Rewire your relationship with technology and have more time available to execute what matters the most.
“We’re training and conditioning a whole new generation of people that when we are uncomfortable or lonely or uncertain or afraid, we have a digital pacifier for ourselves,” says Tristan Harris, co-founder of Centre for Humane Technologies, in the new documentary The Social Dilemma. If you haven’t watched it, I highly recommend it. The documentary exposes social media and big technology companies as manipulative capitalist machines. Essentially, savvy startups and multi-billion dollar companies fighting for our attention to keep us glued to social media feed coupled with our brain’s evolutionary drive to choose pleasure over pain make us addicted to technology.
It’s no news that technology can negatively affect our mental health, productivity, and even cause depression. The question is – can we do anything about it? We need strategy and preparation. In my coaching practice, I see a tremendous increase in efficiency and overall well-being after making a few simple steps. Below I offer you four tips that will help you take back control of your time, calm your brain, and keep you focused. (These steps are inspired by the recommendations from the Center for Humane Technology.)
- Turn Off Notifications
Whenever you are interrupted, it takes you 15 minutes to get back to your original flow. So if you are interrupted three times in an hour, you will spend most of it simply getting back to where you left off. In a study done by Qualtrics and Accel, it’s claimed that people check their phones up to 150 times a day, that’s more than once every 12 minutes, which means that we spend most of our time distracted and in a fast thinking mode, not allowing our brain to calm and get engaged in problem-solving or a focused mental activity.
Chloe Brotheridge, a hypnotherapist, and an anxiety expert told the Guardian that notifications practically force the subconscious to open the corresponding program, regardless of its importance. Turning off notifications puts you in control of when you check your emails and social media, which could also mean you check your phone less.
To turn off your phone notifications, simply go to Settings > Notifications, or swipe left on any incoming notification and hit Manage > Turn Off. You’re all set!
- Set Boundaries
There is a biological reason why we are addicted to technology. All the notifications you get for receiving another email or a comment trigger the release of dopamine in your brain. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that rewards you for achieving something. Technology addiction expert, Dr. David Greenfield, refers to smartphones as “the world’s smallest slot machines.” He says that you will continue checking your phone “over and over again because it offers an unpredictable award,” just like gambling. To overcome such addictive behavior, you need to set boundaries. Start with setting your phone on airplane mode for the night or turning it off completely. Don’t turn your phone back on first thing in the morning, rather dedicate this important time of the day to yourself or your loved ones.
Ideally, try to keep your phone at least one to two meters away from yourself and other people at all times and leave it in another room for the night. Mobile phones create a certain level of radiofrequency emission. Malaysian researchers conducted a study, where they investigated the effects of mobile phone radiations on the human brain. According to the study results, the magnitude of both alpha and beta brainwave signals were reduced during and after exposure to mobile phones, with a significant reduction on the side where the phone was located. This resulted in unbalanced brainwave signals. In 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) categorized radio-frequency radiation (RFR) as a “possible” (Group 2B) human carcinogen. So in order to reduce your exposure to such radiation, keep your phone away.
Buy a separate alarm clock → Wake up without getting sucked into your phone first thing in the morning.
- Start Small
Switching off your phone for a day or even a few hours is easier said than done. According to a recent Pew Research Center Study, 46% of Americans say they cannot live without their smartphones. One way to go about it is to take baby steps and set realistic targets that you can stick to. For instance, you might take a 15-minute walk and force yourself to leave your phone at home. Once that is easy for you, you can extend this time to 20 minutes, half an hour, and so on. Then try to leave it off during dinner time and build it up to three hours a day without any technology.
Another useful strategy is to create time slots during the day when you check your notifications instead of doing it every quarter of an hour. For example, commit to only checking and responding to notifications, both on your phone and computer, three times a day: 9:00 to 9:15, 13:00 to 13:15, and 19:00 to 19:15. This way you will have less anxiety and fear of missing out. Moreover, you can communicate this new rule to your friends, family, and colleagues so that they don’t take it personally if you don’t respond right away.
The secret is to start small and gradually build it up to a limit that you’re comfortable with. As David Greenfield, founder of The Center for Internet and Technology Addiction, says “any change in the right direction is better than no change.” And once you’re comfortable limiting your tech usage to a few hours a day, you can now go as far as fully disconnecting one day a week.
Plan notification slots → Plan breaks during the day when you can use your phone.
- Fully Disconnect One Day A Week
When you feel ready, disconnect for the whole day. Allow yourself to rest and reset. They say that a change of activity is as good as a rest, so make sure you do something different on that day. If your technology-free day falls on a weekend, take full advantage of it – go to the farmers’ market, take a stroll in the park, plan a day trip to a place you haven’t been before, or spend the day with your family and friends. Alternatively, you might wish to disconnect completely and be on your own. Do whatever feels right to you that day and don’t push too hard.
During your digital hiatuses, check up on how you feel every so often. In the beginning, you might be feeling guilty for taking this time for yourself or be anxious, angry, or depressed. This can signal that your addiction to technology is stronger than you might think. A study conducted on university students showed a positive correlation between smartphone use and depression, while females also scored higher on smartphone addiction scale scores than males. So whatever feelings come up, observe them, and let yourself feel whatever you are feeling, breathe through them, and release. Breathing exercises, meditation, EFT, and other techniques are helpful to deal with anxiety or overwhelm.
Pick a date and let your friends and family know you’ll be offline → Ask them to do it with you by sharing this page with them.
To wrap up:
Taking time to create boundaries with technology will help you become more efficient in your professional life and free up energy for your personal projects. Having balance and mental clarity will make your life more meaningful and filled with joy. When you implement these suggestions and have more time on your hands, we can move to Part Two of your journey to sustained efficiency, where I will talk about planning and setting priorities. I will also share exercises to identify what you should focus on to have a more fulfilling life. Stay tuned and in the meantime, put your phone away.
This article was written by Marina Romashko in collaboration with Nika Dulevich
Photography top image by Keren Levand and top by Benjamin Robin -Jespersen