How Your Laptop Can Improve Your Work-Life Balance (Part 1)
To achieve more workplace flexibility, use your laptop as your communication "control center."
You will hear many people complain about how modern technology has made us less efficient, distracts us, or causes us to work even more than before. But here’s the truth: those people are not taking control of their technology and their time. If I ran my small firm the old fashioned way, I would have to commute to my office 5-6 days a week, work in a fluorescent-lit commercial office, get two weeks of vacation time per year, and have pasty white skin that never gets a lick of Vitamin D.
With the help of certain tech tools, I am able to work from wherever I happen to be: on an airplane, in my home office, on the beach, and—my personal favorite—in my pajamas. I also get to work whenever I want. This is very different from “all the time,” which is where most people miss the benefit of technology and turn it into shackles connected to their desk. These products and services give me the flexibility to work in a different time zone, at midnight when I can’t sleep, or early in the morning before anyone gets to the office—and never when the golf course is open or the surf’s up. I can easily work around those times, leaving them free from the “distractions” of work.
If you want to transform technology from an oppressive leash to a vehicle for flexible productivity, spend less time on the phone by maximizing use of your laptop to communicate with clients and colleagues.
Using My Laptop as my Communication “Control Center”
All of my channels of non-urgent communication filter through the laptop: my voicemails, emails, text messages, faxes and even social networking notifications. That way, I can access everything when I want to, not when the phone rings or a fax comes in. I have my laptop with me and I open it when I am ready to work—it’s in my control.
My preferred mode of communication is email, but I also make the most of voicemail and document-sharing tools.
Deliver Voicemail to Your Inbox
Use Google Voice! It’s a free service that will save you hours of time each week. If you have a Google account, you can add Google Voice and easily set up any phone number (your home, cell, or office*) to forward all voicemail to your assigned Google Voice number. Your callers will never even know the difference, but you will love that their voice messages get delivered to your email inbox and/or sent to you via text message. You receive a transcription of the message (albeit a bit rough) that you can see immediately upon looking at the email, and an attached audio file of the voice message itself.
Typically, you can decipher from the transcription what you need to do with the message. Does it require an immediate call back? Can you forward it to your assistant to respond? Is it a sales call you are glad to have missed? If you need to investigate the message more thoroughly, you can click on the audio file and listen to it from your computer.
Aside from giving you a way to retrieve voicemail through your email inbox, Google Voice also makes your voice messages “portable.” You can forward them, reply to them, file them, flag or star them, add them to your to-do list, delete them, or ignore them—all without picking up the phone.
If you receive a voice message that does not require a call back, you can simply email your response, and forward the Google Voice message in your reply for reference.
*Note that some office phone systems will not allow voicemail forwarding. For the most versatile and economic phone service, avoid office phone systems that don’t permit Google Voice. Once you go digital with your phone lines, you can easily integrate Google Voice into your system.
Maintain a Collaborative Status Document
To minimize emails and phone calls between you and your staff or co-workers, create and maintain collaborative documents (I use Google Docs and Google Drive) or message boards where everyone can update their work on certain matters. This serves as a hub where everyone can quickly scan one document to get updated on specific matters.
Also, if you set up a schedule of review for the document—that is, specific times everyone has to check in on the document—you can ask and address questions on the document. This is a lot more focused and less distracting than sending and receiving multiple emails on one subject or going back and forth on the phone.
Next time, we’ll dive into a detailed list of communication tools I use for phone calls, video conferences, faxes, cloud storage, and virtual assistance that help untether me from my brick-and-mortar office.
Sally Morin is managing principal of Sally Morin Law in San Francisco.