A thought for August

August and it has been hot, hot, hot. We are all moving slowly and looking for things not to do. Plants and grass in our gardens are dying. Children are kicking through leaves as they eat ice creams – how very strange it is!

Life is being pared back to the bare minimum.

At the same time the media has been telling us that we look at our phones every twelve minutes. However much we need them that is a frightening statistic. Five times an hour we stop whatever we might be doing and catch up with something else. I wonder what the something else might be in your life? What can you not live without?

Is it the obvious things like texts and emails? In a way they justify themselves as they might be work. What else do you look at? Social media in all its glory? Do you stop working and doing the things that pay your bills in order to look at pictures of other people’s food and dip into their lives? Do you feel better for that? How many of you remember the round robin letters that accompanied Christmas cards? They were full of posh holidays, big family events and clever children who passed their GCSEs when they were 10! They were designed to arouse jealousy and made the reader feel inadequate. Social media can be just the same but without the subtlety.

Then there is the whole cult of taking photographs. Instead of enjoying the experience we have to photograph the experience. I was in an art exhibition recently and people were taking pictures of the pictures! Why?

Now do not get me wrong I love technology that helps me do more, enjoy more or be more effective. I just hate the stuff that makes me feel I am inadequate or missing out on life. Just because I can find out the time in Atlanta does not mean I need to! Knowing the level of humidity does not make me feel cooler. Avoiding a traffic jam is wonderful but only because I get home to those I love sooner.

I love my phone in an emergency, or when I am late or when I am at a festival and can keep up with what is going on in other tents or venues. I love being able to send texts when I am looking for a friend at those big events or I need to know the weather or check out how the trains are running. I love being able to manage my bank account when I might have forgotten to pay off my credit card. It is great to be able to conjure up the book I am reading on my Kindle when I get stuck somewhere. I could go on and on about how fantastic this computer in my hand is…in its place.

However I also find it frightening.

Let’s start with the way people use them on the move. How often have you been barged by someone not paying attention to who else is walking on the pavement? I am a wheelchair user and my machine is electric and therefore silent. I am also not at eye level. I have to be extra alert because the people around me are not and yes, I do get abused for getting into their way. I have to remember they get angry because they are startled and scared.

Are phones the accessory that stops us wondering what to do with our hands? It used to be caressing a drink or smoking a cigarette, now it is holding a phone. In excess they will all kill us.

Phones are definitely for making calls and I am glad that the art of conversation is not dead for everyone (but for a few it is). However, do I want to share some of the intimate details that they reveal? Those ear pieces convince them that they are in a private space. And of course it does not occur to them that I might be able to identify some of the people they are speaking of. In London that would be a long shot. In Bedford it happens.

So why in my business thinking space am I bewailing the mobile phone?

The first set of reasons are about what they do for self-esteem. Do I need to check my phone to be sure I exist? To feel important because someone is trying to contact me? To matter to someone? To be sure I am important? Am I more comfortable with the machine than engaging with the real world? Am I too shy to engage with the people around me? Is it dangerous to be seen doing nothing? Is the phone the modern-day version of a shield? All of these things concern me if they might be true for some people.

Then as a business mentor I am perturbed by the implication that if we carry a phone that is switched on we are available. When I first started work I remember being with a wise old manager discussing something or other and the phone rang. I waited for him to answer it and learnt an important lesson when he said the person in front of you is always more important than the person who randomly decided to ring you at the same moment. How true that is.

We need chunks of time to engage in some of our tasks. Lessons in schools are not 30 to 40 minutes by accident. This length of time gives us an opportunity to engage with a task and then do something productive before your attention starts to tail off. Try using your phone’s alarm to alert you to when the work period ends.

Phones can be a fantastic displacement activity. Checking them can take 10 minutes. If you have not enough to do then checking your phone can while away the time. If you want to be productive think of your phone as an addiction you need to control. Think of it as a piece of machinery to help you simplify your life or make it more effective rather than a habit to be fed come what may.

None of this is original. Use your phone as a friend rather than a demanding boss – control it rather than letting it control you. Live your own life.

If this has been interesting, please share it. If you are thinking of working with a mentor, please chat with me about what you are hoping to achieve. I might be the right person for you or I can help you find someone who is. In the meantime, life is good; let’s live it to the full and be the best we can be.

Elizabeth Toogood – Your Critical Friend – www.toogoodcriticalfriend.co.uk – [email protected]