Is this you…almost you…or somebody you know?
You’re in bed and the familiar glow of your mobile phone hovers inches from your face, as your thumb restlessly scrolls through another social feed before punching the browser app.
Nothing, nothing, nothing – you’ve read everything you could read and your inbox is close to empty, save for a promotional marketing attempt or two. If it’s well-titled, you might click – FOMO strikes again.
You give the bright screen a break and hit lock, staring into blackness until you fall asleep. Only you don’t. You can’t. Not until you make sure you’re not missing anything. You check. Two…three…four… five times. You can’t help it.
You’re almost relieved by the emails, notifications and urgent texts greeting you in the morning – despite your exasperated sighs and grumbling, it feels right. You spend breakfast reading and responding, or maybe skip breakfast altogether, your mind already deep-diving into today’s early communications.
You can’t say no. You want to, but you can’t do it. It wouldn’t be fair. They need you. Your dedication will be recognised one day. But what happens when your dedication becomes the norm and 9-5 becomes 7-10? No pay bump or time in lieu – there is no reasonable overtime when your time is their time, no matter what hour passes. So why do we do this? And what can we do to detox?
Why Do We Do It
We’re afraid of stillness
When was the last time you sat in true still? Switch off your phone, log off from your computer, tap out for the day (or even an hour)… the resulting silence free from the beeps and chirps of the working world will be revealing. We use work to hide from ourselves, from our physical issues, emotional tells and internal signals that something is wrong. Stillness is discovery and discovery can be terrifying because it forces us to confront, process and act on whatever has us on the run.
We want to be needed
In every area of our lives, we want to be needed. Our friends, our families and our colleagues all imbue us with warm feelings of value when they ask for our advice, call us for a chat or request help on a particularly tricky project. When we feel this way about other people, it’s a natural human response and an essential component of building lasting relationships. But…phones, computers and email inboxes aren’t people. They’re tools, software, programs…things with an off or logout button… and yet, we panic if they’re not by our side, in our hand or in our bags.
We’ve established a kind of co-dependency by proxy with our digital devices and identities. The beeps, buzzes and meeps feed our need to be needed – all it takes is one moment and a notification, and our sense of professional and personal self is vindicated. And that’s a pretty powerful sensation. If we’re feeling that sensation every waking hour, how can we avoid addiction? At first it’s fulfilling. Then it’s annoying. Then we hate it. But we love it too, and we can’t turn off, even if we resent our self-designed accessibility. We’re just wired that way.
We’re image conscious
The digital age has enabled every single one of us to create a carefully designed narrative around who we are – and I’m not just talking about LinkedIn. From email response times to blogs and a breadcrumb trail of SERP results, women have never been more present in the professional sphere. Because professional women seem to attract a degree of scorn from various quarters of working society, we must guard and carefully cultivate every inch of our presence to be noticed as respectable, talented, awesome people and employees. So we’re accessible. We respond quickly. We train harder. We attend multitudes of events. We smile and we open ourselves to new experiences, even if we’re exhausted. And most of us are exhausted.
For some of us, this is easy. For others, it’s hell. But one thing is for sure, we won’t be switching off our phones or taking a break from our accounts. Accessibility is key to perception, and perception darling, is everything.
What You Can Do About It
I’m not advocating for switching off and becoming a hermit…unless you want to. There’s nothing wrong with living on a self-sustained allotment with an extensive garden and a milking goat. Short of making your own cheese and green shakes, this digital detox is about taking control of your responses, specifically, your digital responses.
Life Detox Tips
Catalogue Your Emotions
For the next week, take note of how you feel when your phone or computer beeps at you. Happy? Stressed? Annoyed? Angry? Resigned? Write it all down and supply the context – who, why, when, brief details of the message. You’ll soon learn something about yourself, the people around you and how you feel about your digital status.
Create New Bedtime Habits
Instead of trawling Facebook before bed, invest in an old fashioned alarm clock and charge your phone in a different room – like the kitchen. By now you’ve probably read an article or two about the danger of phone backlights… they stimulate the areas of your brain that are NOT associated with sleep and melatonin production. Go figure. Instead of indulging your personal FOMO, take the opportunity to meditate for ten minutes before slipping into bed and winding down. I won’t lie, it was hard the first week or two. But my sleeping patterns did get better, my REM cycle improved and I feel much more rested as a result.
Be Honest With Yourself
Are you where you want to be? Are you using over-accessibility as a shield for unhappiness? Have you achieved your goals? Are you closer to your end game than you were when you began your job or your current career path? What’s stopping you? Instead of filling your time with the needs of others, focus on yourself. Create a personal mission statement. Create a plan and acknowledge your phone for what it is… a tool. Not an appendage.
Work Detox Tips
Disable all tones and vibrations and turn off those pretty, coded LED lights (my current model came loaded a rainbow of different alerts). Can’t miss a call from that special someone, your Mum, or your kids? Custom contact settings are your friend. Think of it as a first step in establishing boundaries – this will be particularly difficult if you’ve never had any in the professional sense. You don’t always need to say yes. Oh, and prune push notifications. You don’t need to know when every email appears in your inbox.
If silence is impossible – and let’s face it, the rest of the world won’t always be supportive of your digital detox – permit calls, email and text notifications during business hours only. After 6:30pm, you’re off the clock. No exceptions. Your time is your time, meant for family, friends and relaxation.
Automated replies aren’t just for holiday leave and unexpected hits of sickness – create a daily template, load it in your auto responder and switch it on after your business hours cut-out. All incoming emails will be treated to the courtesy of a reply, complete with information regarding your availability and in-office times. Managing expectations starts with a single move; take control of your interactions and use technology to set boundaries.
When was the last time you enjoyed a dinner with your significant other, best buds or even yourself, without the distraction of your phone? Before sitting down to dine, switch off your phone and encourage others around you to do the same. All it takes is one person who refuses to glance down at their phone and demand real discussion from their loved ones – they’ll have no choice but to switch off or look really rude (in an image obsessed world, nobody wants to look rude).
How many mailing lists have you donated your details to? How often do you buy their products or take advantages of their services? Not very often? Rarely, if ever? Go on a unsubscribe frenzy and clear the crap from your personal and professional inbox. The same story applies to RSS feeds, blogs and social media friends list.
Don’t Respond Immediately
Take control of your inbox and text messages with strategic communication. Instead of typing out a reply promising you’ll get to it ASAP, assess the content and allocate it a priority. If it’s really urgent, go ahead and respond, but communicate a realistic time frame and consider what you’re already doing. You are not slave to the needs of others and nor should you be saving their skins every time they make a planning mistake – be a team player, but guard against becoming an ever present Plan B. Occasional mistakes will become collaborative laziness, because you’ll be expected to pick up the slack like you have so many times before. Drop the rope.
Are you ready to strategically switch off?
By Jessica Goode