work life balance

Finding a Work Life Balance Through Technology

Closing the laptop and putting down the cell phone is harder for some than others. This month’s LTRC roundtable focuses on finding a work-life balance through technology.

Our Panelists

Chad Burton (CB), Steve Embry (SE), Britt Lorish (BL), Alison Shields (AS), Dennis Kennedy (DK), and Mark Rosch (MR).

How do you use technology to manage or minimize stress in your professional life?

CB: I am constantly streamlining processes and finding ways to have information at hand as quickly as possible. Automation is key. That is why I can’t wait for Artificial Intelligence and robots to take over the world.

SE: I particularly like having all communications and “to-do” items at my fingertips and accessible at all times. Granted, at times, this create stress. But I don’t deal well with unknowns and the thought that there is something I need to tend to causes more stress than not knowing and being able to deal with it.

BL: I try to automate anything that is redundant and I also strive to keep myself as organized as possible with technology, because disorganization and wasting time are stressors to me. Things like practice management software and document management software are key in keeping me organized where I can put my hands on everything I need related to a client quickly. Everything is cross-referenced, quickly searchable, follow up is diaried, etc. Document automation allows me to create repetitive documents quickly and accurately. I also use Dragon NaturallySpeaking to dictate and navigate my computer by voice a lot—that reduces stress on my hands, wrists, shoulders, etc. It also helps me to be more productive in the car when I can quickly use Dragon Anywhere or BigHand to dictate lengthy notes and ideas, and have them already transcribed by the time I get to where I’m going.

AS: The best way for me to reduce stress professionally is to make sure that I am keeping track of all of my ongoing commitments, projects, and appointments so that I can focus on the actual work I have to do. Technology is key in allowing me to do that. Whether I’m sitting at my desk in my office using my desktop computer, am traveling to client appointments, or working remotely on my laptop, I have access to my appointments and my email across all of my devices, so that I always know where I have to be and what work needs to be done. I can also forward my office phone to my cell if I’m out of town or out of the office, so I don’t miss important calls. I can also make appointments and check my calendar on the fly, so I don’t need to wait until I’m back in the office to check my schedule. I also schedule appointments to complete important work and add those to my calendar so that I am sure I can meet my commitments to clients.

DK: Perhaps surprisingly, instant messaging is a great technology for helping with stress because I don’t waste time playing phone tag and can find someone who is able to answer real-time questions. Podcasts are another example of how technology can help with stress and turn your commute into learning time. Two other personal examples that have professional application if your firm policies permit are a to-do manager like Omnifocus and a password manager like 1Password, especially if you use the mobile apps.

MR: I’ve been traveling extensively for work since the dawn of the millennium and have used smartphone apps to make navigating new cities easier. I don’t know how many times I’ve used apps like Yelp or Google Maps to find a business, restaurant, or other address in a strange city…and wonder how I ever managed business travel without a smartphone. I realize that these aren’t the newest, sexiest apps…but they definitely make life on the road easier to navigate. Day to day, the Google Apps Suite (Drive, Docs, Sheets, etc.) make it easy for me to access my documents wherever I am—with or without an Internet connection. I’ve also found Google Voice quite handy for making phone calls when I’m in a location where I have a wifi connection but no cell signal (usually in the basement/conference room of a hotel).

Is there any technology out there in particular that adds stress to your life?

CB: Not really. A year ago or so, I would have said email. Email app advancements and tools like Slack and Trello have greatly reduced the numbers of actionable emails I get each day. I am at peace with email (at least while I am typing this; ask me again tomorrow).

SE: Not really. Technology can be a blessing or a curse; it depends on how its managed and what trade-offs we are willing to make.

BL: Honestly, my time is so limited that I find the pressure to post to social media a bit stressful. I try to just regularly schedule updates and quickly post when I come across interesting tidbits, but I do feel sometimes pressure when I haven’t posted in a while.

AS: I can’t say that there is a particular technology that adds stress to my life, but I do get frustrated when spending time with others who are too focused on their technology. One of my pet peeves is when family members, friends, or colleagues are looking at their phones or other devices while driving, during a meal, or at a meeting instead of paying attention to the people around them (or the road, for that matter!). There’s a time to use technology and a time to put it away. I hate robo-calls and spam emails, too. “Do not call” lists, anti-spam laws, and spam blockers don’t seem to be doing anything to stem the tide.

DK: I struggle with software, apps, and hardware that seem to have left out the usability testing phase of development. I also do not like services that change default settings—I’m talking about you, Facebook—especially if the change fires off the automatic playing of video. I hate elaborate thickets of advertising to get content, articles divided into many separate pages that swarm you with ads, and, most of all, ads placed strategically where you can’t help but click on them as you swipe a screen. Do you sense a common theme?

MR: Can I just repeat my previous answer? Seriously, the technology that relieves stress adds to it as well. With my smartphone, I always feel like I can/should be dealing with whatever arises.

Is there a such thing as technology overload? When do you typically reach yours?

CB: Not for me. I am glued to devices during all waking hours. Does this make me an awful human being? Maybe. I have been called worse.

SE: There can be an overload; that’s why management is so important. There was a time I tried to set aside a tech-free day one day a week. It was good for awhile but then it started creating more trouble and effort than it was worth. It did help me to be more disciplined about turning it off.

BL: I think that we do sometimes need to disconnect. This is particularly obvious when you see a group of people in a social setting and rather than talking, they are all on their smartphones. I feel the need to unplug at times and just focus on quality family time or time with friends and not feel chained to my email, instant messages, and social media. It is difficult sometimes, though, because as a technology consultant, I think my clients expect me to be connected 24/7.

AS: There is definitely such a thing as technology overload. My schedule is different every day, so there is no one time when I reach my limit, but if I’m working at the computer all day, writing, answering emails, or working on client documents, I get screen fatigue. I have to remind myself to take frequent breaks, or even better, to schedule those breaks in advance. In the evenings, I will often put my phone in another room so that I don’t get caught up in answering emails, looking at Facebook or other social media, etc. I find that if I’m engaged with technology right before bed, it can have a negative impact on the amount or quality of my sleep.

DK: Perhaps not surprisingly, I’ve not found that. For me, tech frustration is a bigger concern, especially when technology becomes balky or I’m working with people who don’t know how to use basic technologies. I will admit, however, to considering trying either a tech sabbatical for a month or, more likely, a project I call “Tech Zero”: reconsidering, pruning, and replacing my existing tech tools and approaches with a fresh start.

MR: It’s not tech overload per see but when some technology I used yesterday suddenly doesn’t work today for no good reason.

What stressful part of your work life are you waiting for technology to help you solve?

CB: Dealing with humans.

SE: I think VR (virtual reality) holds some tremendous opportunities for us to catch our breath and get away without getting away. Imagine being able to spend 15 minutes a day at your favorite VR beach without leaving your office!

BL: Travel time is probably my most unproductive time (though not particularly stressful unless I’m stuck in traffic), so I’m personally waiting for the self-driving cars.

AS: The best way for me to reduce stress professionally is to make sure that I am keeping track of all of my ongoing commitments, projects, and appointments so that I can focus on the actual work I have to do. Technology is key in allowing me to do that. Whether I’m sitting at my desk in my office using my desktop computer, am traveling to client appointments, or working remotely on my laptop, I have access to my appointments and my email across all of my devices, so that I always know where I have to be and what work needs to be done. I can also forward my office phone to my cell if I’m out of town or out of the office, so I don’t miss important calls. I can also make appointments and check my calendar on the fly, so I don’t need to wait until I’m back in the office to check my schedule. I also schedule appointments to complete important work and add those to my calendar so that I am sure I can meet my commitments to clients.

DK: Definitely collaboration. It would be great to find a standard toolbox of collaboration tools that most everyone could and would use. Improved battery life would also reduce the panic that can set in when devices run out of power with no outlet in sight.

MR: Right now there is one part of our cleseminars.com reporting process that has to be performed manually and is very time consuming. Rather than waiting for technology to solve that problem we are working with software developers to make technology solve that problem.

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Law Technology Today is the official legal technology blog from the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center (LTRC). Law Technology Today provides lawyers and other legal professionals with current, practical and innovative content developed by some of the leading voices on legal technology.

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