Lauren Parsons details the six challenges of our constantly connected lifestyle and what to do to overcome them
Technology is contributing to make us constantly accessible, yet less connected, more distracted, overloaded with information, less active, and lacking quality sleep.
Here are some practical, science-backed ideas on how to remedy these six challenges:
Challenge 1: Constantly Accessible
Most people have their cell phone on them virtually all the time allowing us to be constantly connected to the online world. A 2017 US study showed that most people check their phone 80 times a day, 31% of people feel anxiety when separated from their phone and 75% of people even admit to using their phones in the bathroom! Many people are enslaved by their phone, checking emails constantly throughout the day (and sometimes the night).
This never-ending connection doesn’t give you time to switch off. In her 2017 TED Talk Manoush Zomorodi explained why our brains need those quiet moments in the day to just be. The default these days is to fill every spare second by being on technology. Yet having moments when our brains aren’t doing anything is essential for wellbeing, creativity and problem-solving.
How to Disconnect
- Make airplane mode your friend. Use it overnight until after a certain point in your day (e.g. after breakfast) so that you don’t start your day by checking emails or social media.
- If possible, use airplane mode or switch your phone off for a 90-minute period each morning to focus on quality work. Do the same thing at home to have quality time during dinner.
- People will always treat you the way you allow them to treat you, so it’s important to train your colleagues and team to expect not to be able to reach you at certain times (and encourage them to do the same). By managing expectations you can be much more efficient and perform at a higher level.
- When you leave the house for a short time, ask yourself if you could possibly leave your phone behind.
- Learn a mindfulness technique such as taking 20 seconds to observe all the colours and hear all the sounds around you, or simply taking 5 deep breaths. Add your chosen practise to your ‘to-do’ list each day so you intentionally fit it in.
- Consider removing email and social media apps from your phone and use them only on your desktop where you can be more mindful of the time you spend.
Challenge 2: Less Connected
Simon Sinek states that too many people are addicted to their phones and that like any addiction it will “destroy relationships, cost time, cost money and make your life worse.”
We know that social connection is fundamental to our wellbeing. Not only does it increase happiness and success, it actually extends your life. Shawn Achor states that social connection is as predictive of how long you will live as obesity, high blood pressure, or smoking.
Maintaining strong social connections is vital for individuals to thrive however technology is reducing those opportunities for connection. Just think of the small talk that used to take place before a meeting or at the bus stop; nowadays virtually everyone is on their phone, isolated in their own little world.
When you attend a meeting and the first thing you do is put your phone on the table (even if it’s on silent and even if it’s upside-down), it instantly sends the message that the people you’re in the room with are not really that important to you. We need to disconnect from the online work to connect eye to eye and belly to belly.
How to Connect
- Set rules for yourself with your technology use and have certain places such as in meetings or at the dinner table that are phone-free zones.
- Leaders need to be disciplined and set the example for their teams with this.
- Have a basket in which everyone places their phone during meetings.
- Make a point of chatting to colleagues looking them in the eye, without your phone visible.
- One suggestion is to excuse yourself from other people and step away if you need to send a text message or check something on your device, then step back. This one practise will make you aware of how often you use a device.
- Focus on being present, focused and ‘in the room’ with the people around you as much as possible, especially in your down time.
- Do a digital detox from time to time. Start with a timeframe that sounds doable to you. Begin with a block of a few hours, increase it to a day or an entire weekend and see how you feel.
- Leverage technology by encouraging staff to work from home at times, thereby reducing their commute time and allowing them to spend more quality time connecting with friends and family.
Challenge 3: More Distracted
Multi-tasking is a myth. When we try to do more than one thing at once, the brain doesn’t multi-task, it simply switches tasks rapidly from one thing to another, using up precious neural resources in the process.
Social media is addictive, creating the same dopamine response that alcohol and drugs give us. This is why we become addicted to checking up on our posts and seeing how many likes there are. Mindless scrolling occurs because there are no stopping cues – the feed just continues on and on – making it easy to spend minutes and even hours a day without realising how much time you spend.
We need to manage our social media and internet use and behaviour and create a workplace that is conducive to high focus and productivity. Everyone would love to get more done in less time and be home earlier; minimising distractions and wasted time is one key way to do that.
How to Focus
- Use technology to your advantage to reduce interruptions. Use apps such as leechblock or freedom to prevent access to the internet or certain sites, stayontask, offtime, moment, or rescuetime to track the time you do spend, or fm or Focus@Will to listen to lyric free music.
- Create ‘golden hours’ in your workplace – synchronised, interruption-free periods of the day, for example 9.30-10.30 or 1-2pm – when no-one interrupts one another so everyone can focus on progressing quality work. Pair this up with airplane mode on your phone for total focus.
- Noise cancelling headsets with or without music can massively increase productivity and minimise interruptions. Ensure you have some periods with them off as well.
- Multiple tabs open in your browser? Click star to favourite them and close them so you can focus on one thing at a time.
- Switch of all alerts on all your devices, especially any that make noises.
- Only check email three times a day at set times (e.g. 9am, 11.45am and 4pm.)
- Declutter your desktop and immediate surroundings, keeping stationery in your top drawer and paperwork filed vertically with any relevant documents handy in your ‘current action’ folder.
- If your workspace has a hot desk approach, ensure there are plenty of quiet zones away from collaborative areas so that people can move to the relevant space for the work they want to do.
Challenge 4: Information Overload
Never before have we had so much information at our fingertips. While it can be extremely helpful, it also creates an overwhelming amount of information to take in, read, process, file and store.
With the majority of what’s reported in the news being negative, it’s important to be selective about what you spend your time listening to, watching and reading. The things you continually feed into your brain become the things you think about. It’s important to ensure you and your team are soaking up positive, inspirational, innovative and uplifting news and information.
How to Avoid Overwhelm
- Be highly selective about what you watch, read and listen to. Do you need to hear the news several times a day (if at all) or could some of that time be better spent?
- Use dead time such as your daily commute, while cooking, or washing the dishes to listen to an inspirational podcast or audiobook.
- Unsubscribe from emails that you no longer read.
- Rather than hoarding paper and files, ask yourself – Will I ever look at it again? Does anyone else have a copy of this? Does anyone else need it that I can pass it on to? What’s the worst thing that can happen if I don’t keep this?
- Use Graham Allcott’s ‘Productivity Ninja’ technique to get your inbox to zero. This is a life changer! Just be sure that if you’re filing emails or articles into a ‘read later’ folder that you block out reading time on a weekly basis to keep up with them.
- Declutter shared spaces and add green plants. Frame positive quotes that align with your company’s values and beliefs and hang them prominently.
Challenge 5: Less Active
With the massive increase in daily screen time – from checking emails, social media use, and watching Netflix, through to actually getting work done – we have much less available time to get outdoors and be active. Research shows us that people that stay active, live longer; in fact staying active can extend your life by seven years. Just think how many extra grand-babies you can meet and extra places you can visit around the world in that time, and with the vitality to enjoy it!
Staying active doesn’t mean you have to spend an hour a day. Breaking up your day with simple ‘exercise snacks’ is proven to be beneficial for your body, brain and mood. A 2018 Canadian study showed that briskly walking up the stairs in your office building for just 20 seconds, at three times spread out during the day, can significantly increase your fitness.
How to Regain Your Vitality
- Snack on exercise in short bursts throughout your day as I describe in my 2018 TEDx Talk.
- Install adjustable desks if possible and spent part of the day standing. Even without a standing desk you can choose to stand up for phone calls, or while reading your emails.
- Link movement breaks to common tasks to remind you throughout the day. For example, when you brush your teeth, every time you send a text message or email, each time you return to your desk etc.
- Set a countdown timer for 25 minutes followed by a deskercise break, to massively boost your productivity as I explain in this article.
- Use a movement tracking watch or app to motivate you to be consistent.
- Create an outdoor loop path at your workplace or set up a four-square court to encourage everyone to get moving outdoors. This can create connection and laughter alongside the other health benefits.
Challenge 6: Lacking Quality Sleep
Electricity and the creation of the light bulb has meant that it’s much easier for human beings to stay up much later than our ancestors, something which negatively impacts their health and vitality. Add to that screens and devices being used in bedrooms and sometimes right up until it’s time to ‘switch off’, and more and more people are experiencing poor quality sleep.
Workplace, financial and relational stress and worry can add to the problem as can hormonal imbalances, leading to increasing numbers of people being affected by constant lack of sleep. Great health is founded in deep restorative sleep. It helps us think clearly, boosts our energy, improves our mood and even helps keep excess weight off. With so many benefits, it is worth doing a sleep audit and improving your sleep hygiene to ensure you maximise your precious zzz time.
How to Sleep Deep
- Get black out curtains and ensure you sleep in a cool, comfortable environment.
- Set an alarm to wake and rise at the same time every day. If you are tempted to stay up late ‘getting stuff done’ particularly on your computer, remind yourself you can do it first thing in the morning when you’ll be fresh and most productive.
- Waking at the same time every day also means your body clock will synchronise to release hormones at the right time so you wake refreshed and alert. Try it out for 10 days to see the difference it makes.
- 7-8 hours sleep is optimal so work out when you want to get to sleep and set a reminder alarm in your smart phone 30 minutes prior, reminding you to wind down.
- Consider removing all technology from the bedroom. Avoid using laptops in bed, eating, watching TV, scrolling your phone etc in bed, instead only associate your bed with sleep and intimacy.
- Ensure that all devices are clear from 1-2 metres around your head as they emit radio waves. Charge your phone in the kitchen. Buy an alarm clock if you need to.
- Just like babies, adults also sleep best after a bedtime routine. Brainstorm what you might include, for example dim the lights, bath/shower, write down your top 5 tasks for the next day, stretch routine, reading, journaling, etc and experiment with it.
- Go to bed as soon as you begin to feel sleepy, otherwise you will likely get a second wind and find it difficult to fall asleep.
- Get outdoors for at least 10 minutes between 11am-2pm every single day and get sunlight into the retina of your eyes to help train your body’s natural circadian rhythm and deepen your sleep.
- Get your heart rate up during the day to improve sleep quality but avoid exercise or other stimulants in the evening.