The following description fits you or someone you know very well to the letter: You don’t go anywhere without your cell phone. When you’re in a restaurant, at a networking function, on a date, or on vacation, your smartphone is on, trolling the ether for yet another urgent update on other people’s lives. And you can’t help but check it out.
It wasn’t always this way. “Remember when we had answering machines?” asks Linda Kester, president of the Institute for Personal Development in Voorhees. “We weren’t connected all the time. And we survived.”
Kester’s message is clear — permanent accessibility stresses us the hell out. And there’s an easy solution to this problem. But how many of us would actually be able to do it?
Kester will present “Time and Stress Management,” one of three morning sessions on professional development at the NJ Bankers Women in Banking Conference on Thursday, June 5, at 8:30 a.m. at the Palace at Somerset Park. Joining Kester will be Cynthia Rowan of Performance Management Solutions, who will present “Maximizing your Mentoring Experience as a Mentee, Mentor, and Organization”; and Diane Scriveri of Bogota Savings Bank and Roseann Casiere, who will present “Developing Networking Skills.”
Afternoon presentations will include sessions by Lisa Bonsall and Sheila Calello of McCarter & English; Christine Cumming of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York; and Kathleen DiChiara of the Community Food Bank of New Jersey. Cost: $245. Visit www.njbankers.com.
This addiction — and it is an addiction, Kester says — to technological communication is a pandemic. Sure, it started with the Type-A types, who needed to be in control, in constant contact, and on the cutting edge. But it slowly infected the Type Bs and Cs and whoever else, and now we’re in a world where people walk down the street talking loudly to no one visible, and we think this is normal behavior.
“People feel like they don’t want to miss anything,” Kester says. The trouble is, this “anything” people are afraid to miss usually isn’t anything important. Or at least not pressing. And, really, the big trouble is all this false urgency created by constant updates, constant social media noise, and the need to stay available at all times is affecting the health and work lives of professionals everywhere. “We shouldn’t make ourselves available all the time,” she says. “There’s no down time.”
Down, boy. The simplest way to not be connected all the time is — gasp! — put down your phone. And not in the “put it in your pocket for 10 minutes” kind of put it down, Kester means put it down and out of sight.
But you won’t, will you? So few actually do. Kester sees it all the time, especially among people who do know better but tether themselves to their phones anyway. “People ‘should’ all over themselves,” she says. They tell themselves they should let the voice mail pick up, but they don’t do it. They tell themselves to put the phone on the coffee table and go read for an hour, but they don’t do that either.
Kester’s simplest prescription is to set the phone down an hour before bed and simply not go near it. Whatever is out there, it’ll still be there in the morning. And, amazingly enough, you’ll find you’ve lived through the night without knowing that someone “liked” your Facebook post.
Bad vibes. One of the biggest troubles Kester sees in people is that they’re really hard on themselves. Their stress levels mount under the assault of a rather sneaky one-two punch of seeing what everyone else is up to and seeing themselves fall short of their own efforts.
“They’re only seeing the highlight reels of [other people’s] lives,” Kester says. They’re not seeing the things that don’t work out because people are quite adept at managing their own PR these days. Consequently, everyone seems to be doing way more and way cooler things than we are, so what do we do? Feel like crap about ourselves, yell at ourselves, and get busier without necessarily getting more productive. And this problem snowballs when people start telling themselves they need to change this or that about their work habits, only to come up short and feel even worse.
On the other side of this, those of us not made of plastic and microchips are usually ignored for those of us who are. How many times have you seen two people together, and one of them is thumbing away on a smartphone while the other looks on? Stuff like this makes people feel pretty unimportant, Kester says. It makes for bad relationships and adds to the stress of the person we’re with.
One of the first things Kester does when she meets a stressed-out client is give her baby steps. “I don’t want them to be stressed from learning new stress management techniques,” she says. That “shut it off an hour before bed” thing? That’s a baby step. The trick is to build from minor, easy-to-do things, or it just wigs people out that they have a whole new plan to contend with.
Know the difference between urgent and important. There’s no shortage of urgency, with the speed and frequency of information these days. But is it important? Say, for example, you’re an E-mail junkie. You check it all the time. Worse, you feel like you have to answer everything immediately, even though the person who sent it has no way of knowing whether you’re in your E-mail account or even near a computer or phone.
So you feel a sense of urgency all the time. But is any of it important? How much of it needs to get done right now vs. what can wait a bit? “I tell people they’ve got to get on the No train,” Kester says. “You’ve got to learn to say no to some things. You need to be productive, not just active. A lot of people are very busy, but they’re not very productive.”
A baby step? Answer your email twice a day, and no more. And make sure people know they’ll only hear from you between certain hours. They’ll still be there, and you won’t have to race through everyone else’s urgency at the cost of your own productivity.
Kester typically gives talks on subjects related to sales or business building, such as closing deals on the phone or prospecting. Her background in sales and finance led to this career path. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Kester earned her bachelor’s in communications from East Stroudsberg University and started her career selling photocopiers door-to-door (“Because I needed a job.”). “That’ll teach you how to sell in a hurry,” she says.
The company offered a leasing program, and one of the leasing companies offered her a job in finance, which wasn’t far off from her father’s CPA career. In 1996, at the age of 30, Kester had her second daughter and asked her company if it had a flex-time option to allow her to work and raise the baby. It didn’t, and she quit to start IPD that year.
Over these 18 years, she’s watched professional people get more and more stressed over trying to keep up with all the info bouncing around out there. Her talk for NJ Bankers, she says, was built directly from requests from clients and audience members who feel they need someone to tell them how to calm down and use their time more wisely.
Kester’s largest-scale prescription is to completely unplug at times. Mark times on your planner or calendar to just stop, shut the phone off or set it to emergency contact only, and let yourself recharge. And when you’re on vacation, be on actual vacation. Don’t check in with the office or clients. They’ll get along fine without you for a while.
“People need to laugh more and get more joy out of life,” she says. “That’s ultimately how we measure our lives. Not by the money.”