Are you thinking your Blackberry use is out of control and you need to turn it off? Forget it. The problem is not the Blackberry, it’s you.

The Blackberry actually gives you the freedom to effectively mix your personal life and work life so that they don’t have to compete with each other.

Don't talk to me about the idea that the Blackberry undermines your ability to have work-life balance. First, the idea that you could ever have it is ridiculous. But a Blackberry at least gives you hope.

Without a Blackberry, you always had to choose one or the other. Work and life were always competing for large chunks of time in the day. But with the Blackberry, you can have a blended life where work life and personal life complement each other. What I mean is that the Blackberry makes it so you can always do work but also always do your personal life, so you choose which one has priority, minute to minute.

In the 80s, if you went to your kid's soccer game, you could not do work. Today, you can go to your kid's soccer game and take the call from the CEO that will change your life (or have a fight with a co-worker) and then go back to soccer. You get both. It's not one or the other. If you could not take that call, you could not have gone to the game. That’s why the Blackberry is great for your life.

The challenge that the Blackberry brings is that you always need to know your priorities, at any given moment. Anne Zelenka at Web Worker Daily describes this process as really focusing on one or two things and that's it.

Then ask yourself: Given what you are doing right now, which emails and which calls are important enough to take? If you are not clear on the answer at every given moment, you are constantly having to make difficult decisions about answering emails or not and you feel a false sense of overload by the demands of the Blackberry.

If you are having sex, you have a good sense that very few emails in the whole world need your attention right then. If you are at a birthday party for ten year old boys and they are screaming up and down a soccer field, you are probably bored and emails look a little more enticing. This is not about addicted or not addicted; this is an issue of knowing when email is essential and when it’s a distraction.

You have probably been out to dinner with friends and they checked their Blackberry. This means you are not their most important priority at that time, just for that moment. You of course hope that your presence would make you most important, but in fact, it did not. Does that mean your friend is addicted to her Blackberry? No. It means your friend is prioritizing and she’s letting you know that you rank high enough for in-person, but you don’t trump everyone.

That seems fine. Normal, really. If people would just call a spade a spade and stop complaining about the device and start thinking about how to make better choices for their priorities.

If you want to see a whole generation make great choices about their priorities using the Blackberry, then latch onto Generation Y. They have been managing multiple steams of conversation simultaneously for more than a decade, so they are aces at it. And they are fiends for productivity tips. The most popular blogs are productivity blogs, and David Allen is a rock star in this demographic. So young people are constantly using prioritizing tools to make their information and ideas flow more smoothly for both work and life, back and forth, totally braided.

Blackberries are tools for the well-prioritized. If you feel like you’re being ruled by your Blackberry, you probably are. And the only way to free yourself from those shackles is to start prioritizing so that you know at any given moment what is the most important thing to do. Sometimes it will be the Blackberry, and sometimes it won’t. And the first step to doing this shift properly is recognizing that you can be on and off the Blackberry all day as a sign of empowerment.

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  1. CAK
    CAK says:

    The 50 replies seem to have covered all the bases, all the possible motives, all the related issues quite well.

    I think that when we are doing our best, we make the best use of an “assistive technology” such as a blackberry. There are times of sloppiness, too, when you are tap-dancing so fast to get to success that you may trample good manners underfoot.

    How you use your blackberry or cell phone or any tool is a reflection of your values. I think if you are trying to do your best, you cannot go far wrong. Or if you do, you self-correct (with the help of posts such as these) and apologize, if need be. Isn’t it always two steps forward and one step back, in all of life, in any profession or role?

  2. cindy
    cindy says:

    The blackberry is a great tool and is another sign of our growth. Seriously we still need to turn them off when it comes to spending quality time with children and loved ones. A blackberry can be recharged even updated but life’s moments cannot be!

  3. Jennifer Lynn
    Jennifer Lynn says:

    I have a hard time with this concept of "work/life balance." I just have "life," and in it, there's work, family, friends, etc. Who says that each of those has to be attended to only during specific, pre-determined blocks of time? If there's room to navigate, why not do it? My blackberry allows me to keep on top of the most important things in my life, regardless of what category they fall into, regardless of where I am physically. (Google Maps for blackberries is also really handy when you get turned around on those little streets in the West Village. I'm just saying.) It's an all-around win. I guess this is the "braided life" thing, but no one I know calls it that.

    Also, my blackberry is almost never turned off, but just because people want to reach me doesn't mean I have to let them. Sometimes other things are more important. And as far as people being rude and answering their phone/blackberry at inappropriate times…they are probably more in need of an etiquette lesson than anything else. It's not the blackberry's fault!

  4. Phreaked
    Phreaked says:

    You get the call from the CEO and you get to be at your kids soccer game. “You get both.”

    Do you really get both or do you get lesser quality expressions of those things? Personally I hate to take work calls in noisy areas, it affects my train of thought and I don’t touch on nearly as many points as I would care to. Secondly, while you’re meandering away trying to find some quiet while you chitchat with your boss, your kid could turn around after scoring a goal and get to look at your back. Lovely.

    You do not win. You don’t get both. Blackberries only make (some)people THINK they can achieve more. Really it works off the distraction mentality you mentioned, controlling their ability to prioritize on their own.

    IF I ever feel like I have to check my phone while I am out to dinner I excuse myself to the bathroom. I advise any of you who would think it’s acceptable to take a call at dinner to do the same.

  5. Greg Myers
    Greg Myers says:

    Very well written Penelope.
    I read and write quite a bit regarding BlackBerries and this has got to be one of the most thought out points of view I have ever read.
    Kindest Regards,
    Greg Myers.

  6. James Morrissey
    James Morrissey says:

    If there is any one piece of gadgetry I love more than my BlackBerry, I have no idea what it could be. You’re dead on here Penelope, it helps with the balance and if it’s taking over your life it’s because your life would have already have been out of whack.

  7. Joey
    Joey says:

    I’m a Gen Y’er, and I think out of my friends (and class), I’m the only one that knows about David Allen, GTD, and Merlin Mann.

    I have a BlackBerry, but I like to think I have decent berry etiquette (berriquette?).

    I’ve actually found the boomers to be worse. I’ve had my boss send emails while I stand there waiting in the hall or in a restaurant.

    But could I go back to a normal phone? I don’t think so.

  8. Sham Sharma
    Sham Sharma says:

    I wonder how people “managed” before printing or the steam engine was invented. Time HAS actually become a serious constraint; every single one of us cannot possibly retain the same equilibrium if this is so. Where will all this end?

  9. 1WineDude
    1WineDude says:

    Everybody needs to chill out and go drink some wine already. But I’m biased :-).

    I ran the program to re-architect the Blackberry Infrastructure for a major CPG company. I learned the hard way just how much logic, reason, and human decency is completely chucked out the window and left for dead by the side of the road by company execs who use these devices and are totally addicted to their use…

  10. James Mc Fadden
    James Mc Fadden says:

    I have never had a personal cell phone or pager. Becuase of my filed of work and being on call they are company issued. I have known going into every job in my profession that I am on call 24/7. I do not get many calls but when I do it’s serious enough that I frequently will have to go to work or make arangements over the phone to have problems taken care of. It does not matter if I am on vacation, at a party, at dinner, etc. I have even walked away from schdule hair cut to take care of company business. That’s the job. All of my friedns and family know, so its never an issue to take a call of leave a dinner.

    I would prefer not to have one or be on call, but I am compensated well. I do not want to be that in touch all the time. I am selfish and want my time to me.

  11. Katybeth
    Katybeth says:

    I was thinking about this post seven days later, as I was watching my 12 year horseback riding lesson and checking my messages and catching up on a few calls. I have been a mom long enough to know what I will be tested on after the lesson–Last week, I was able to head to the Taste of Chicago, and while my son and friend rode the Ferris Wheel (no way, thank you) I was able to play “catch up.” Technology has helped me be a more “present” mom. I can wave at a Ferris Wheel and schedule a reservation–how cool it that!

  12. Dale
    Dale says:

    With the current social phenom. of living mindfully in the present moment becoming more and more of a recommended lifestyle ideal, I wonder if the multitasking afforded by tech devices really is a positive option. I mean, conducting business at a child’s soccer game or texting at a play is not sending a very positive message to the individual you are physically with, but ignoring. But then the message sent is a truthful one – i.e. “You are not the most important thing in my life right now.”

    My 2centsworth:)

  13. James Mc Fadden
    James Mc Fadden says:

    LOL, All generations think that they are revolutionaries. Good luck to you. The facts are pretty simple. Business work the way the do because it creates the most profit for the share holders. Any change in that would mean less profits for those invested in the company. Remember that big business is not a bunch of old guys sitting around a table discussing how to fleece their customers and employees. Companies are owned by shareholders, retirees, pension plans, 401K plans and investors. To accommodate your new way of working and lifestyles would mean more overhead for business. Once again good luck.

    I do like to read your blog. I don’t get most of your expectations work and life. When I grew up it was work hard, the harder the more you can accomplish, and you will be rewarded.

  14. Michael
    Michael says:

    I just listened to the podcast of your appearance (?) on The Brian Lehrer Show. If only Brian himself were there. Andrea Bernstein is just awful. Not only did she completely miss the point you were making, she actually resisted it the whole way through! Why did they invite you on the show then?

    She asks dumb questions, too. I deleted that whole week of podcasts. Brian’s back now, so it’s safe to go back in the water again.

    You did a nice job, by the way. For some reason, we are quick to find something to blame for our bad behaviors. “It’s not me, it’s my Blackberry.” Calling it “road rage” doesn’t change the fact that it’s RAGE. And that’s YOUR problem to work out – not some “syndrome” that you can dissociate from. Take some responsibility for your actions.

    If the device is controlling you, it’s because of YOU. Leave the device out of it.

    And always make sure you know who’s hosting.

  15. The Opinionator
    The Opinionator says:


    As I am in the midst of a two week vacation, I can identify with this post. My Blackberry has allowed me to put out any fires and delegate what needed to be delegated quickly, allowing me to get back to my family and fun. I have never taken a vacation this long and the Blackberry is the tool that helps make it possible. This is also true in my everyday life. I am able to be productive more of the time in spurts of what was wasted time so I can focus on important things.

  16. Kyle
    Kyle says:

    I recently won a blackberry, and I can’t decide whether I should activate it or not. It seems like it could make me more productive, but at what price? I have found a much better way to stay productive. The good old fashioned way; with pen and paper. Except the pen and paper I use are a little high tech.

    I use a Pulse smartpen (made by Livescribe), and it is so helpful, that I use it more frequently than my computer.

    If you’re tired of Blackberries (and other pieces of tech)controlling your life you should find a product that you control. It’s on sale right now too. I bought mine at Target, but I wish I had bought it online at the website because I recently found a 10% discount coupon. The code is PulseBTS10.

    Hope this helps.

  17. Cardbross
    Cardbross says:

    It seems to me that most people here view the blackberry as a one-way intrusion of work into home life, and in that context, I understand the ire about it. For me and mine, though, it also functions to intrude home into our work lives. Admittedly, we’re young, so we don’t have kids yet, but I find myself checking my phone at work for messages from friends/the girlfriend/whomever about as often as I check for work things after-hours. My boss is aware that I do this, and for the most part, sees this as part of her compromise regarding flexible hours. There’s an understanding that I will occasionally handle work-related issues from home, and a reciprocal understanding that I will occasionally handle home related issues while at work. The blackberry enables both of these behaviors.

  18. noel
    noel says:

    I was really hoping this posting was going to be satirical. The examples used to illustrate your point are a sad indictment of this technology’s (along with cell phones) erosion of basic human courtesy and respect.Giving friends, family, loved ones your full attention for the brief moments we have when not grinding out 50 odd weeks a year at the office, should be something to cherish. I really appreciate your frank and insightful career postings but this one seemed way off. I’m not a Blackberry owner.

  19. lazysouth4
    lazysouth4 says:

    Can someone please tell me the way to universally delete that little messege that says “Sent from my blackberry” at the bottom of my emails? This notifyer is not necessary. The respondants hacked phrases, multiple typos and broken language were evidence enough that they did not reply through regular email.

  20. Joseph Christoff
    Joseph Christoff says:

    “Does that mean your friend is addicted to her Blackberry? No. It means your friend is prioritizing and she’s letting you know that you rank high enough for in-person, but you don’t trump everyone.”

    totally ridiculous. The perspective of this 25-year-old is that if someone checks their email while out to dinner, they are rude and need a lesson in manners, and I don’t care if they are a CEO or a secretary. If you can’t “prioritize” the people in front of your face, maybe you shouldn’t be interacting with live people in the first place until you’ve been properly socialized.

  21. Detox Diet Doc
    Detox Diet Doc says:

    I used to have that kind of sentiment. I hated it when I receive a call from the clinic during non working hours but after an incident, it makes me realize that having a Blackberry (that’s turned on) is crucial to my career and it actually helped my career!

    I look at it this way now: Having it turned on should not be a hassle, I can always choose not to answer and only choose to respond after I’m done with whatever I’m doing. It’s a lot better than not knowing that somebody from office tried to reach me and only to find out the very next day and it could be too late but like what you said, you always need to know your priorities.

  22. Eden
    Eden says:

    I may say that the Blackberry really provides us attachment to work and personal life. This is a great way to still connect back tracks to your work while paying attention to your own personal time.

  23. Brady Bagwan
    Brady Bagwan says:

    The digital age that we live in has many advantages but has some downsides as well. Time is becoming more precious for professionals since technology prevents you from getting away. Setting boundaries is essential to preventing burn-out. Delegation is the other part of the equation. For those that don't have a staff, who do you delegate to? One way to overcome this is to use a personal assistant service. I just started a company called Delegate Source based in Denver. While there are quite a few concierge services out there, there are very few who approach lifestyle and household management broadly. It really is simple math. If a professional’s hourly cost is more than the cost of outsourcing personal services, why not achieve a better work/life balance by delegating errands and tasks?

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