Historians will document just how naïve we were in the early 21st century. We think we are in charge of the machines and history will show otherwise. I deal with the impact of this on a daily basis in the people I coach. Overloaded and overwhelmed. With increasing frequency, I have to name what I see as signs of burnout in people too in their own experience to know it.
One in 10 of us use the phone while having sex. A third of us have used in while on a date. One in five use the phone in a place of worship.
I'm not immune to any of this. Nine months into starting my own business, my coach called burnout. She was right. I was rather deep in it at that point and spent several weeks taking care of myself in order to get back to an even keel. I had to pause the business whilst I rebooted myself.
Since then, I am acutely aware of the seduction of being always connected. As a result of my own experience, I've instated rules (some see as extreme) around being connected. I've even been on a digital detox weekend. These are all important actions we can take to ensure we remain resilient in a time of data overload.
We really don't know how to step away from our technology. The statistics suggest a form of addiction. My awareness of my own urges to turn to my phone on the digital detox weekend suggests the same about myself.
Here are my tips about how to take the first steps to bringing back some balance to your life:
1. Baseline: Get the stats on your tech usage
All behaviour changes start with some honest perspective. In my experience we are grossly optimistic about our bad behaviours. We don't think we eat that badly or drink that much. Similarly, chances are you think you aren’t that tied to your device. Baseline your usage using a tool like Rescuetime (works across platforms) – you will be surprised. I know I was.
2. Feedback: does the tech get in the way?
Ask your partner, your children and your friends – does the way I use my tech get in the way of our relationship? Are you one of those people that use the phone at the same time as being on a date, having family dinner or even having sex? It’s time to get some real feedback from the people around us who matter to us.
3. Get real and turn off all notifications
Notifications are a distraction and I promise, they really are optional. They are a feature designed to ensure we develop a habit. They are amazingly effective at doing that. Based on the same principles of gambling (intermittent rewards), we are primed to be on the alert and respond immediately to a notification. We may choose not to respond - but that still takes cognitive effort and some time to get back to task at hand. Do yourself a favour and turn them all off. You get to choose when to engage with the technology - not the other way around.
4. Keep the tech out the bedroom
There is considerable research about the impact of screens on our ability to sleep. Even small amounts of light can play havoc with our pituitary gland.
The advice is to have a handful of tech free hours in the run up to going to sleep. I would add to that to keep the device(s) outside the bedroom. It's way too easy to turn to the device out of boredom, or inability to sleep. That's a disaster.
5. Buy an alarm clock and keep the tech out of the bedroom
One of the ways people resist the above point is to use the device as an alarm clock. A vast majority of us have fully embraced the intentions of the designers of tech to use our phones for multiple purposes - and usually not as a phone. Well done to the designers. Do yourself a favour and buy and alarm clock. And if you travel, buy a travel alarm clock.
6. Take a robust attitude to your auto responder
I am continuously amazed by out-of-office notifications of people on holiday that prompt me to call or text the person "if it's urgent". Nothing can be that urgent. If you are doing your job, there are plenty of people in the office able to pick up in a crisis. One of the best out of the office notices I've seen told me that he was on holiday, would not look at email, and would delete ALL email on return. If my email was urgent, I was to email him again on said date of his return. Brilliant! It puts the owner on the sender not the receiver, and removes the panic about coming back to the office to 1000 emails post holiday.
These tips are all small changes to make that can have a big impact. That said, you may find yourself very resistant. Get curious about the resistance before you dismiss the idea. Making changes to our behaviour has us up against some difficult edges. The world around you will also conspire against you - children, partners, colleagues will all be used to you being available. They also have to make their adaptations. Go back to the feedback you were given - that will help you stay firm on the reasons to bring in the changes.
Good luck and drop me a line to let me know how you get one.