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When Technology Addiction Takes Over Your Life

Are you a tangled mess of BlackBerrys, emails, PDAs, iPhones, laptops, and cell phones? Here’s how to untangle your life and find healthy balance.

New Solutions for a New Age

Nearly two years ago, Scott Dockter, president and CEO of PBD Worldwide Fulfillment Services Inc., decided to take Casual Friday one step further, and created email-free Fridays, where employees are encouraged to talk offline to resolve issues, by picking up the phone or meeting face-to-face.

As a result, he saw an 80 percent email drop-off in the first year and noticed a reduction of unnecessary reports sent and excessive cc'ing.

The policy changed habits, not just on Fridays. "People started talking to each other," says Dockter, who now leaves his Treo at work at day's end. "[Before] we were robbing each other of our culture."

Hotel manager Rick Ueno went cold turkey from his PDA two years ago. Following his recovery, he started the BlackBerry Check-In Program at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers, allowing guests to detox without their gadgets during their stay.

A Canadian government agency has barred employees from using BlackBerries for work overnight, on weekends, and holidays "because they're throwing off staffers' work-life balance."

How to Work Smart

It's very much possible to disconnect, says Tim Ferriss, best-selling author of The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich. "The single greatest enemy of creativity is overload," he says. "I believe creativity requires a relaxed acuity, which is rendered impossible by checking email every half hour."

  • Experiment with short periods of inaccessibility. Your life won't implode, Ferriss says. "As with any addiction, there is a period of withdrawal and anxiety."
  • Leave your cell phone and PDA at home one day a week. Saturday is a good day to cut off email and cell phone usage. "For most people, it will feel like a two-week vacation," Ferriss says. "The psychological recovery it offers is pretty unbelievable."
  • Set a "not-to-do list." Don't check email before 10 a.m. to avoid immediate reactive mode, Ferriss suggests. Set intervals to check email, for example, at 10 a.m., 2 p.m., and 4 p.m. Use an auto-responder to explain that you can be reached any time on your cell phone.
  • Eliminate rather than streamline whenever possible. Lose the RSS feeder, Ferriss says. "If you have an addictive impulse with tools, lose the tool," he says.
  • Hire a virtual assistant. "A big part of priority management is teaching others tasks," he says. "A big part is getting over yourself. You don't have a superhuman email checking ability."
  • Buddy up. Don't go it alone on the road to recovery, Hallowell says, because you're likely to revert to your old habits. Ask a colleague, administrative assistant, or spouse to help you enforce the new rules.
  • Learn moderation. "I'm not anti-technology," Hallowell says. "Some is good for you, but too much is really, really bad."
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Reviewed on June 06, 2008

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