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How Technology Can Help You Strike a Better Work-Life Balance

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I'm a big believer in work-life integration. I don't believe "balance" is a matter of compartmentalizing work and life, but of making the two integrate seamlessly. And while many find that technology is one of the major things hindering their work-life balance, for me it's a major tool in enabling a healthy work-life integration.

When I was growing up, moms and dads would talk to each other at the end of the day about the kind of day they'd had. Nowadays, my friends and family know what I'm up to throughout the day, whether it's through Twitter or Instagram, a quick daytime phone call or an email dashed off between meetings. Of course, these are not substitutions for real quality time -- and I make sure I spend plenty of that with loved ones too -- but they are meaningful little ways of staying connected throughout my busy days. These tools give me a sense of being part of people's lives and sharing in their days, while we're all pursuing our separate tasks.

And staying connected is especially important for me right now, as my son has headed off to law school in the States (trust me it never gets easier!). I'm not alone either -- with the world becoming a smaller and smaller place, more and more of us have loved ones in distant parts, or constantly on the move. Finding ways to stay in touch not only strengthens individual relationships, but also helps us each stay grounded and balanced.

So, how do I do it? If you're struggling to maintain relationships throughout your busy days, or over a long distance, here are some of my favourite things to do:

(1) Use The Written Word
Yes, we have a world of technology at hand, but getting a card or postcard is still one of life's simple pleasures. When you want to reach out to somebody with a heartfelt (but not urgent) message, a handwritten card really does make a difference. Handwritten cards still carry professional weight too -- when was the last time you sent a handwritten note to a client or customer? Trust me, actions speak louder than words!

(2) Let Your Thumbs Do The Talking
Text messages are like conversational shorthand, a quick way of making plans, letting somebody know you'll be five minutes late, etc. But they're also an easy way to reach out to share quick one-to-one messages, stories and anecdotes. Whether you're at a favourite lunch spot that reminds you of somebody, or you just stumbled upon a great purchase, a text message lets you share that sudden burst of humour or joy, or even melancholy... those little moments that are often left unshared.

(3) Free Long Distance
So many of us have loved ones all over Canada and I have just discovered an amazing app that makes long distance an affordable solution. Enter Fongo: the first truly free mobile calling service in Canada. By simply downloading the app, Fongo's Dell Voice provides a way for us all to stay in touch without spending a cent. Fongo connects any device (Blackberry, Android or iPhone) anywhere in Canada, for free. This is ideal for students to stay connected with their parents! Hint, hint...

(4) A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words
Sometimes, it's more about "show" than "tell." With tools like Instagram, Yfrog and Twitpic, I can share snapshots throughout my day. Whether it's an incredible celeb sighting at TIFF, or the picture of my dog, Grady, looking innocently at me right after he's trailed wet paws on my white floor, those pictures capture the small moments that make up our everyday life. You don't have to be a photographic talent, but some days you do want to walk out of your house and share that perfect cloudless day, or a fresh bunch of peonies and these tools allow you to do just that.

(5) All a-Twitter
And of course there's Twitter! It's like a mass text message that you share with a large group of people. Of course, Twitter and Instagram are also professional tools, but I use them in a very personal way. For me, it's all about sharing the sincere joy that comes with both work and life. So, while I'll tweet about a client's product that excites me, I'll also tweet about a movie I just watched or an inspirational quote. But it's not just a one-way street, Twitter also lets me interact with people I might not otherwise encounter "in real life." And that's where work and life really do integrate -- when you form new connections based on that simple sense of sharing!

With this multitude of tools at my disposal, I manage to stay connected with the day-to-day lives of friends and family, peers, loved ones and even form new connections. That way, when we do spend time face-to-face, there isn't so much to catch up on -- we know what's been going on in each other's lives. And instead, then, we can simply spend time together and be in the moment.

There will never be a substitute for spending real face-to-face time with people. Making eye-contact, giving them a hug, that physical contact and ability to read each other that happens in person can never be replaced. But, that doesn't mean we can't also take full advantage of the tools at our disposal for the times in-between! And, for me, it makes my work days better and my personal time more rewarding, when I'm able to integrate one with the other. They don't have to compete for my time, I can carry those key friendships and relationships with me throughout my working day!