As you start to read this article, your curious mind will start to tip toe into action. Quietly at first ‘has someone emailed?’, then a little louder ‘You’d better check your Twitter feed in case you have a retweet/mention’ and then when it can’t get your attention it’ll start getting louder and louder, ‘check you phone battery just in case’ and on and on it goes until you give in, or not as the case may be if you know that it’s up to some skulduggery. Our poor minds in the digital age are constantly punctured with persistent thoughts that urge us to check our devices in case we’ve missed something. FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) syndrome at its worst.
How much information have you consumed so far today? From the moment you woke up, to breakfast, to your commute or whatever schedule you are working to. How many Tweets, meeting notifications, email alerts have been flashing on your screen? What about text messages, phone calls and bleeping ‘background’ apps all fighting to get your attention? This all counts as information and that’s not even including the news feeds TV, newspapers or radio. We are literally drowning in the stuff.
Image source: Mitchell Kapor
Whilst I can’t deny having access to pretty much anything we want 24/7 can be fantastic, there is no doubt that for many of us, the constant flood of information washing over us is seriously harming our productivity at work and at home. Not to mention the effects that being digitally distracted and on the verge of burnout can have on our relationships, both working and personal. How many of your sleep with your phone in your bedroom? Do you reach for it in the morning to check your emails? Have you ever seen an email you didn’t like and start the day of in a bad mood? How about taking your device to the loo? I could go on and on but am sure you get the picture, without your own ‘usage rules’ in place, it seems nowhere is sacred anymore in regards to being a tech-free and connected zone.
Take a moment to ask yourself a ‘better question’ right now. Has your device/technology aided or hindered your productivity so far?
When I ask myself this question it’s more often than not the answer I don’t want it to be. Only when I am strict around digital mastery do I find myself on the right side of the question. Mindfulness in the digital age is key for both sanity and productivity purposes. You have to make a conscious effort to start the day and end the day fully aware of what you want you want to achieve with your technology and identify where the ‘time sucks’ are.
According to the ‘Defying Digital Distraction’ report by Microsoft, 35% of the British work force admits to proactively looking for online distractions to break up the monotony of the working day. From an employer’s perspective, it’s not a ‘sexy’ number to be staring me in the face. Cost in terms of wasted resource, unproductivity and not to mention the impact on the culture of the organisation when there are KPI’s to deliver against whilst carrying a demotivated, distracted, disruptive and bored colleague.
Irrespective of what position you have in the company you work for, can you count yourself in that figure? If you know this rings true for you, it may be time to make some changes sunshine, a killer question or two to hammer it home can be a very effective catalyst for change. ‘What is the consequence to you and the business if you remain unproductive at work due to digital distraction?’, ‘What is the consequence to you and the business if your employees remain unproductive at work due to digital distraction?’
With 55% of the British work force saying they experience information overload I am not surprised to learn that once workers were interrupted by an email it took on average 24 minutes to return to the suspended task. Interruptions can come in many forms of course both online and offline but with the average person spending more time on their devices/tech (approx. 8 hours and 41 minutes per day) than sleeping and checking their mobile device 150 times per day, is it any real surprise our work force is on the brink of digital burnout and our health and wellbeing being a massive casualty in the immediate future.
Unlike non-tech burnout, it can’t be solved with time off work, a holiday or good nutrition and exercise. It requires a completely different approach, one which embraces mindfulness of course but also awareness of digital over usage and the triggers that drive the behaviour. It also requires an appreciation of where you are now, what aspects of your life are suffering, what’s working and what’s not and how this will manifest itself in the future if the situation stays the same or is left unchallenged. What happens if you usage increases? For example, if you already have broken sleep due to your phone bleeping, how will you feel, look or behave 12 months from now if you continue to get a bad nights’ sleep? If you are in a meeting and your device bleeps and you break eye contact and conversation flow to look at your phone, what will happen to your reputation 12 months from now if this is left unchallenged?
As a mother of three children under eight years of age, I have to be vigilant of my digital usage so as to not make my children feel rejected and unimportant when we are together. Yes, there are occasions where I have the odd day where I break the rules but there’s nothing like a quick, sharp, slap down from a child ‘Mummy why are you always on your phone?’ or ‘ Mummy! What I need you to do is more important than your phone’ is enough to bring me to my senses, quick smart!
I am pleased to say that my digital usage is decreasing as I get smarter and smarter in regards to Digital Mastery and being focussed on what, when and why I am using it.
I hope that we all reach a point sometime soon where we are mindful of our tech usage, its impact on ourselves and others, be that work related or personal. I’ve a few tips for you below that I trust may help anyone that’s ready to make the change. Think baby steps rather than cold turkey!
1. Turn off notifications on your digital devices
Do you really need your Twitter alerts? Do you really need your emails pinging on your device when you are at your machine? Be strict and you’ll be amazed at how much you can get done before you realise you have forgotten to check your ‘silent’ phone.
2. Batch check your emails
Set specific times during the day that you will check your emails and respond. Don’t be afraid to set an auto responder if necessary to inform people of the times you will be available to check and respond.
“Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.” – Carl Sandburg
3. Unplug every 90 minutes and take a break
Go with the flow of your natural Ultradium Rhythm otherwise known as the ‘basic work-rest activity cycle’.
4. Remember that technology is time-costing as well as time-saving
Depending on what you are using it for. Keep this in mind when approaching a task in order to prioritise your workflow and choose the right tools for the job. No use whipping out your iPad to take notes when a pen and paper will do!
5. Factor some quiet time into the day
Allowing yourself the space to be mindful and still. Technology can make everything seem ‘urgent’ if you let it and this can become an addictive cycle. Don’t miss out on what’s going on around you, the beautiful moments life has to offer because you’re hyperventilating that your phone battery is on red and you’ve left your charger at home and you might miss an important email.
Gemma Johnson is a successful internet entrepreneur, founder and CEO of myfamilyclub.co.uk and media spokesperson on family finances. Gemma has successfully risen over 7-figure funding and has an in-depth understanding of building a business from conception, through to launch and operating in a dynamic digital landscape. Gemma is also an accredited executive coach covering start-ups, entrepreneur coaching with a particular specialism in coaching individuals suffering from digital burnout and the impact this can have on all aspects of their lives.