Does your phone rule your life? Time to unplug.
For the past few years, the first Friday of March has marked the National Day of Unplugging: an annual invitation to go tech-free for 24 hours. In France, a “right-to-disconnect” law was passed barring work-related emails after 6:00 p.m.
Have we come to this? Do we need a grassroots uprising — or government intervention — to convince us to stay off our devices after working hours? It seems the answer is “yes”, because so many of us can’t quite seem to do it on our own.
So, why do we find it so hard to unplug? (Hint: We’re hooked.)
We all know we need to unplug once in a while. Professionally and personally. But it seems easier said than done. Why?
They say, “your habits are your life.” And phones are definitely habit forming.
FOMO plays a large role — fear of missing out on something vital that can actually define your sense of professional importance at that very moment. If we miss an email, we can feel like a broken cog in the machine. If we respond to it, we feel essential. Needed.
And, realistically, many people don’t feel empowered by their employers to turn off their phones. Sadly, job insecurity can be a powerful motivator to keep connected.
So, we’re confident we can manage it all — habitually eyeballing our screens during meetings, reacting to a “vibrate” during dinner, sneakily typing an email during our kids’ recitals — in the name of “productivity”.
The reality is, the idea that all this multitasking makes us more productive is a myth. It’s actually highly distracting, inhibiting our ability to focus, affecting short-term memory, and creating undue anxiety. Which doesn’t advance anyone’s career.
The recipe for successfully unplugging: Build your own.
I’ll admit it, I don’t have the absolute answer. I only know what’s worked for me. And it required discipline. I’m as guilty as anyone of reacting to a “ping” in the middle of a conversation with my kids. In those moments, I wasn’t 100% present in either world.
Then one day I decided my phone wasn’t going to drive my agenda — I was. So I gave myself some new rules:
• Establish a no-phone zone. Between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., it’s no phones allowed. My team knows that and respects it, and I love them for it. They also know they can reach me at 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning, but those two hours — every day — are verboten. Sure, you can write to me, but don’t expect a response.
• Remember, rules like these work both ways. I encourage my team to make their own rules. Just because I’m up and working at 4:32 a.m. doesn’t mean I expect everyone else to be. Setting — and sharing — one’s own rules allows for respect around personal, and well deserved, boundaries. And it sets a great example: if you’re allowed downtime, so’s your team. Quid pro quo.
• Use that time to focus. Even if it kills you. I actually had to force myself to learn to enjoy this downtime. So how’d I do it? I’m a total stimuli junkie, so I devote this newfound me-time for a different type of intellectual satisfaction: reading up on a topic I know nothing about, or concentrating on a new recipe. Or I’ll focus my energies on a run. Either way, with no phone calling my name, I’m allowed to be totally in my moment.
Every other minute in that two-hour window is focused on family. You’d be amazed by how much wisdom you can draw from a six-year old — mine has even helped me make career decisions! Why would I ever give a fantastic asset like that less than my total attention? (Even if that annoying email from two hours ago is weighing on my mind.)
• Never Forget “Rule Number Six.” What is Rule Number Six? “Don’t take yourself so seriously.” Yes, work is important. But it’s not life. Give yourself permission to live life in all its sideways, surprising, goofy glory. Even if it is just for two hours a day. You’ll feel more refreshed, more engaged, more imaginative when duty calls.
I totally get it. It’s impossible to go “cold turkey”. Sometimes you just have to look at stuff! But here’s a simple one-week plan that got me started — beginning with the multiple, meaningless distractions we have every day.
DAY 1: Turn off push notifications.
DAY 2: Unsubscribe from unwanted email lists.
DAY 3: Go out to dinner and leave your phone at home.
DAY 4: Delete apps you never use.
DAY 5: Don’t look at or post to any social media between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.
DAY 6: Enjoy the moment — without jumping on Instagram to share it.
DAY 7: Pick up a paperback instead of a screen.
That’s my recipe. Give yourself a week to start with the simple stuff, and the rest will follow. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to run. (Literally. It’s 6:07 p.m. Time for my run.)
So, how do you unplug? Or do you? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.