Welcome to the final part of this blog series where I’m shedding some light on the state of our collective digital health and exploring findings from our recent Digital Etiquette report. Here, I’ll be exploring the impact of our ‘always-on’ lifestyles and helping you to switch off more often.
Part 4: time to turn off
It’s been a tough year, to say the least, but <<DING!>> Oh, sorry, hang on one sec … Right, where was I? Ah, yes, this year has been <<BUZZ!>> Hang on, I better check that. OK, let’s try that again ...
Sound familiar? Sometimes it feels like you can’t get through a single sentence without something ringing, dinging, or vibrating for your attention. With our phones never far from our fingertips and desktops getting in on the dirty work too, this ‘always-on’ way of life has become the new unnerving norm. Being connected has many benefits, but is it encroaching on our mental wellbeing, and how is it affecting our work?
Wired for work
In our survey on digital etiquette, 42 percent of respondents said that the need to be ‘always on’ was the greatest source of stress when it comes to work-related digital communications. One in four respondents said they found it hard to switch off because they’re either tempted to keep working (15 percent) or because other people expected them to be contactable out of typical office hours (11 percent).
Being always on is bad for our health, which means it’s bad for business too. Last year The Myers-Briggs Company published a study that showed that those who found it difficult to switch off suffered from increased stress, interference with their home life, and losing the ability to focus on one thing at a time. Twenty percent even reported mental exhaustion.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Some workplaces have dedicated times of the day when everyone takes care of communication so they can focus hard on creativity and problem-solving the rest of the time. And in 2017, France introduced a ‘right to disconnect’ law. Under the legislation, companies with more than 50 workers must draw up a charter setting out the hours when staff shouldn’t send or respond to emails.
Do it for the dopamine
Constant work alertness compounded by our ever-present smartphones can make us feel like we’re fighting a losing battle. And the science agrees. Dopamine is the chemical produced in our brain when we eat something tasty, have sex, exercise, and hang out with our friends. Despite the fact that phones have been linked to increased levels of anxiety and depression, poor sleep quality, and increased risk of car death, dopamine keeps us coming back for more.
Our dopamine pathways become active when we’re anticipating or experiencing rewarding events, reinforcing the link between a particular stimulus – a notification, say, on your Instagram icon – and the feel-good reward that comes next (when you see that lots of people have liked your cat photo). Our phones and social media accounts act like little dopamine vending machines, just waiting for us to press the right buttons.
From always-on to sometimes-off
Don’t let the robots win! It’s time to fight back. If you’re not French and a new email policy isn’t looking likely anytime soon, you’ll have to take matters into your own hands. Here are a few simple steps to get you started:
- Switch off notifications on your desktop and close your email browser when you’re focusing on a task.
- Stipulate your office or correspondence hours on your email footer and set an automatic reply to go to anyone who contacts you outside of these.
- Keep your phone on silent and face down – better yet, leave it in another room.
- When you’re ‘off’, actually be off. Make sure there’s someone who can cover in your absence and fight the urge to check in.
- Make the most of Slack’s status options, setting yourself to ‘in a meeting’ or ‘out to lunch’ so people know not to bombard you with messages or expect an immediate reply.
Just because it’s not work-related, doesn’t mean it’s not impacting your mental health. Endless scrolling through social media, frenzied group chat alerts, and upgrade ads for Candy Crush Saga are all taking up precious brainpower. Switching off notifications to all your phone apps means you won’t be interrupted during work and can enjoy your downtime more too.
While you’re at it, why not give these other techniques a try:
- Limit your app time – don’t trust yourself to stay on task, install more apps to help break your addiction. Try Space for setting phone usage goals (there’s even an eight-day phone/life balance course you can take) or Freedom, which lets you block distractions to all your devices, including apps and specific time-sucking websites.
- Go greyscale – all the pretty colours and little red dots are designed to stimulate our neurons and hold our attention. Turning your phone to greyscale has been proven to reduce how much we check our phones. This sneaky setting is typically found in the accessibility menu on most Android phones. In iOS go to Settings > Accessibility > Display & Text Size > Colour Filters. Switch Colour Filters on and select ‘Greyscale’.
Remember that setting boundaries and taking control of your availability are as essential to business success as showing up in the first place. Switch off without shame so you can get the job done right when you really are ‘on’.
I hope this series has made you more aware of your digital health, including how you communicate more effectively with colleagues, manage digital hoarding, and take control of context switching.
Navigating the new normal when it comes to fully remote working and digital etiquette can be tricky. If you’re struggling to know what’s right and wrong, read our Digital Etiquette report for lots more useful advice. And we’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic too, so feel free to get in touch.