08/13/2012 12:14 EDT | Updated 10/13/2012 05:12 EDT

Workers Need Reflection More Than Relaxation This Summer


It's summer and the livin' is easy with some well-deserved R & R.

But in this high-tech, always connected, 24/7 world, R & R just ain't what it used to be.

No longer Rest and Relaxation, today's R & R should stand for Rest and Reflection.

With hundreds of emails a day, countless texts, and a smorgasbord of appetizing apps, we need time to reflect in this auto-bot age about whether we're creating real value for our customers, our bosses, ourselves and our careers.

We're all so busy with our nose to the digital grindstone; we sometimes can't see the Facebook for the tweets, the forest for the trees.

Our parents' and grandparents' generations needed R & R because they did heavy, physical work in factories and mines; on farms and assembly lines. Their bodies literally needed time to rest, relax and regroup.

But in the information age, it's the blur of knowledge work that bombards our senses day after day, minute after minute. With rapid keystrokes we're doing the equivalent of tightening lug nuts -- with the big difference being the assembly worker got to see his or her finished product at the end of the line.

Yesteryear, so many workers simply filled orders; orders typically from managers and customers. Today, more is expected from us, especially with Open Book Management best practices that flatten organizations and demand rapid decisions from more employees, not just the bosses.

But are we looking ahead? Do we spend time reflecting about where our company is going and whether our jobs will exist in five, 10 or 20 years?

Need some examples? I bet the good folks at Kodak all wished they'd spent more time reflecting about the future -- say, 20 years ago or so. Talk about a powerhouse getting blindsided and eventually ending up in bankruptcy.

Closer to home? What about Yellow Pages, the search directory in search of a direction and a lifeline. Yellow Media Inc. was a $17 stock five years ago and now trades at 7 cents.

Beyond Yellow Media, what about newspapers and other publishers? Their world changed so fast: Google took their classified ad dollars and new media pioneers like the Huffington Post took their readers. What about travel agents? Music producers? Even lawyers and accountants? Have you checked out how cheaply you can buy quality legal services at LegalZoom? The list is long, indeed.

You may be sitting there thinking; "Well, yeah, but those are all service and content industries. Our company makes real stuff."

Don't be smug. Assuming the manufacturing of your stuff hasn't already moved overseas, just look what's ahead with 3-D printing. In essence, the technology is evolving, improving and becoming affordable to make exact replicas of most anything: from designer purses and giftware, to automotive parts and even body parts. Check out this demonstration of a 3-D printer making a human kidney for transplant.

I am not arguing that we are heading to a Frankenstein age, but we are, as the book says, in a Race Against the Machine. Robots, 3-D printers and machinery are taking over many jobs we never would have thought they could. Artificial intelligence really is that good.

Next year, yes 2013, there will be 1.2 million industrial robots working worldwide -- that's one robot for every 5,000 people, according to the aptly named Marshall Brain, founder of "How Stuff Works" and author of Robotic Nation. Robotic growth will only speed up in coming years.

But it's not all doom and gloom on the job front. Humans have always moved on to other things when machines took their jobs; from weavers losing out to loom to tractors taking over the fields.

It's different now, though. It is brainwork, not simply brawn, being replaced, too. When it comes to future work, we've got to use our brains like never before.

The key is to reflect and think about what's next. Don't get caught like the lab coats at Kodak or the walking fingers at Yellow Pages. Always strive to add value. Think about whether your job is susceptible in the next few years. Is your company in harm's way? If so, do you have ideas to put forward or do you pull your chute and move on to another job now?

Don't let the information overload distract you from today's R & R - Rest and Reflection. Your livelihood will depend on it.