Technology can be a fantastic enabler - as long as you are in charge. You can mindlessly surf the internet or choose to do something more productive or exciting with your time. After all, time is your most precious asset. It is irreplaceable. Once spent there is no opportunity for recovery. Start to take back control by considering your usage of your electronic device. How much of this time well spent? It can be scary to realise how much of your life is lived online rather than enjoying the wonder that is our natural world.
So what can steps can you take to redress the balance?
Begin by acknowledging the attraction of distraction. The human brain loves a constant flow of new information. That is why millions of people use social media because it feeds this need. It also provides an easy distraction from more challenging issues or tasks that we would rather not face. Email is a case in point. It is a never-ending stream of new which reinforces the urge in the brain to suck it up and respond immediately. Some of the push and pull of email is unavoidable, especially if you work in a client-based business where you may need to keep a close eye on your inbox. However, think carefully about whether the nature of your job requires you to be ‘on’ all the time. If not, there is no reason to drop what you are doing every time you receive an email. Of course, you want to be responsive and alert, but you also don’t want to be in reaction mode all day. It is exhausting and kills your focus.
There is a better way. Any boundaries you can put between you and your emails will help avoid the trap of constantly 'quickly' checking your email. For examples, can you disable push notifications on your phone? Or remove the email app on your phone, forcing you to open a browser and sign in every time? On your PC, you could remove all bookmarks to emails so it’s more than one ‘click’ to access them. How about batching responses and sending non-urgent emails at certain times of the day?
I am a fan of Dr Rangan Chatterjee. His book 'The 4 Pillar Plan' provides practical advice and strategies for improving self-care. One of his suggestions is to try a seven-day digital detox that works up to a Screen-Free Sabbath. The goal is to wind down gradually so that, by the time Sunday comes, you are ready to take the plunge and have an entirely screen-free day.
Sounds daunting? Then start with half a day perhaps once a month. You will still experience positive benefits. The key is to make a plan to do something different with the time. Go for a trip. Visit a historic building with gardens or go to an art gallery. No time for travel? Then choose a book to read that can transport you to a different time and place. Maybe go for a walk outside preferably somewhere green. Take out a pen and pad, joint down or doodle your thoughts and reflections as they come to you. The possibilities are endless. You will feel refreshed and more connected to people in the real world.
Here's the seven-day digital detox plan. Try it and then choose how you wish to reset your relationship with your electronic devices:
Monday: Switch off push notifications on your phone, tablet and laptop.
Tuesday: Unsubscribe from redundant email lists.
Wednesday: Set your email apps to refresh manually; take emails (or at least work emails) off your personal phone.
Thursday: Use a box to put devices in for meal times - they must go in before you sit down to eat.
Friday: Switch off your e-devices ninety minutes before sleep-time. Consider disabling your smartphone email inbox until Monday morning.
Saturday: Have two one-hour periods during the day when you are entirely e-device free. See if you can enjoy special moments without posting them on social media.
Sunday: Enjoy a Screen-Free Day! Live your entire day offline and without screens.