We might not have control over exactly how we spend our workdays. But we can control how we interact with and use the technology that powers them.
More and more, our days are controlled by the tech we use. Our calendars say when we’re available for meetings. Project management tools tell us what we need to be working on. And email, Slack, and IM make us available for conversations (and interruptions) at all times of the day.
They’re powerful tools. But in order to get the most out of them, we need to know exactly how they serve us best.
We like to call this a “Tech Policy of One”—a set of rules or guidelines around how you use technology, how people should interact with you, and when and how you’ll respond to messages across different platforms.
Creating your own tech policy of one is a simple exercise that can boost your workplace productivity, but one that few of us go through. Here’s what it should include:
Why you’ll want to think long and hard about how you interact with technology
Whether you’re a freelancer, manager, founder, or work for a larger company, it’s important to know how you work best. And a huge part of that is how you use technology.
The problem is, most companies skip this step and assume individuals will figure out the best ways to use their tools. But how many of us go through this process?A Tech Policy of One is a chance to define how you would ideally interact with technology in the workplace. Click To Tweet
Instead of just being reactionary and responding to every ping and ding like your life depended on it or letting things pile up without any of your colleagues knowing that you’re heads down on important work, your personal policy helps you set and manage expectations around how and when you prefer to communicate.
Not only does this simplify your decisions throughout the day (and help protect your sanity!) but thinking through your tech policy has some interesting unexpected benefits:
- This sort of “job crafting” has been shown to increase our sense of purpose and meaning at work: Studies have shown that defining how you want to work creates a more powerful connection between you and your daily tasks.
- It forces you to define what a “good day” looks like to you: As best-selling author Ryan Holiday says, “if you don’t know what your ideal day looks like, how are you ever going to make decisions or plans for ensuring you actually get to experience them on a regular basis?”
- It opens up more time for Flow and meaningful work: The average worker checks email or IM every 7.5 minutes. By defining when and how you’ll use these tools you can set aside more dedicated time for deep work and Flow.
How you put this policy together is up to you. It could be a short doc you share, a blog post, or even just a few bullet points. The format doesn’t matter as much as the thought process that goes into it.
What to include in your Tech Policy of One
Your tech policy will be personal and dependent on how you want to work. However, there are a few specifics you should cover in order to get the most out of it:
1. How and when do you prefer to work?
The first step is a clear definition of how you like to work and what tools you prefer to use. Some basic questions you can answer would be:
Do you want to work in-house or remotely?
This might not be your choice at your current job. But having a clear understanding of whether or not you’re willing to work in-house (or remotely) helps keep you from entertaining opportunities you wouldn’t normally.
What tools do you prefer to use for communication and collaboration?
Do you prefer emails or more real-time communication tools like Slack or HipChat? If both, how do you use them? Are emails for larger ideas or documenting strategies while Slack is for quick questions?
What about collaboration? Do you use Google docs or Dropbox Paper to collaborate on docs? Or do you prefer to use track changes in a word processor?
How and when do you want feedback on your work?
Understanding and setting expectations around when and how feedback is given will keep projects moving smoothly. But often, we don’t explicitly state what kind of feedback we’re looking for.
First is how you want to receive feedback. Do you prefer notes and comments or do you want to jump on a call?
Next is when you want feedback. An issue that creeps up over and over is asking for feedback to late or early in a project without clarifying what you’re asking for. One solution is to use the 30/90 rule, where you ask for broader, high-level feedback at 30% and specific tweaks at 90%.
2. When are you available for meetings, call, and chats?
As behavioral designer Nir Eyal said:
“If you don’t plan your day, someone else will. Something is going to take up that time if you don’t.”
Your calendar is a powerful tool and can be a great part of your Tech policy. Setting your availability beforehand and making your calendar open for others to see means that you’re only taking calls and meetings when it works for you.
Eyal suggests “Syncing up” your calendar with key stakeholders on a regular basis. Show them your calendar, when you’ve set availability, and how much time you’ve set aside for meetings, calls, and chats throughout the week and ask them if they think it’s enough (or too much).
3. How do you use notifications and what are your expectations around getting and giving responses?
Whatever tools you’re using to do your job and collaborate with teammates, there’s a good chance they want to pry at your attention. But each of those pings is an opportunity to interrupt you from meaningful work.
Your tech policy should include how you set up notifications in tools like Slack or Trello. And as an added bonus, when people can expect responses from you.
For example, how quickly will you respond to emails? And will all emails be treated equally? Jocelyn K. Glei, author of Unsubscribe calls this choosing either a proactive or reactive approach to email:
“Instead of using email as a tool for proactively getting the work we want to accomplish done, we often treat it like a boss, adopting a reactive approach where we treat every message as if it had the same importance and urgency.”
The same policy can be applied to your other forms of communication.
Will chats be considered near-real time or dealt the same as email? At a previous job, I held Slack “office hours” where I made myself available twice throughout the day (10–11AM and then again at 4–5PM).
However you define your responsiveness, the key here is to be upfront about how you’re using these tools rather than always being at their beck and call. It’s not always easy to talk about expectations around communication. But it’s much easier when you have a policy in place.
And of course, if you’re in any sort of collaborative environment, be sure to give an emergency contact to those who might need to urgently get in touch with you.
Check out our guide on How to Set up Slack for Focused Work to take back control over your daily communication.
4. What are your biggest digital distractions and how do you deal with them?
Along with how you want to use tools, your policy can also address the ones you know are most distracting.
When we spoke to writer and Exist founder Belle B. Cooper, she explained how email constantly pulls her attention away.
So she created a personal policy around how to handle it:
“I tend to handle email (including customer support) in batches, working through as many emails as I have responses for, and leaving in my inbox only the ones that require longer-term work to deal with. While I might see emails during the day, if I’m working on something else I’ll almost always leave those emails to be dealt with some other time.”
In your own tech policy, you might choose times throughout the day when you’ll batch certain, potentially distracting work like meetings, emails, IM, or responding to comments.
How you can use your Tech Policy of One
If you’re a freelancer, you can send your tech policy to a new client to set expectations around tools, processes, and when to expect feedback and communication.
If you’re working a new job, your policy can help determine how you interact with colleagues and leadership and show that you’re transparent about your process. This is so important in making sure you have time for meaningful work and aren’t being constantly distracted or interrupted.
And if you’re running a company, a personal tech policy can help set company culture around communication and expectations for new employees.
However you use it, explaining your process and policy makes sure everyone you work with is on the same page and knows what to expect of you when it comes to technology and responsiveness.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to tell people how you want to work
Going through this exercise, it’s easy to start feeling like you’re being overbearing:
“Here’s MY way of working. I’m letting you know so you can conform to it.”
However, you need to remember that most people won’t look at it that way.
Communication and collaboration are keys to meaningful work. And it’s a lot easier to have the conversation around how you work best when your own policy is clearly thought out.
Do you have any sort of personal tech policy like this in place? How has it helped you at work? Let us know in the comments below.