When Sandholtz, Derr, Buckner, and Carlson published their book in 2002 entitled Beyond Juggling: Rebalancing Your Busy Life, the authors assumed that the impact of technology on everyday life was at its peak. They introduced five concepts to improve the professional-personal balance for successful people, mainly alternating, outsourcing, bundling, techflexing, and simplifying (Bruzzese, 2002). However back in 2002, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube, Linkedin, and a dozen of social media forums had not existed; and smartphones were a rarity. Still, Sandholtz et al. described the ability to use technology for improving time-management skills. Today, their book may well be outdated, as technology has ravished every aspect of our lives, but their techflexing concept demands further exploration.
When we wake up in the morning, the first thing we do is look at our smartphones for updates. We check what’s new on Facebook, download emails, answer text messages of work, personal, and leisure nature, read the news, and make a couple of calls for a variety of purposes – all in a matter of a few minutes. The advancements in technology have created powerful devices that can serve as success criteria, or waste our entire being (Firat, 2013). Moreover, this new technology has bundled our personal and professional lives into a handheld device. Whereas at a previous era there was a clear division between work and private life, today they are blended without clear borders.
What is Techflexing?
Techflexing is the “astute use of technology to foster flexibility and balance” (Ezzedeen, 2002, p. 55) between professional, personal, and aspirational lives. The techflexer generation can conduct work and run personal errands anywhere, anytime, thereby maximizing control over their schedules (Buckner & Sandholtz, 2003; Byrd, 2005). Techflexers can multitask effectively and combine contrasting activities through technical savvy approaches, using every minute for one purpose or another, but keeping the end in mind.
Mears (2002) explains how many successful people attempted to juggle between work and family in the past and failed. Today, the key to these individuals’ success is closely associated with how well they bundled and achieved their work-family commitments using techflexing. The nine-to-five working hours are now stretched to more than double, yet flexible enough to integrate all facets of life requirements and commitments. Hence, techflexers use technology to build flexibility into their work and non-work lives, leading to a more satisfying balance between the two (Sandholtz et al., 2002).
Access to mobile technology and the changing aspects of the working environment have removed the clear division between work and personal life commitments. A few decades ago, working hours were limited to the office setting; nowadays, work accompanies us to our HOMEs through our mobile devices. According to Burg-Brown, the average U.S.-based worker “puts in more than a month and a half of overtime a year – just by answering calls and emails at HOME” (2013, p.50). However, personal life is also intruding into the work environment through the same medium. Personal text messages, emails, news alerts, Facebook and other social media notifications are entering into the organization’s culture.
The new challenge of time-management
Based on Hughes, Ryan, and Green, “time management skills are essential for success with a variety of life skills pertaining to work, personal care, transportation, and recreation” (2011, p. 14). Too often, people are unable to manage their time effectively or to use technological tools to assist them in that task (Markovitz, 2011). According to an article in the Boston Globe in 2006, “43% of Americans categorized themselves as disorganized, and 21% have missed vital work deadlines” (Shewell & Coombe, 2009, p. 14). Poor time-management can have serious consequences, such as loss of trust and reputation, negative assessment of competencies, and inability to deliver within deadlines (Denning, 2011). Time is money; therefore, effective time-management can be a moneymaking skills.
The use of technology for staying connected should not hold an individual hostage to the demands of instant connectivity and availability (Burg-Brown, 2013). There should be some time during the day when a person requires being in the disconnected mode. It is important to evaluate continuously how we use our time, particularly our online time. This is easier said than done. According to latest studies, 73% of those researched would feel “panicked” and 13% would feel “desperate” if they lost their mobile phones (Burg-Brown, 2013, p. 51). The following questionnaire indicates how hostage you may be to stay connected.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Do you have more friends on Facebook than colleagues in your network?
- Do you consult your smartphone before you go to bed? (Is your excuse I need to set my alarm?)
- Do you take your smartphone to the bathroom?
- Can you enjoy a meal without checking your e-mail or Facebook?
- What is the first thing you do after walking out of a meeting?
- What do you do within the first 15 minutes of waking up?
- Does your Smartphone use affect your sleep?
Moreover, multitasking can also provide pitfalls for effective time-management. While the techflexer considers the ability of combining two or three tasks simultaneously as criteria of success, the level of attention and control per activity could be compromised (Firat, 2013). This may cause continuous partial attention to several online activities not necessarily motivated by productivity but rather by a desire for connectedness.
Hence, the new era of time-management should not compromise the quality of output but rather focus on the end-results. Technology should be regarded “as a tool to be used for a purpose” (Firat, 2013, p. 270) rather than a process by itself. Through proper time-management and control, multitasking could become effective.
Following are several recommendations and suggestions that provide guidance for techflexing appropriateness, effectiveness, and time-management competencies.
Techflexing is not for everyone
Not all jobs, careers, and professions can fully utilize techflexing for improving the worker’s time-management skills. For example, a surgeon cannot use distant technology to create a balanced work-family life; however, it can be handy in organizing appointments and pre-post-surgery rounds. Effective time-management requires properly using the right technological tools, deciding when and where to use them, and setting the right boundaries (Firat, 2013). Examine and evaluate the appropriateness of techflexing in your own context.
Techflexing requires firm boundaries
Building on Covey’s (2004) Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Shewell and Coombe (2009) introduced seven strategies in which technology can help individuals be more effective:
- Use technology to organize important information: Technology offers several programs that, if used properly, provide time efficacy in retrieving vital and needed information.
- Use technology to remind ourselves of important matters: Scheduling events, appointments, and reminders with alerts provide effective management tools in organizing work and personal commitments.
- Use technology to keep track of how we spend our time: Examining your relationship with time through a time log that determines productive versus wasteful use of time is
- Use technology to organize our ‘to-do lists’: Based on Covey’s (2004) Time Management Matrix, techflexers can organize their segments and allocate a bigger portion to the important quadrants. Your mission statement should guide you towards the tasks that are most important (Denning, 2011).
- Use technology to get the latest news and information: With the information overload that accompanies technology, techflexers should wisely select their sources of news and
- Use email effectively: Studies indicate that over half the emails received daily have no relevance to actual work; techflexers should use emails effectively by regulating their frequency, limiting copied recipients, and integrating more information per
- Avoid technology time-wasters: Having the latest gadget, Internet surfing, information overload, forgetting passwords, and multitasking are a few examples of time wasters that should be avoided (Shewell & Coombe, 2009, 18).
Techflexing requires a reasonable level of technological knowhow
According to Firat, technology has created a gap in lifestyles between those whom are “digital natives growing with technology and the digital immigrants struggling to keep up with this technology” (2013, p. 266). There are the champions – those always operating on the cutting edge of technology – accompaniers – those operating within the main functions of technology – and laggers – those always struggling to keep up with technology. If you are in the latter group, techflexing may cause more frustration than assistance when it comes to time-management. Achieve a reasonable level of technological knowhow before realizing the full potential of the tools at hand.
Techflexing requires timeout
Regardless of your technological savvy abilities, every thing has a limit. Take some conscious time offline every day, even for a few minutes, to detach your physical presence from the virtual connectedness. This is an important action to reinforce your mastery over technology and release yourself from possible addiction to connectivity. Do not let your smartphone hold you hostage (Burg-Brown, 2013).
The power of technology is available to everyone. Techflexing is a lifestyle, not a purpose per se. It allows us to better manage the delicate balance between work, personal, and leisure time. Techflexers are humans connecting with other humans through relationships managed by technology. Let’s use it wisely.