small business technology

By Rieva Lesonsky

In my 30 years in the small business arena I’ve seen amazing progress in small business technology, from the advent of the PC and fax machine to the Internet and smartphone revolutions. And while I love all the things I can do with my tech tools, sometimes I feel like they own me instead of the other way around.

Apparently, most Internet users are similarly torn about the value of technology. While 74 percent of respondents in a study by the USC Annenberg Center for the Digital Future say they can get more done in less time thanks to technology, 31 percent say it’s harder to separate work from personal life, 26 percent say being “on call” 24/7 due to technology increases their stress levels and 21 percent say mobile technology has made their lives more stressful.

And lest you think these are just grumpy codgers who can’t keep up with today’s technology, Millennials in the study were more likely than other age groups to say technology has a negative effect on their lives. In particular, they cited the stress caused by the lack of clear boundaries between work and personal time.

A Harris poll found similar results. Nearly seven in 10 respondents to that poll say technology is too distracting. Just 34 percent say it improves their work productivity (down from 42 percent last year), while only 39 percent say it improves their family relationships (down from 43 percent last year).

While neither study was specific to small business technology, as small business owners we’re more impacted than most by technology. The much-heralded ability to work anytime, anywhere, can quickly move from being a blessing (all those ads showing small business owners happily working on their laptops from the beach/their decks/the home office) to being a curse (the reality of hunching over a laptop, bleary-eyed, on a plane at midnight).

Is technology helping your business, your personal life and your employees, or is it starting to hurt? Only you, your loved ones and your employees can answer these questions, but if you are starting to feel that you’re becoming a slave to your devices, rather than them serving you, maybe it’s time to ask some tough questions.

  • Ask yourself: Do you feel like you can’t relax, focus or concentrate because you’re constantly grabbing at your smartphone, refreshing your email or checking your voicemail? Set times each day when you do these things so you can feel confident you won’t miss anything, but still have enough time to concentrate.
  • Ask your loved ones: Do they feel ignored or slighted by your use of technology? It’s great to go to your son’s soccer game, but not if you spend the whole time with your nose in your smartphone and miss his big goal. Create systems (like having your assistant text you anything urgent and setting a special ringtone for that) so you can pay attention to your loved ones without missing urgent messages.
  • Ask your employees: Are people spending hours a day replying to “reply all” emails? Are issues that could be quickly solved with a phone call devolving into 15-message threads? Make sure you’re using technology, not because it’s “cool” or because you can, but because it’s the best way to handle a particular process.