The warmer weather inspires many of us to do some spring cleaning, especially those of us who have been working from home over the winter. While you are wiping windows and airing out rooms, save some time to clean up your digital life as well.
Our workweek revolves around digital devices.We use laptops for video conferences and emails, switch to phones for texting and social media, and wrap up our day streaming news or movies on TVs and tablets. On top of all of this, we are constantly distracted by texts, pings, instant messages, and notifications.
Constant digital engagement can take a toll on our physical and mental health
“We’re feeling burned out and may have symptoms like eye strain, headaches, and insomnia. For our wellbeing, we need to get off one-dimensional screens and reconnect with the three-dimensional world,” says Alyson DeMaso, founder of Raising Beauty, a holistic life coaching practice.
For many of us, however, disconnecting is easier said than done. DeMaso observes, “It takes tremendous willpower to overcome what’s really compelling us to stay hyperconnected to our devices. It’s only when we begin to uncover the beliefs driving our behaviors that we can begin to change them.” You may believe, for instance, that an effective, efficient professional is available at all times and responds immediately to emails, texts, or instant messages. It may require some introspection to recognize the distorted beliefs that are compelling you to engage with digital devices.
You might also consider these tactics to help tidy up your digital life and maintain healthier connections to the physical world.
Separate work from play
Setting up a dedicated space for remote work is one step we can take to disengage from digital distractions. “It’s important to have a separate physical workspace, perhaps a section of the dining table where your computer and papers stay. When you’re in that space, you work; when you leave it, you can give yourself permission to turn off,” says Elizabeth Sendich, a lead industry economist at the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).
Build breaks into your day
If your day is typically spent in back-to-back video meetings, schedule a five-minute break between each session. Get up from your desk and walk around or look out a window for a few minutes to reconnect with the physical world.
Pick up the phone
“Constantly being on video calls can be stressful and distracting. When you are on the phone, however, you are more present to the other person. You are focused on their words, rather than the visual elements present in a video call,” says DeMaso.
Let your team members know you will be available only at certain times each day. If your calendar is visible to your team, block off time for quiet work. “When you set expectations for others and boundaries for yourself, it is easier for you to disconnect,” says DeMaso. James Gilchrist, lead systems engineer for Boston Metals, adds, “Now that I am working from home more often, I’ve set defined work hours so I don’t feel like I am always on. I’ve also set an expectation with my colleagues that I won’t answer emails after a certain time.”
Turn off notifications
“To stay productive and sane, I’ve turned off all work-related notifications on my mobile phone. My email app doesn’t show unread emails unless I open the app and I’ve muted my instant message apps,” says Bruno de Kort, process engineer for Bayer U.S.
Give your eyes a break
Computer, phone, and tablet screens produce glare that can strain eyes. DeMaso recommends wearing glasses that block blue light, which cuts the glare and protects your eyes. These glasses do not require a prescription and are widely available. Blinking more often, taking occasional breaks to look away from the screen, and increasing the text size and contrast on your screens are additional steps you can take to protect your eyes.
Slow your brain down
Practicing mindfulness meditation for even a few minutes a day can counter the effects of digital overload and enable you to be fully present in the three-dimensional world. Sit comfortably in a quiet place, pay attention to your breath, and when your attention wanders, gently bring it back to your breath.
Substitute a physical activity
Is there an online game or app taking up too much of your time? Delete it from your device and use the time to work on a creative, hands-on project. For example, remove your farming simulation game from your phone and grow potted herbs on a window-sill instead. Creative outlets can be physically and mentally restoring, notes DeMaso.
This article originally appeared in the Career Connection column in the April 2021 issue of CEP. Members have access online to complete issues, including a vast, searchable archive of back-issues found at aiche.org/cep.