Is A Good Work-Life Balance Possible In The Digital Age?

The nature of work is changing as the always-on culture takes hold in a fast spreading digital economy. But the fight back has begun as workers search for a better work-life balance.

Time for boundaries

With the advent of the internet boundaries between work and non-work time are blurred, because technology’s ever present nature intrudes. Technology doesn’t discriminate as it steals our attention and transports us to another place.  Smartphones, ipads, laptops and computers disrupt us at work and at home, as they disturb what we are doing. But as we succumb to every needless bleep our concentration is repeatedly taken. Technology is designed to scramble our brains with temptations that are difficult to resist.

Such constant interruptions come at a price however as they cause physical and mental unease in equal measure. Physically they affect our gut, as it tightens to trigger tightness in our stomach, which triggers tightness in our chest. They generate anxiety in the brain, as it tries to make sense of what is happening and why. Any sensible response is difficult because interruptions flood the senses before they can be processed or understood. Such scenarios start at the beginning of the day with an overload of information, as we check our smartphone; throughout the day, as we needlessly respond to every message; and in the evening, as we fool ourselves that we will catch up before the next day’s onslaught begins.

Time to step back

Breaks for coffee, time for reflection and opportunities to talk with friends and colleagues are reduced, as time is squeezed in the mistaken belief that trying harder will make things better. The truth of the digital economy is that technology influences what we do and will keep doing so until we take back control by managing interruptions and eliminating distractions. Feelings of frustration and stress will continue too, as we keep trying to do the impossible. But the rules have changed and it is only by saying no to interruptions that we will be able to work and live with a sense of balance in what is a new and different world.

The relentless nature of the digital world requires us to step back from its technology-induced mayhem to consider our responses and actions. Taking time to slow down doesn’t mean we’re failing or falling behind. It simply means we’re taking a little time to decide on what is important and what is not, so we can focus on the former and ignore the latter. In the absence of such an approach the speed of technology will push us to stress levels that cause burnout and physical and mental health problems.

So, the nature of work is changing as success no longer means working harder to a point of burnout but working smarter to a point of balance.