My previous article looked at how technology has evolved to the extent that we are now easily contactable regardless of where we are. We can now access workplace computers from home, from the pub or from across the other side of the world. Technology however has a number of ways that can reduce our stress, the very technology that may be adding to our stress levels currently can be used to reduce them too. This article will consider a number of ways in which technology can be used to reduce stress and how we can use technology wisely.
By far one of the greatest advancements in technology is that we have this small phone in our pocket that can not only allow us to make calls but also to download items from the internet, check our e-mails and get directions. The downside of mobile phones is that people can very easily get a hold of us, and so we can be distracted from a task or have work related issues invading our personal time.
Most mobile phone contracts now come with an option for voicemail. Allowing voicemail to pickup all our calls, can mean that we can concentrate on a task or indeed select the calls that we respond to as a matter of urgency. So if your boss regularly calls you on your personal time about minor work related issues, you can chose not to take that call. User ID can also assist in the selection of who which calls to pick up or let voicemail take. For example, if you are working on an important work task, and someone calls who regularly is just looking for a chat, you can allow voicemail to pick up and return the call at a more appropriate time. Likewise this can apply to regular phones if you have an answerphone and caller ID.
If you feel that you always have to answer your phone immediately when it rings, it may be a better idea to actually turn it off when working on important tasks. Many people reject this idea with the reasoning that “what if an emergency happens?” In the case of an emergency, people will find a way to contact you through other means, granted it will make the task much harder for them to do so, but the ease of using a phone is often why we receive so many calls that are minor and cause a great distraction. People are less likely to go out of their way for minor things if a bit more effort is required on their part – for example, the colleague a few doors down often may pick up the phone for a minor question but if they had to walk to see you and talk to you in person they would perhaps think twice.
Likewise how we use our text facility on the phone can also be an area for consideration. Texts can be used as a means of passing a message on and keeping the conversation brief, so if you wish to avoid a long call, that may be off topic, texting can be used as an alternative.
If you receive ‘spam’ texts from friends or colleagues along the lines of “pass this on to X people” then it would perhaps be wise to speak to the offenders diplomatically asking them not to include your in these texts – perhaps citing that your phone only has a limited memory. If someone regularly continues, you have to option of blocking the number .
This form of communication can be a difficult area, for some people it is a formal means of communicating like a letter, to others it is as informal as a text message, having the benefit of fast and easy communication.
Before sending an e-mail, you should consider if the message could be misunderstood by the recipient… is it direct and to the point? If you have typed the e-mail in reply very quickly it would be wise to save the message to a draft for a short time and then go back and look at the message anew a short time later. Many people often find that they type something and send it before thinking through what they were saying, and this can lead to stress, so taking the time to think before sending can prevent this stress.
If you are the type of person that feels that they have to check their e-mail constantly or need to read an e-mail the moment it comes in, you should be aware that this can distract you from the tasks at hand. If you find you fall into this category, you should limit the amount of times that you check your e-mail throughout the day.
Some people find that letting colleagues know that they only check their e-mail for example twice a day at set times, their colleagues will not expect replies out with those times. Likewise if you are working on a task that requires your total concentration, do not check your e-mail at all while doing the task – if need be set your out of office to produce an automated message explaining that you cannot be contacted via e-mail at that time and perhaps offering an alternative means of communication for emergency or important questions that require an answer then and there.
Reducing the amount of e-mail you receive, and thus need to check, will reduce your stress. How can you do that you ask – firstly eliminate all forms of spam mail. Many e-mail packages have a spam filter moving spam directly to your deleted items. If you regularly receive spam mails from colleagues or friends ‘passing on humour’ or ‘please forward to ten friends and return this to me’, either use rules in your mail package to filter these to a folder to be checked later, speak to the friend or check if your e-mail can filter out certain words and move items containing those words to the deleted items immediately.
Using a separate e-mail address for personal rather than business e-mails can also help filter out the unimportant from the important messages.
Messenger and IRC programs
Many organisations have banned the use of these in the workplace due to the fact that many employees are distracted from their work and thus productivity has been significantly reduced.
Advice in general (whether at home or in the workplace) is that if you are working on something important, do not have these running (or at least appear as signed out). This will again cut down on the distraction and enable you to finish your task sooner.
IT can be used in a variety of ways to make your life easier… however only if you use the right tools for the job. It is no use trying to hammer a nail in a wall with feather. The right tools for the job can make our lives easier. For example, word processors can use a feature of mail merge, meaning that a letter need only be typed once and can be sent to many people. If you have calculations to do, a spreadsheet can be the tool that will help you. Needless to say that you should be given appropriate training for the software.
IT can also be used in other ways to reduce stress directly – from playing relaxing music to using a screen saver with affirmations.
Do you take a laptop with you everywhere? Do you really need to carry it with you so often? Do you really need to be in constant contact? Are you using it to connect to the office from home? Are you sitting on the train or in the airport working on work documents regularly? How is your posture… do you find that you suffer from pains of carrying the laptop and working from it?
Having said the above, the ability to access work from home can be a good thing if used wisely. If for example you need to spend a day working on an important task and do not want any distractions (and if you have a workplace that is in agreement), you could work remotely – this would mean that people would find it harder to contact you, and so the work distractions would be less. Likewise if you work in a noisy environment this ability to move from the main hubbub of the noise to either a different office or from home can help you concentrate. Many people who work remotely have found that their productivity increases significantly due to this elimination of distractions, meaning that their tasks are done more efficiently, and often quicker, which in turn reduces their stress levels too. BE aware however that this way of working does not suit everyone.
These can be used to reduce your stress, while carrying out tasks you can play music – this can cut out distractions from the workplace – it is also amazing how many people will not disturb a person that appear to be listening to music.
You can use them to listen to relaxing music on your bus or train journey to work, to play affirmations, to listen to guided meditations… and much more.
Yes this can be a distraction… but it can also be a great way of relieving stress!! How often do you find watching a favourite television programme or a good film can have an effect on your moods? Likewise, it can be used to help you unwind at the end of your day, to bring humour, or just enjoyment. Yes television can reduce your stress… just don’t watch it while you are trying to do a task, nor in bed at night (as this can keep you awake).
Be careful what you watch before going to bed, as something that will keep your mind racing will keep you awake… so if you need to be at work the next day… record the horror film, or watch it on catch up TV.
Perhaps the ideas from the 1950s and 60s is not as far off as it originally seems… we may not have hover cars, robotic housekeepers but we do have technology that will serve us if we use it well, and in turn our stress is reduced.