Last time I totally disconnected from any kind of digital device was during my honeymoon. Almost three years ago. Since then I can’t remember a day without phones, computers, emails and social media.
Many of us have this urge to check for new messages, the latest emails or recent likes all day long. We are doing this everywhere: at dinner parties, during meetings, before going to bed, in restaurants...
It just never stops. Research suggests that on average we’re checking our phones 150 times a day!
Why can’t we disconnect?
I’ve come to realize that the origin of this over-connectivity is fear. We’re afraid that if not online we’re going to miss out on something important. We’re not sure exactly what, but we don’t want to miss it.
Today tools and applications allow you to be hyper-connected. But you don’t have to use them. No one is forcing you.
Maybe you feel messages or calls need to be answered within a certain period of time. Whether that’s what people really expect, or only a perception. The result is the same.
Maybe you’re addicted to the little dopamine shots that come with every new notification. Just like sugar, cigarettes or alcohol.
Always being connected isn’t something I’m proud of. It doesn’t feel good. It’s a problem I’ve been trying to solve for a while now. And from the conversations I have, I think many people are facing the same problem.
Here’s why it really is a problem…
Constant interruptions damage your ability to focus
Have you noticed how you’re constantly shifting in between tasks: writing a mail, checking a message, back to mail, a call comes in, a Facebook notification, back to mail…?
We’re constantly interrupted, and can’t focus on a task for more than a couple of minutes. Even when we’re not interrupted by our phone or computer, we interrupt ourselves and check if we haven’t missed anything.
Research reveals human attention span has fallen from an average of 12 seconds to 8 seconds over the last 15 years. We have now a lower attention span than a goldfish…
You lose your connection with others
You know how important it is to spend time with people you care about. And you know how much you can learn from other people. But you’re not really present if you decide to spend that time looking at a screen.
By doing this, you miss out on deepening relationships with family, friends and colleagues, and on making great connections.
Try to be really present, wherever you are, connect with the people around you, start a conversation with a stranger, and see how good it feels!
You don't connect with yourself.
When was the last time you sat quiet, alone, some place nice, without doing anything? Just being and thinking?
Maybe it seems very difficult to be somewhere and just do nothing. Not tackling another point on your actions list, doing the laundry, cleaning or driving. Just sitting quietly. Reflecting. Doing some creative thinking or letting your mind wander.
We used to have these little gaps before, for thinking. But now what do we do, when we’re 10 minutes early to a meeting, or taking the train, or we have a moment alone at home, at work, in a restaurant, at a party? We quickly check our phones. “Oh please, don’t let me be alone with myself for 5 minutes”.
But why are these pauses so important? You need some time to unplug. Switch your brain off. Recharge. Away from all the noise and information. Walk in the woods, sit on a bench in a park. You need this physical and mental pause to be happy, more productive and creative.
How you can take back control
If this constant flow of information feels exhausting and overwhelming, you can bring it back to a reasonable level. It is possible to enjoy all the benefits of the digital era and take care of your health, your relationships and yourself.
You just need to apply some new rules where you are in control of your digital time, consciously deciding when to connect and when to unplug.
Find one way to be a bit less connected in the upcoming weeks. Find something that works for you. There’s no need to be extreme.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
Morning: Leave your phone off for an extra hour when you wake.
I wake up around 6 am but I don’t turn my phone on before 8 am. I know that by switching on the internet, my mind will start going through all the actions of my inbox. I want to take time to prepare my day and enjoy breakfast with my family peacefully. What could you do with an extra hour or two of peace?
During the day: Turn your internet access off for an hour or two.
I switch off the internet for several blocks during the day in order to be able to focus better. When working on something important, I close Outlook too, so I can’t check my emails all the time.
In the evening: Turn your phone off as you wind down for bed.
I switch off my phone completely by 9pm, and as a general rule, turn off all devices by 9.30PM. The phone is switched off in the bedroom.
At the weekend: Pick one day a week where you plan to be offline for 90% of your day. Take a complete break!
On holiday: Every 6 to 8 weeks, try taking a couple of days off. Go on a small trip. Make it as technology free as possible.
Remind yourself how good it feels to be completely disconnected!