Having a Life in a 24/7 World

By Christopher M. Leporini, REALTOR® Magazine

Technology has made it impossible to leave your job behind. Work follows you everywhere; pagers beep, PDAs prompt, and e-mail connects us 24-7. The problem is especially acute for real estate professionals, who can easily fall into the trap of always being “on-call.”

It takes more than pawning your pager or tossing your laptop off a cliff to achieve a balanced life, says Gil Gordon, author of Turn It Off: How to Unplug from the Anytime, Anywhere Office, Without Disconnecting Your Career (Three Rivers Press, 2001. $12.00) Telecommuting and virtual office expert Gordon, whose work has been featured in publications ranging from the Wall Street Journal to USA Today, espouses a philosophy that is not so much anti-technology as pro-moderation. Rather than advocating total abstinence from technology, the book argues that individuals should recognize the effect it has on their lives and take steps to keep those effects under control.

Gordon’s thesis is simple–you have a fundamental right to allocate some portion of your week to work-free and work-limited zones. To regain some balance between home and work, Gordon suggests carving your week into three distinct categories and letting your clients and co-workers know when you’ll be accessible:

  • On duty: This is the time you carry out the majority of your work. You are fully available, accessible, and willing and able to do your work.
  • Off duty: The polar opposite of being on call. This is your “don’t call me; I’m busy having a life” time.
  • Mid-duty range: The middle ground between these two extremes. You can make a deliberate decision about how accessible you will be on weekends or after hours.

Firmly establishing a set of ground rules that address your level of availability can keep technology from invading your life. If your office knows that you don’t check your e-mail on Sundays, for example, you won’t have to feel guilty about spending the afternoon with your family.

Turn It Off also gives you advice on how to communicate your plan without damaging your job or your client relationships. This is largely dependant on advance planning. Improvisation leaves you unprepared and less likely to make convincing arguments for your new schedule. You should know exactly what limits you wish to introduce and your reasons for introducing them. For instance, if long hours are stressing you out, then freeing up some time may actually improve your productivity.

Additionally, you should tailor conversations about your plan towards each individual. Some people prefer seeing a memo in writing before discussing important scheduling issues, others might prefer an informal conversation over a cup of coffee. Finally, always remember to keep your cool and listen to other people’s concerns. There’s a fine line between aggressiveness and assertiveness, but you can get your points across without alienating anyone.

The idea that everyone deserves some time to themselves may seem like a radical notion in today’s wired world. Ultimately, however, ignoring quality-of-life issues can have serious consequences including burn out and diminished productivity. Technology that allows you to stay in touch while you’re in the office, on the road, or working from home has been a tremendous boon to real estate professional. But nobody should have to be a slave to their cell phone. You don’t have tune out completely, but you shouldn’t ever forget that it has an off switch for a reason.

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This post was contributed exclusively for REALTOR® Magazine.

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