Last week, I was flying back from facilitating a leadership retreat in Mexico when something interesting (and familiar to those who fly often) happened as we landed. Buzzes, rings and chirps filled the air as everyone simultaneously turned on their phones and reconnected their device to the digital world. As I turned on my phone and waited for the onslaught of notifications, I realized for the first time how stressed and anxious I had become at this ritual of air travel.
The common expectation from colleagues, clients, family and friends is that we are always available and will respond regardless of how they reach out. We juggle emails from customers, Slack messages from coworkers and texts from a spouse - while our fear of missing out (or FOMO) drives us to like and comment on as many Instagram photos as possible...and post a few of our own. The results of this constant connectivity is well documented: workplace burnout, stress-related illness, sleep disorders and depression. But let’s be fair - technology can also be a source of increased productivity, it can expand our worldviews and make new connections possible.
Part of my leadership journey has been embracing the many benefits of technology while cultivating a healthy relationship with it. I’m still learning, but here are a few ideas that have served me well.
Your Settings Matter: Distraction causes an enormous loss of productivity and actually harms our brains. If you get sound or visual notifications for every message, post and update that comes in, you’ll experience higher levels of stress and reduced effectiveness at work. Consider turning off notifications for email and Slack and instead schedule a few dedicated times each day to respond. If you want to push it, turn off notifications and badges for social media for a week and see what happens - my guess is you’ll feel better.
Unplug at Night: An hour before you go to bed, plug in your phone to charge (here’s the key)...in another room. Unless you have a job or family situation where lives depend on you being reached in the middle of the night, you don’t need to sleep with your phone. To up the ante, don’t take your tablet or e-Reader to bed and instead spend that last hour reading a physical book, journaling or (if you have a partner), having a conversation before sleep.
Monitor Your Screen Time: Most phones allow you to check your screen time and will even tell you how many minutes (or hours) you are spending with each app. When you take a look at how much time you actually spend looking at your phone, you might be surprised. Consider this exercise: continue your usual use of the phone for the remainder of this week and then take a screenshot of your stats. Pick a few areas where you’d like to decrease your screen time, be intentional about it next week and see how it goes. Imagine what you could do with an hour or two of your time reclaimed from games, social media or random surfing online.
Living your best life requires a healthy relationship with technology...at work and in every area of our lives. The first, and most important step, is to realize you need to be controlling technology, not the other way around. In a healthy relationship, technology serves us and is a powerful tool to improve our lives, but only if we are intentional about how and when we use it.