The apocryphal expression “May you live in interesting times” (often incorrectly attributed to the Chinese) certainly holds true in America today.
With tiny handheld devices, we can access the virtual world of the Internet by simply tapping on an icon. We can meet people via dating apps, connect with friends or business associates on social media or via email. (The average smartphone user checks their inbox six times per hour.) Not to mention, other things technology puts at our fingertips, including playing games, shopping, watching a movie or reading a book. We can also continue working on whatever unfinished projects are nagging at us.
We can accomplish virtually anything with our smartphones and through our 2-in-1 devices – from virtually anywhere. Including our seat on the train or the front porch — even while supposedly “relaxing” at home and kicking back on the couch in front of the television or laying in bed before entering the Land of Nod.
Never before in human history has mankind been able to accomplish so much — so quickly — and from so many different locations.
This coin’s flip side, however, is the daunting reality that most of us are actually addicted to technology and its benefits. The ability to truly disconnect has become exponentially challenging it appears. This problem is not one that requires us to spike our smartphone in a garbage can. Rather, we need to set sensible boundaries so that we can avoid the inevitable burnout that follows too-frequent smartphone, tablet and desktop Internet access.
You know you are burned out if your “technology addiction” makes you feel distracted and sometimes overwhelmed. To put it in a larger context, by failing to properly disconnect from technology during free time, we are “creating [a] world of people who are stressed out, exhausted and perpetually teetering on the brink of a cold or worse, because their immune systems are similarly fried,” as Dr. Frank Lipman noted.
We need to truly disconnect from technology before we can recharge our body and mind and do things like get back in touch with our inner well of creativity. Truly disconnecting can improve your mood and boost your ability to concentrate and live in the moment. It can also do wonders for your relationship with those around you, especially your loved ones.
Below are steps to help you set sensible boundaries to disconnect from technology once in a while to avoid overwhelm.
Have a Digital-Free Morning
This will be difficult, so start by doing this one day a week. On this day, rise from bed and follow your morning routine – without first reaching for your smartphone or tablet or firing up your desktop. Listen to music while you shower, and have a conversation with someone over breakfast if at all possible, or simply enjoy your breakfast uninterrupted alone. Wait until after you’ve done this before starting up your device.
You don’t need to be spiritual to meditate. Each day, preferably before you rise from bed, spend some time (as little as 10 minutes) meditating. If you can do this more than once a day, do it. Experts suggest the morning and middle of the day are the best times. Meditation calms your brain and leaves you refreshed. This refreshes your ability to be both productive and creative during business hours.
Take a Weekend Retreat
Once you make meditation a daily habit and realize the benefits, you may want to take it a step further — such as a silent retreat where meditation and quiet contemplation are the centerpieces of your day. Groups that offer popular retreats are available. Check Google for a group near you. Save technology for business efficiency during the work week, and get into the habit of disconnecting on the weekends. Doing so will actually increase your productivity at work.
You are the Boss
When it comes to your free time, do you really need to check your business emails on Saturday and Sunday? Do you really need to spend your weekend drafting that report? Only you know the answer. Chances are that pressing work you do on weekends is stealing large chunks of time you could otherwise spend enjoyably by spending time with family and friends, and recharging your batteries. Make sure you set healthy boundaries and employ multitasking tips to structure your work week better so you can get more work done during the week.
When You Take a Vacation — Actually TAKE It
They invented the out-of-office notification setting for your email for a reason. Take advantage of this technology by crafting a polite message that will let your colleagues know that you’ll be checking emails at specific times. For example, 10 a.m., 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Let folks know that you will respond only to emergency situations and those who truly need a response. You benefit mentally if you value your vacation days like gold.
Get Off the Grid
Going “off the grid” once in a while may seem like a radical choice to disconnect from technology — it’s certainly not for everyone. But you can dial-down your digital dependence in various degrees by spending time where Internet service is unavailable during free time. Maybe you have a cabin in a remote area where WiFi isn’t available? Or maybe you’d like to spend a weekend in a rural setting, say a bed and breakfast of some sort? Spending time off the grid means that when you return to your work week, you will hit the ground running, recharged and ready to take care of business.
Do Physical Activities Requiring Both Hands
This one really separates the bravehearted from the scaredy cats. It’s actually the simplest way to truly disconnect from technology during free time. The point is to disconnect yourself by participating in activities that are impossible to do with a digital device in your hand. Three often-touted activities that fall in this group are meditation, yoga and hiking, all of which are wonderful ways to clear the clutter from your head. If you do this, when you return to work you’re not feeling drained by technology. Instead, you’re ready to embrace it once again for business purposes and efficiency.
Live in the Physical World
When you text, email and tweet during personal time, you are effectively living in the virtual world versus the real one. Your body is in the physical world, say the Sunday dinner table surrounded by family members, and your mind is in the virtual one. Consider the signals you send others in these personal moments. You are basically telling everyone around you in the real world that they are boring and/or they don’t mean as much to you as whatever you are doing in the virtual world. Remember the old saying “there’s a time and a place for everything?” Shut the device off and disconnect from technology during personal times like these and instead, devote your attention to those around you when appropriate.
Partake in a Digital Diet
Knock out part of your technology addiction by spending less time on social media during free time. Be it Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram or the like — make a conscious decision to reduce your access during personal time. Login to your account less per day, or less days per week. If you really want to go cold turkey, you can always delete your entire account. You might regret it, but maybe not as much as you think because you will have the time to get a lot of other things done.
Honor the National Day of Unplugging
You already missed this year’s event (no, I am not making this up), but you can join next year’s event slated for March 4-5, 2016. The National Day of Unplugging is “designed to help hyper-connected people of all backgrounds . . . embrace the ancient ritual of a day of rest.” This entails choosing to honor the Sabbath Manifesto, “a creative project designed to slow down lives in an increasingly hectic world.”
Create Disconnect Zones
Try to create some basic simple work life boundaries between yourself and technology. Don’t bring your device with you in the car or to bed, for example. By following a daily routine consisting of one or two personal “disconnect zones,” you will reduce your overall technology addiction.
Selectively Allow At-Work Social Media
Using Facebook at work helps you and your business. However, this only holds true when this is done for business purposes as opposed to a frequent mindless habit. So maybe it’s time to set limitations. Encourage your employees to “treat” themselves to two Facebook visits a day for fun and that’s it. The rest is business. The point is that setting a fixed number begins the habit of setting healthy boundaries for all involved.
Live an Adventure for a Day
On your day off, pretend you are on the run. (This may be the case, but hey, we’re not ones to judge.) The goal is to become untraceable for a period of time. Challenge yourself to spend some time losing yourself in a city or local landmark during personal hours without your smartphone (which can triangulate your position). You could also just simply remove the battery, only to replace in the event of a real emergency.
Don’t Purchase Everything Online
You may be accustomed to buying certain things online during your free time instead of going to the store. To disconnect from technology, try replacing one of those purchases with a retail experience instead. On your next day off, or after work one day during the week, visit your local bookstore or gourmet shop to purchase freshly ground coffee beans. This necessitates that you go out and spend some time in the real world, including the journey to and from the location, as well as the time spent browsing.
Designate a Facebook Page Moderator
It’s likely that you have a dedicated Facebook page for business. If you can, task one of your employees with management of the page for you – even if it’s only one, two or three days a week. By doing so, you’ll notice a dramatic reduction in the amount of time you spend on social media, and you’ll be able to engage more with those around you.
Instead of Emailing or Texting, Call Someone
Emails and text messages can be misunderstood. You can’t see the other person’s face, body language, you can’t hear the inflections in their voice. Make it a point to call someone and have a chat with them instead of communicating electronically. If you’re ambitious, make this a daily habit.
Play “Hide the Smartphone”
During free time, make a game of disconnecting from technology by having your children, significant other or friends hide your smartphone. You can then all enjoy some laughter and fun as you search around for it. You can even make a day of it. But you may find the phone quickly. If this happens, have them hide it a few times and then celebrate once it’s found. Disconnecting during personal time and enjoying some laughter helps recharge the mind for more productive business hours.
Quit a Social Media Account
This is a radical solution, yes, and one not recommended for those still heavily addicted to the digital world. But by deleting just one of your personal social media accounts, you get to spend more time in the physical world. You also can avoid the mindless habit problems associated with living too long on social media. The fact is, your behavior online in not always in accordance with the way you behave in the physical world. In fact, it’s believed that the anonymity social media allows can bring the worst out on occasion. Studies have revealed that the anonymity of social media may cause an increase in the development of a “false self” or “worst self.”
Reduce Social Media Sharing
We have developed a proclivity to share things — all kinds of things – right down to what we’re eating at that very moment. Do all of your friends and followers really need to know what you’re eating? Probably not. And some theorize that sharing too much during free time replaces a fundamental need. Every time we share something – we remove the urge to create something that would have sprung from our imagination. Stop sharing every little thing and you just may enhance your natural creativity.
Find a Balance and Live a Fuller Life
Technology is convenient and necessary, but too often it takes up personal time we may have otherwise spent in more beneficial ways. You’ll never know what you may be missing out on in the real world while in the act of “liking” something in the virtual one. Putting limits on your virtual activities during personal time and dedicating your full attention to the present moment is so important that it can’t be emphasized enough. You need to put down that device whenever possible so that you can truly live your life.
Try to create free times for yourself to dedicate to living your life in the real world. Even it it’s only a matter of making each Sunday a tech-free day or making it a habit of not connecting until you leave the house for the commute to work, you can realize enormous benefits.
Make your life amazing by plugging into the real world and paying attention to those around you during your free time. You just may find that living life to its fullest during off hours becomes your new addiction.
Free Time Image via Shutterstock
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