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How to Be a Workaholic Without Being a Jerk

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In the year 2020, technology such as web-connected mobile phones will continue to blur the boundaries between people’s work and personal lives — as well as their real and online lives — according to a survey of “Internet leaders, activists and analysts” conducted by the Pew Internet and American Life and released a few days ago. From the report:

The divisions between personal time and work time and between physical and virtual reality will be further erased for everyone who is connected, and the results will be mixed in their impact on basic social relations.

Of course, as the increasing incidents of parents checking BlackBerrys at soccer games and job fairs held in virtual worlds makes clear, the impact has already turned up mixed results. In particular, as boundaries become blurred, so do manners. And I’m not talking about which fork to use; I’m simply talking about considering how your behavior makes other people feel. Below are a few tips for navigating these murky waters with grace — something I still fail to do. You may already know these, but when it comes to polite behavior, a refresher never hurts. As a bonus, some of these tips could make you more productive, too!

  1. Pick a social network for each persona, and be strict about who gets in. Maybe Facebook is for friends and LinkedIn is for business. Or maybe you have a secret identity on Facebook for your buddies or a password-protected personal blog. The web offers many wonderful tools for updating folks about your personal life, but the best ones offer you a way to keep others out. Use these filters, especially if you don’t want to offend coworkers or clients with the latest tale about your ex. Don’t rely on them not finding you. They can — and will.
  2. Add your contacts to your cell phone and screen, baby, screen. This is my most common failing. I only use one number for all of my calls and I am lazy about updating new numbers. So, when a number shows up after hours that I don’t recognize, I occasionally answer it. More often than not, I’m stuck with an apologetic PR person who hears my kid shrieking in the background and wonders why I answered the phone if I can’t talk. Guys, it’s me, not you.
  3. Broadcast your communication preferences. Don’t be shy about letting people know you prefer email to phone calls, and update your status message so coworkers know when you’re around. One of my colleagues uses her outgoing voicemail message to let people know she checks email far more often than her voicemail, and she suggests people contact her that way instead.
  4. Keep your online presence on the up and up. If you’re going to identify yourself, your tweets, blogs, tumblr logs and even comments should be something you could say in front of a client. If you want your clients to know (or ask) about your baby’s bowel movements, then talk about it openly online. If that drunken night at a strip club doesn’t fit with your professional image, then keep those tweets to yourself.
  5. People and existing conversations trump gadgets and potential conversations. No matter if you’re talking face-to-face with a person in the real world or a virtual one, when an electronic interruption chimes in, take a second to offer an, “Excuse me.”  If you must, answer it. Better yet, ignore it if it’s not pressing. This is one of those “basic societal relations” that shouldn’t be changed, but somehow as we spend more time on our mobiles this rule is the one broken most often.
  6. Focus on one task. I am so guilty of this, partly because I work from home, but also because I tend blend my work and personal life. I try to juggle instant messaging with my editor, interviews and cooking dinner. This cheats everyone — and results in terrible food. And so, yes, I deserve the karmic payback of having to pee next to someone talking on their cell phone in the bathroom stall next to mine.

If technology gives us the tools to work from anywhere, we need to make sure we manage the fluidity that comes with combining our working and personal lives as well as making sure our virtual persona passes professional muster. Until there’s a better way to manage or maintain these boundaries, manners will have to see us through.

11 Responses to “How to Be a Workaholic Without Being a Jerk”

  1. I was so guilty of many of these that I had to rent office space. I wanted to make a clear distinction between work and family, but I have to admit that having the ability to work via mobile devices has made it difficult to stick to that. I eventually got two cell phones so that I could distinguish between work related calls and personal ones. When I’m in the office, I screen my personaly calls, and vice-versa. While this has helped the situation, I still fall prey to many of the things you’ve discussed.

  2. Fully agree. I especially like and practice#1 and #3 (keeping separate persona and being clear about communication preferences). And finally, reserve some time during the day when what-you-like-to-do gets precedence over what-you-have-to-do.

  3. So true, karmic payback is coming to us all until we figure out how to integrate new technological paradigms into our daily work/life balance and reset expectations about what it means to have a corporate job. It will happen though. And within the next 2-5 years will be the norm as companies reach out to where the talent is vs. where they are headquartered. – S

  4. Hey Oren, thanks for pointing out Toktumi, I just signed up with them. I love the ability to add a business number to my cell so I don’t have to carry around two phones or worry that a biz contact will get my personal voice mail message. We’re a local business but I added the free 800 number, figure it can’t hurt to offer it and hey it’s free so why not. So far so good, yeah for workaholics ;)

  5. theoriginal.wahd

    I actually think that’s one advantage to the “digital workaholic” age, if you will — you can spread yourself pretty thickly if you know what you’re doing. I wear a number of hats as a manager, freelance writer, and stay at home dad (not to mention cat and dog owner) so many is the day when my workstation is complete chaos, but hiding behind a LinkedIn profile or a iPhone text helps keep my business relationships professional and my personal relationships honest. I keep the two spheres as separate as possible. I even email co-workers with my personal email address if it’s a non-work-related matter, and my advanced 800 through handles ALL biz calls while my local handles all personal. But both of these examples are fairly easy to manage — because of the internet, because of gmail, etc. Sometimes I feel like a juggler, but I rarely see a ball hit the ground.

  6. For item #2, you might want to check out a new offering from my friend Peter Sisson’s company Toktumi – it is essentially the best parts of Grand Central mixed with the best parts of Wildfire. If you upload your contacts, you can set rules that certain contacts get through, but others go to voicemail (or that it prompts you to find out if you want to answer it). And you can change those rules over the course of the day.

  7. My pet peeve is a group of friends having dinner with half of them taking photos of their food and updating their statuses, or uploading their food pictures to Facebook….. You are in a REAL social situation, why do you feel the need to escape back into your online world??