Contaminated Time: Finding The Digital Balance In Our Homes and Workplace

Last week, my daughter and I were at the grocery store. When we were checking out, the 18-year-old cashier was ringing my items while we were packing the groceries. After he finished ringing, there were many groceries that still needed to be packed. However, he chose to pick up his phone and scroll through social media. I then told my daughter to stop packing and wait. To her horror, she knew exactly what I was doing and implored, “Mom, just finish packing.” I quietly explained that the cashier is engaging in non-mindful behavior, which is causing him to have a poor work ethic. It was a solid four minutes before he looked up and said, “I’m sorry, I thought you were packing.” I then explained in a kind manner, “You really should not be on your phone while you are working. I was helping you by packing my groceries, because you were ringing. When you were done ringing, you should have noticed that there were many more groceries that needed to be packed, and that it is your job to finish the transaction, not mine. I am the customer.” He looked slightly taken aback, but offered an apology and began to bag the remainder of the grocery items.

Image courtesy of Unsplash

It is evident that today’s teens feel that their devices are acceptable to use anywhere, at any time. As adults, we must not only set an example of finding technology’s place, but we must educate and empower the youth of today to be mindful of their surroundings and be fully engaged in the here and now, especially at the workplace. If you are a manager or owner of a business where you employ teens or young adults, I encourage you to make this part of your orientation process so that your expectations are clear from the onset. If you are an educator, I urge you to pay close attention to how your students are using the devices that are in the classroom. Students may be shopping online while you are teaching chemistry. Others may be scrolling through social media while you are teaching English. Some students might be playing their favorite online game while you are teaching history. These devices are a distraction and many colleges and universities are seeing it firsthand. Some professors are instilling a “Technology Free Zone” in their classrooms.

Psychologists have coined the term “Contaminated Time” as a way to describe how technology is co-mingling work, home, and free time. Because of the frequency and ease with which we use technology throughout the day, our free time has merged with our work life. There are no clear boundaries. As we all have experienced, anyone can email or text you a question regarding work during dinnertime or your child’s soccer game. If you do not set limits of not answering people at certain times, you will contaminate your family time, and convey that many things are more important than the people in your presence. This scenario can go both ways. While you are at work, your children or spouse may contact you regarding family issues and obligations when you should be tending to your job responsibilities. This can cloud your mind, and distract you from fully concentrating on your work responsibilities, contaminating your time.

Image Source: MissTravel

Avoid Contamination

Follow these steps to avoid contaminating your time:

1. Communication Is Key — If you are at home, and you receive a work call that must be answered, properly communicate this to the people around you. (“Please excuse me, I have to answer this call.”)

2. Set Limits — Let all family members know that you should only be contacted at work for emergencies or necessary contact. This will teach them the important skill of waiting for the proper time, and not feed into the instant gratification that they are so used to.

3. Educate for Mindful Behavior with Devices — There is a time and place for social media scrolling and the workplace is not it.

4. Etiquette — Decide what is important to you in regard to your family’s surroundings and the workplace. Enforce the proper use of devices where manners are expected, (i.e. no devices in boardrooms, cafeterias, dinner tables, etc.) so that face-to-face communication can be fostered.

5. Socialize — Sometimes we need to disconnect so we can make a true social connection.

Written by Katie Duffy Schumacher, Author of Don’t Press Send: A Mindful Approach to Social Media; An Education in Cyber Civics. For more information, visit www.DontPressSend.org.

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