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Tame your technology

by ACS Career Navigator
March 7, 2016 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 94, Issue 10

Technology has made our lives better, allowing us to do more and do it faster. However, technology doesn’t improve everything. Have you thought about what you’re gaining by using technology and what you’re losing?

To-do list.

Credit: Shutterstock
Choose face-to-face conversations over technology.
Two people with a cell phone
Credit: Shutterstock
Choose face-to-face conversations over technology.

Everyone has a to-do list. Writing your tasks down and prioritizing them not only removes distractions, but also makes you more likely to accomplish your goals. Some people take a shortcut, using their e-mail in-box as their to-do list. Although it’s tempting to use this precreated task list, what it really does is let other people set your priorities. The requests of a person who contacts you more frequently or recently may appear more important and more urgent. Don’t allow others to dictate your priorities.

Upgrade your conversations.

We’re always trying to do more with less. Instead of meeting with a colleague, we make a quick phone call. Phone calls devolve into e-mails, and e-mails give way to text messages. At each step, some of the subtext and details are lost. Though this may be fine for getting facts, you lose the opportunity to build a relationship with shared experiences. When a more complex problem arises, you don’t have a foundation on which to build a solution.

Invest the time in upgrading your conversations. Instead of dashing off a quick e-mail, walk down the hall or pick up the phone. Often, a quick conversation can help you avoid a long chain of e-mails going back and forth. You need to hear or, even better, see the other person’s reactions to make real progress. This is especially true for interpersonal issues. An “I’m sorry” in a text message doesn’t carry the same weight as saying it in person, where you have to watch the other person’s reaction.

Though face-to-face conversations take more time, in the long run they have been shown to be associated with higher productivity and lower levels of stress.

Give yourself a time-out.

If people see that you are always available, they will come to expect it and wait until the last minute to contact you, turning your life into a series of emergencies and interruptions. Instead, make it known that you check e-mail, texts, and other messages at certain times, and only respond then. Your coworkers will learn to contact you in advance, and you will have larger chunks of uninterrupted time. If you prefer, draft responses but hold on to them and then send them out in batches.

When you need uninterrupted time to think or to have an in-depth conversation, take a real break. Go someplace without Wi-Fi, then turn off your cell phone and put it away. Just having the phone on the table is a distraction, preventing you from being fully engaged because you expect to be interrupted at any moment.

Technology should exist to help you and make your life better. Make sure you are using technology and not allowing it to use you. A good book to read is “Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age,” by Sherry Turkle. Now go and have a real conversation.

Get involved in the discussion.

The ACS Career Tips column is published the first week of every month in C&EN. Post your comments, follow the discussion, and suggest topics for future columns in the Career Development section of the ACS Network (


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