Using BlackBerrys and E-mail after work

I just read an interesting article on that dealt with the issue of non-exempt employees using BlackBerry’s and other electronic devices during after work hours. The article claimed that “Workplace BlackBerry Use May Spur Lawsuits. Basically the premise is that people who use a work supplied BlackBerry after work to do anything related to their job are working and if they are non-exempt they should be paid overtime. I’m exempt so my employer has nothing to worry about, but it is something managers should keep in mind if they are issuing these devices to non-exempt employees. The article suggests having policies in place for after-work usage of BlackBerry’s and also e-mail. It was also suggested that employers either not issue these devices or ask non-exempt employees to leave them at the office.

There was also some interesting stats in the article that I can relate to. According to the article, a survey by Cohesive Knowledge Solutions showed that the “average professional spends 50 minutes a day sending emails after work.” Also a “recent survey, 25 percent of workers said they plan to stay in contact with work during their vacations, and 9 percent said their bosses wanted them to be working or at least checking voicemail and email while on vacation.” I am sure that I am not the only person involved with library technology that can relate to these numbers. Actually, I am surprised that the number was only 9 percent who had bosses who wanted them to check their e-mail on vacation, but I guess the survey probably was based on a broader audience of job seekers.

It is true that new communication technology has made the workplace 24/7. This blurring of the lines between work and play is an interesting phenomenon and I think many of the best systems people in libraries I know truly do lead a blended life. Working and advocating for technology for libraries (esp. those who work on Open Source Software for libraries) is part of their being. I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing. In fact, I think it can be a good thing (as long as ones boss understands that the effort you put into work outside of work requires some flexibility on their end as well). However, people that lead this blended life need to make sure they make time for their family, friends, and themselves. I personally have been trying to go without checking work e-mail as much on the weekends and after I leave work. It is hard because it will only take a minute or two. Of course, then you see some e-mails that will only take you a minute or two to get off your to do list, and then all of a sudden, you have easily used up the reported 50 minutes a day outside of work checking e-mails.

I think in order to make this all work and not become over-consuming is good time management skills. I think this is even more so with tenure-track (and other) positions that require publications and/or presentations. While there are thousands of time management books out there, the one I recommend is Time Management for System Administrators by Tom Limoncelli. What I like about Limoncelli’s book that I haven’t seen in the other books I have browsed it is is geared towards people with jobs that require constant interruption (think “The printer is broken!”). I also like that he doesn’t just talk about time management at work. His book discusses how to manage your personal time as well as your professional time. For someone with a blended work/personal life this is a good, and possibly only, approach. One example of how he does this is suggest that if there is a chore that you have to do all of the time that you don’t particularly enjoy and it can be outsourced at a reasonable rate and quality, you should do so. For example, if you hate doing laundry, why don’t you pay the local laundromat that offers full service to do it for you. Sure it costs more than if you did it yourself, but your time is valuable. You could be getting paid to hack code for more than it would cost you to pay someone to do laundry. As I said laundry is just an example, maybe for you it is cleaning your house or mowing your lawn, or any number of other things. Another gem in his book is the calendaring and to-do list management. I really can’t do his system justice in this short blog post, but I will say that his approach can work with a PDA or a PAA (a Personal Analog Assistant – i.e. a daily planner notebook) and you should purchase the book or take it of your local library and give it a try. It really isn’t that complicated (if it was, it wouldn’t work) but I have found it effective. The basica premise with the to-do list is to have manual intervention every day on your tasks. If they get automatically moved by your calendering software, you’ll never get to them. The other part is to make sure you don’t get these long endless lists. As I said read the book to learn how he does it.