even have had time to read things and educate yourself… In short, you probably had some semblance of an organized work day, and there was a clear delineation between your work life and your own life.

And after work, you’d perhaps meet some colleagues for a drink and a bite to eat, then (heaven forbid) go to a karaoke bar or hit a dance floor. In those days we were physically social with each other. You interacted, you got stuff done, you had fun, you let your hair down occasionally.

Today, you probably wake up at 6.00am and wearily reach out to your mobile device to check your email, before you’ve had time to even think about anything else.  And you’ll probably spend your entire day checking it at a minimum rate of once every 15 minutes, getting precious little work done, reacting to memos, getting added to meetings with no agendas (that you probably should never have been invited to in the first place) that have zero follow-through or real purpose.

That ppt deck you started at 6.45am has barely progressed, as you decide to check your LinkedIn updates for a third time that morning to see who else had viewed your profile, or join into electronic congress with someone who trusts you, even though you have no recollection of ever having met said person.  It’s now 11.00am, and finally you’re ready to write your name on the front cover of that ppt deck, but then – lordy lord – you just realized you’d (gasp) forgotten to check your twitter feed all morning.  A welling of fresh excitement bubbles up into your electronic life as you check out those three retweets from your late night tweeting bonanza, but this quickly extinguishes when you realize these weren’t done by actual people.  Instead, you retweet a few articles your have no interest in reading, but it’ll look electronically cool that you might actually read stuff and have an opinion.

It’s now 11.30am and you’re just about to add your job title to your name on the intro slide, when you just have to check your email for the 17th time that morning. Oh boy – someone at work is having a rant about something.  Quick, drop everything and spend the next 30 minutes carefully composing your angle to the issue before pushing “send”.  Made it to lunch.. you run out for a sandwich, but you better take the mobile incase you get tagged in a critical Facebook post…  Then, shock horror, some old colleagues from your previous job are having a get-together tonight and have invited you along.  Weird – why would you want to see people? Better come up with a good excuse…

The afternoon meanders along with an orgy of more disorganized tele-meetings, a failed attempt at a videoconference from someome trying to be really “electronically social” (puke), a series of emails flying around that are all ignore-able, more LI updates that actually cause you to pause for a second with the thought “why do I  keep checking these things?” (but you do anyway), the obligatory check-ins to twitter to parse around more crap you pretend to care about, before finally getting back to your ppt deck at 5.00pm, when you realize you hadn’t checked into your Facebook since lunchtime.  Oh my god.  A whole afternoon of pics of peoples’ kids, the obligatory narcissist who seems obsessed with updating their profile selfie every bloody week (and gets 75 ‘likes’), and the person who thinks you really need to know they just checked in for their DFW flight…

So evening arrives and you realize you’ve barely eaten all day, rather just guzzled coffee to jet-fuel your electronic fervour, when the dreaded email lands from your boss…”Hey, really looking forward to reviewing your slides”.

So there goes your evening – three hours on the couch to knock out this baby… thank god you didn’t accept that drinks invitation.

The Bottom-line: We need to get smarter about how we work and interact with each other

So where, oh where, did our lives go?  Wasn’t the advent of the internet supposed to transform our lives?  Well, that it did, but the question I’ll leave you with:  did it change your life for the better?

In all seriousness, we’ve now reached a point in our Digital lives where we need to use it more smartly than we have been.  The initial excitement, and buzz around social media and the availability of all these really cool communications technologies is now wearing off and we need to take a serious look at how it has impacted the way we work and interact with people.

What I love about our evolving Digital existence today is the ability to communicate with each other on so many  channels, depending on the type of conversation, or the level of intimacy of the relationship.  It’s also damn easy to track people down if you need to! However, many of us are falling into bad Digital habits where it can seriously impact the quality of our non-Digital lives – and even the quality of our work performance.

Think about it this way – when you get back from a week’s holiday, I bet you can clear your inbox in barely a morning.  The very same inbox you probably would have spend that entire week spinning cycles over. We need to spend time focused on meaningful activities that add value to our lives, and less on the Digitally-driven crap that is sucking the time our of our week and the human interactions that used to mean so much…

Posted in : Absolutely Meaningless Comedy, Social Networking, sourcing-change



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  1. I know so many people who “work” like this. Looking is their new working. They think they are very busy but basically they do not have any real idea how they waste their day. In the end people start coming with excuses but if you do not operate with discipline, stay off the internet.

    Good post! Unfortunately, in my opinion, very true.

  2. The problem is often the solution. In this case, it’s leveraging digital to provide improved pattern recognition and relevance on mental models that partly reside in the analog world.

    Most of us have had the tendency to pile up our digital communications where we’re struggling with information overload combined with metaphor overload – email, twitter, facebook, IM etc. Every new digital communications method seems to promise making it more difficult. The key is to select digital technologies that are fit for your purpose. For example, replacing the use of e-mail with collaborative tools for certain sets of communication. To replace e-zines with RSS feeds. To use twitter as a replacement for news services, filtered by those who have insight.

    There are situations where it is perfectly appropriate to check your e-mail at 6:00 a.m. depending on what you are doing. Early warning and getting yourself think time is not necessarily a bad thing.

    So, poor digital habits involve using multiple channels for similar things that introduces redundancy and inefficiency. There are reasons why e-mail has replaced fax for most of us. Also, why e-mail replaced multiple individual telephone calls about a single subject.

  3. Scarily true, Phil. Far too many people have stopped producing and spend all their day reacting and observing. While Digital communications should be a huge benefit, the current impact is largely negative for many businesses. Their staff have filled their time with “busy” activities as opposed to real work that requires thinking and creativity.

    Not sure what the answer is, but employers and their staff need to change their digital work habits.

  4. Phil,

    A frighteningly accurate account of how inefficient many people have become. The sheer volume of digital content is a huge distraction and many people simple cannot cope with it.

    But what’s the solution? Ban social usage of social media between 9-5? Get rid of email for communication and use more voice?


  5. @Doug @Andy – very smart thoughts here, and thanks for sharing. Completely agree it’s about leveraging social to be more efficient and manage your information and network is a speedier, smarter fashion. I am a natural networker and love the tools social provides to keep in tough with people, have quick access to key experts as and when you need them, but try very hard to follow these rules:

    1) Block off quiet times to read and write. Even if this means very early starts to the day (or late evenings/weekends occasionally);

    2) Limit the use of email to necessary comms for work expediency, occasional words of praise for people. Never get into long dialogs unless you have a “healthy email relationship” with someone and you both prefer it to get points across;

    3) Use Facebook as a fun tool for interacting with friends / close colleagues, but do not use it during productivity hours. FB is fun, but you do not need to be on it all day long. Once per day is fine;

    4) Twitter is simply about broadcasting stuff – and losing its efficacy IMO. I use if more as a media reader now – actually better with sports and news than work stuff these days;

    5) LinkedIn has become a pain in the xxx – too much stuff, networks becoming meaningless. Very few groups that haven’t been sabotaged by job spammers. Am finding less and less value from it, beyond being a great database of CVs. I wish they would make it easier to integrate LI conversations with regular email etc. It’s too much of a “lock in” experience for me.

    I predict 2015 will be a poorer year for LI and Twitter as their usefulness in the workplace continues to decline, and enterprises will increasingly address these digital distractions – because they are having an adverse impact on employee productivity. I also believe HR needs to get more involved with developing actionable and practical guidelines for staff to follow with their use of digital comms and social (rather than spend all day on it themselves).

    Learning to be “digitally-smart” as an worker is probably one of the biggest productivity challenges of our generation.


  6. Phil – you nailed it on this post and as you say, fallout from digital overload will be a big theme in 2015.

    I have been writing on the themes of productivity and filtering on and off, which has led me to develop the view that in the coming years, solitude will be a competitive advantage. Those who can protect their time to do immersive, differentiating work will have a big leg up on the digital herd.

    Cal Newport has been blogging about his fascination with “deep work” – the work that makes a bigger dent in the world, and the practices to get that deep work in..

    I see a different problem though, which is prioritization and filters. Because few of us can truly turn all our pinging systems off. And: we need to be aware of vital incoming news/feeds/reactions because they may directly impact the work we are undertaking. So, in addition to protecting “deep work time,” those with the best prioritization filters will be successful.

    Which means taking control of the digital tools and finding a way to manage the noise and extract the rare nuggets of value.

    And so back to your post, and email – I believe that for most, email should NOT be a first priority filter. My close colleagues know that if they want to reach me in real time, email is not the best option. There is internal instant messaging, text apps, and so on. The first step towards email sanity is moving it off a top priority filter. Then you can set a routine of checking it a couple times a day, etc.

    Companies that force their employees to be on email 24/7 via all their devices are making a massive productivity and morale mistake. So the first step towards sanity in my view is putting email at a lower filtering level. Then the same for the social network channels. Notifications are set up where needed to push through.

    Then we might actually get some frigging work done – work that matters, that advances conversations or has relevance toward the enterprise problems we all want to solve.

    I can’t fix the absurdity of the junk streams, but those that take this challenge head on can succeed, the rest may get rolled over in the misguided belief that thumbing email responses on tarmacs and being omni-present on social networks makes you a sought-after “digital native”.

    I have a practical post on productivity and filter tools on the way, will link back to yours.

  7. oops, I would have missed this great write if not for my fourth check on LI today. Matter of time before we uncouple ourselves from this. You missed Whatsapp.

    Completely agree on the email madness…incompetent folks who must be doing what you described, must be passing the buck..:-)

  8. Great post and follow-on, Phil. Interestingly, yours is the only feed I looked at from LI for the last 4 or 5 days. I’m at odds with you and some of the guys who’ve responded, on one thing though: for me, email is the only communication method of reference. You have to be very careful when thinking how to filter this. In most of the organisations I work with, people still expect to be able to send you an email, and assume you’ve read it. Amongst all that junk there may be something of existential importance.
    Equally, I use it as the most efficient way of getting colleagues/collaborators to do things for me. That’s not just me being old-fashioned. If you’re working in two or 3 time -zones (USA, UK, India, say), it beats getting up at 5am and going to bed at 1am next day just so you can hold a real-time series of conversations or IM exchanges and, like it or not, it’s still the best way of maintaining an easily accessible audit trail of who said what to whom and when (backed up with a decent cloud storage service for managing those large 150-slide decks full of fancy graphics). Incidentally, I consider Facebook to be entirely a social medium (the clue’s in the name) and never, ever, consult it during working time. Most organisations would benefit if their HROs and CIOs got together and made that a mandatory usage policy. As for twitter – do you really, really, need it?

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