use mobile to work smarter

We explain how to use mobile to work efficiently and creatively, without burning out. (See also: How to survive a business trip.)

Ubiquitous connectivity and the rise of the portable computing device means that personal communication has never been easier. If you want to be, you can always be connected via phone, email, IM, social media and more.

At the same time the UK has developed into a knowledge- and service economy, in which revenue is generated by ideas and services rather than actually making stuff. You know this, of course.

This combination means that for most people 'work' is no longer a place to which we go, it's a thing we do. And we do it all the time.

This can be a good thing: adding flexibility to busy lives, allowing people to work from the commute and the school run.

In principle this should save time for fun and relaxation elsewhere. Of course the reality is that many of us are slaves to our smartphones, checking them last thing at night and first thing in the morning, and allowing time for very little else inbetween. This is not an efficient way to work or a nice way to live. And it is a sure fire way of burning out. (Also read: 49 tough CIO interview questions.)

More important is the effect this can have on your team, and the productivity of your team. Technology alone doesn't make for an efficient and creative workforce, it is the way we use it that counts. And as a senior leader you can set the policy, and set the tone.

There are a few golden rules that will help you to use mobile technology to stay connected and efficient, but energetic and - well - sane. And stop you having to throw your clothes away on the beach and run into the sea. Sticking to the following rules will inculcate good behaviours in your team.

Here are our 7 ways to use smartphones and tablets to get your team to work smarter.

1. Triage on the train, answer at leisure

You receive a message, it makes you angry or excited (probably angry) and you start immediately typing a reply. This is not a good use of email in any circumstance. For one thing a textual message is never an emergency, and your first response is never as valid as a considered appraisal of what is after all an electronic letter.

But if you received the message on your smartphone whilst watching your daughter's school play, an immediate reply is definitely not a good idea. Get into the habit of using your smartphone, tablet or laptop to check your messages at set times. But get out of the habit of replying immediately. Rare is the email that requires an immediate response.

By all means check email on the train to- and from work. Leave marked as unread messages to which you need to give a response, but don't respond until you have the time and you are definitely working. And then use the appropriate medium. On which...

2. Take it offline

Email and text-based messages can be a brilliant time saver and efficiency tool. The same is true of collaborative work tools such as Slack. But they can also be a time sink, and in the wrong hands a passive-aggressive weapon of mass irritation.

Many, many conversations are best held either in the room or over the phone, but this does require some self-discipline and a little training of your colleagues.

If as you check your email one evening you see that a colleague has copied you in on a thread just so you can see that they are annoyed about the way someone is behaving, you have three choices. Reply to the email, ignore the email, or wait until the morning and talk to them. You know the correct approach, and it's definitely not option one.

As often as possible, make a note to respond to emails, but respond in person. The face to face interface is a lot more efficient than firing off messages back and forth. And if you refuse to engage in email conversations that are better taken offline, you'll soon find that people take the time to speak to you. And you aren't spending your evenings furiously typing.

3. Set notifications

A demand for technology has seen our attention spans decrease significantly over the past few years.

Whether it’s news posts, calendar invites or collaboration tools, mobile phones are constantly alerting us of updates, and other pesky notifications.

We should get into the habit of limiting mobile notifications to ensure they can switch off from work. By categorising apps by importance and restricting apps you can limit time spent on mobile devices. What’s more, it can help maintain a healthy work life balance while also reducing a work overload.

There are some apps out there designed to help with this, Offtime, Breakfree and Moment.

4. Impose a curfew

You may need to buy an alarm clock for this one, but it will be the best money you ever spent. A senior colleague of mine switches his phone off at 8.30pm each evening, and refuses to sleep in the same room as his phone. All his colleagues know this, and none of them thinks he is a disgraceful slacker.

The point is that this habit of checking messages last thing at night and first thing in the morning is very bad for your health, and not great for your efficiency. You won't sleep well if you don't give yourself time to disconnect before you have your Horlicks. And you will be a much more successful operator at work if you are rested and enthused.

5. Team support

Many of you will be managing several responsibilities including managing multiple teams across departments, sites and time zones. The support of mobile can help you to monitor workloads and general tasks. It's obviously a great asset.

Popular team management and collaboration tools such as Slack offer a long list of positives, including improving collaboration and team communication. However, they can sometimes halt work and become a place for social activities, not work.

6. Do disconnected things you love

As the man in the terrible advert used to say: it's not all work, work, work. You will be a much more efficient colleague and employee if you take the time to do things that aren't work, and that take you away from your always-on smartphone.

I play sport for many reasons, but one of the key ones is that if I am on the golf course, you can't reach me. (Golf doesn't do much for my anger, however.) Go for a walk, cook a nice meal, visit a gallery, listen to music.

Whatever you love to do, do it regularly and make sure your colleagues know you can't be reached while you do it. No-one will think you are lazy, everyone will appreciate your zen-like calm. And work will still be there when you finish.

7. Set house rules, and stick to them

Of course you can't spend five hours on the golf course every day (you can't, I've tried). For most days of your life you will be chiefly working, feeding and sleeping. But you can still ensure that for key moments of the day you are switched off and focused on what is going on around you, rather than waiting for the ping of an incoming email.

This is especially apposite if you have small people in the house: when dinner is on the table phones should be off or out of the room. Try it even if you are just having a conversation, playing a game or watching a movie. Your messages will still be there, and just as urgent, in an hour's time. But your ability to deal with them efficiently will be so much the better.