May 25, 2017 Practice Points

How Women Can Set Digital Boundaries and Why it Matters

By Chantel M. Kramme

There is no question the practice of law has changed significantly over the last few decades, and technological progress has undoubtedly contributed to the change. Technologies such as email and smart-phones have created efficiencies and the opportunity for more flexible work arrangements, but at what cost? In “How Setting Digital Boundaries Can Help Women Succeed,” an article recently published in Forbes, author Amy Blankson provides a thought-provoking look at how technology has led to the blurring of work and personal life. Blankson argues that “job creep” can have a negative effect on productivity, creativity, and job satisfaction, and her article offers women advice on how setting digital boundaries can help foster success.  

While few of us would deny our reliance on these technologies, the numbers Blankson shares are nonetheless eye-opening. Studies show smart-phone users check their phones an average of 150 times a day. A 2012 survey by the Center for Creative Leadership found 60% of smartphone-using professionals keep in touch with work 13.5 hours per day and spend another five hours checking work email on the weekend.

In her article, Blankson encourages professionals, especially female leaders, to buck the trend by setting digital boundaries for themselves and those they lead. Blankson believes women in particular are afraid to support the imposition of such boundaries, fearing they will be seen as “soft” or having lower standards. She points out, however, that implementing boundaries does not have to come at a cost to the organization’s bottom line. Studies suggest minimizing distractions benefits both employers and employees alike. For example, one study found that an eight-second interruption (the amount of time it might take to read a text message), results in an employee making twice as many errors when completing a complex task. A 2009 experiment by Harvard Business School professor Leslie Perlow found carving out periods where employees were not expected to respond to emails or calls resulted in employees reporting lower stress, twice as much excitement about going to work, and a 23% increase in job satisfaction.

Blankson offers a number of suggestions for those looking to set digital boundaries for themselves and others:

  • Ground your intentions. Set guiding principles that shape when, where, why, and how you interact with technology. Examples Blankson gives include setting a “phone stack” rule at the dinner table or setting a resolution not to look at your phone immediately after you wake up.
  • Turn off non-essential notifications. Limit the opportunity for unnecessary distractions by changing your notification settings.
  • Hide your phone. The presence of a phone alone can disrupt your focus as it causes you to anticipate a call or message.
  • Check email less. Blankson cites to research suggesting that those who check their email less frequently become less stressed.
  • Set expectations. Communicate your boundaries to others in a respectful and professional manner. If you are candid, others will likely be satisfied knowing what to expect from you.

While these tips may not be practical for all lawyers all of the time, Blankson’s article highlights the value of taking a more conscious approach to our use of technology. 

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