04/06/2015 06:41 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Serve Others By Being a Healthy Device User

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It's 10:00 p.m. and, trying to adhere to your New Year's resolution to get more sleep (likely inspired by Arianna Huffington's book, Thrive), you're getting into bed with the intention of going to sleep.

You set the alarm on your smart phone for 5:30 a.m. so you can adhere to your other New Year's resolution to exercise each morning before starting work. Just as you reach from your bed to place your phone on the nightstand, you hear that "ding" or "dong" or some other sound that lets you know you've got an e-mail.

You know you're expected to respond to work e-mails as quickly as possible so you check to see if it's from work. It is. And, it's annoying.

You calm down a bit, apply the necessary thought work to reply appropriately and hit "reply all." For the next one and one-half hours you hear lots of "dings" and "dongs" as the conversation grows in intensity and finally winds down close to midnight. By the time you settle down from thinking about the conversation and getting over how annoyed you feel, it's almost 1:00 in the morning.

Has something like this ever happened to you?

If you have a management role, have you ever created such a situation for team members?

As leaders, a simple way to show team members that we care about them is to allow their time away from work to actually be time away from work. We should allow people to have social lives and family lives that are made more rich by being free from having to do, or even think about, work.

This is actually a win-win for both team members and the organization. There is a large body of research suggesting that allowing people to relax when they're away from work boosts productivity during working hours.

Those of us who realize that effectively serving and caring for team members is essential for long-term, sustainable performance certainly want to allow team members to completely unplug while they're away from work. However, actually doing this can be very challenging.

In an ideal world, we would strongly encourage team members to not work or think about work while they're away, and we would make a rule that managers are not allowed to e-mail or otherwise contact team members before 8:00 a.m. or after 6:00 p.m. In fact, in France, such a rule has been set in place by the employers federations and unions.

However, in this era that combines more thought work, flexible hours, and smart phones, the boundaries between "work" and "life" are becoming increasingly blurred. In this era and beyond, I don't believe black and white rules will ever be able to solve this work-life dilemma.

What we need are leaders who have a healthy relationship with their work, and their devices, who can model appropriate behaviors and encourage those behaviors in others. As with any other valued behavior, we can't expect team members to behave a certain way if we don't also behave that way.

This is one of the most crucial reasons leaders need to be engaged in at least a modicum of daily mindfulness training. Mindfulness training helps us to find a healthy balance between "work" and "life."

With training, we can learn to allow thoughts about work to come and go if they need to while we're "off duty" without allowing ourselves to pulled into distraction by those thoughts. We can still be fully present with family, or friends, or with ourselves.

Consistent mindfulness training also helps us to be more aware of our relationship to our devices. We are better able to notice to what degree we are addicted to our devices, compelled to react to them every five minutes or, like Pavlov's dog, whenever there's a "ding" or a "dong." We are also better able to be fully present and intentional about when and how we respond to and use our devices, and thereby be more present with the person we're with in a given moment.

Evidence of how important this issue has become to many is the rapid growth of a conference called Wisdom 2.0. The first Wisdom 2.0 conference -- designed to help people find ways to live wisely in the digital age -- was held in 2010. A little over 350 people attended that year. In 2015 over 2,000 people from over 20 countries attended the main conference and there will be three other Wisdom 2.0 events this year.

The degree to which we find a healthy blend between "work" and "life" and the devices that have become such a large component of both is the degree to which we help team members to find a healthy blend of their own. This is an important way to serve team members, our family and friends away from work, and the organizations in which we work.

How healthy is your relationship with your work?

How healthy is your relationship with your smart phone and other devices?


Matt Tenney is a social entrepreneur, an international keynote speaker, and the author of Serve to Be Great: Leadership Lessons from a Prison, a Monastery, and a Boardroom.

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