We are living in an era of technology obsession and smartphone addiction. I hear it all the time: “I can’t go anywhere without my phone” or “I feel anxious when I’m not able to check email” or “If I’m not on my social feeds, I feel like I’m missing out.”
Short of going off the grid, how can we build better habits around technology—preserving its benefits while minimizing the negative effects? Here are a few research-backed strategies I recommend you implement at work and at home.
Use “cc” and “reply all” judiciously
Group emails, while helpful for team collaboration, are an increasingly problematic workplace distraction. After the second or third “reply all”—when most messages could be directed to just one or two people, rather than everyone—these chains to start to feel oppressive, adding extraneous content to our already overflowing inboxes.
I encourage anyone initiating a team email to instead think very carefully about who they “cc,” making sure to include only relevant team members. I also recommend avoiding “reply all,” unless your comments are truly meant for—and useful to—all members of the group. The more email you send, after all, the more you will receive.
Recalibrate response time expectations
Not too long ago, people worked from 9am to 5pm, after which they were done for the evening. Today, typical workdays can stretch to nine hours in the office and far into the night, only to start again the moment we wake. When colleagues email, text, or message us in some other way, no matter the time, an immediate response is, in many cases, the unspoken expectation.
My suggested middle ground—used in several multinational companies including Volkswagen and Deutsche Telekom— is a 7am-to-7pm policy: messages can, of course, be sent at any hour, but no one is required to respond earlier than 7am or later than 7pm. In France, companies with more than 50 employees are now required to do something similar; the country’s “right to disconnect” law, passed in January 2017, mandates that they set aside hours when employees don’t have to be available via email.
Take regular, restorative breaks
The human brain is not designed to work for hours on end. We perform better when we take breaks. For example, in one study of more than 12,000 white-collar employees, those who turned away from work every 90 minutes reported 30% higher level of focus, 50% greater capacity to think creatively and 46% higher level of health compared with peers who took no breaks or just one during the workday.
But staring into a smartphone or browsing the internet doesn’t really count. Truly restorative breaks instead involve exercise, conversation or reflection. That means walking outside for some fresh air, talking with someone (about something other than work), or doing a few minutes of mindful meditation. Ten minutes is sufficient, although longer breaks offer even more benefits.
Reclaim friend and family time
We need to stop letting technology interfere with our most important interpersonal interactions. But it’s hard to ignore your phone when it’s sitting in front of you, with news alerts and text messages constantly popping up. My advice is to designate areas where, in an effort to facilitate better, more meaningful conversation with friends and family, personal devices simply aren’t allowed. Examples include the dinner table, the rec or TV room, in the car, or in restaurants.
Keep technology out of the bedroom
As the day turns to dusk, your brain starts to release melatonin, the accumulation of which eventually helps put you to sleep. But according to research from the National Sleep Foundation and the Mayo Clinic, blue light from smartphones, tablets or laptops slow that process and also release cortisol, which signals your brain to become more alert. The result is less and more restless sleep, which disrupts the synaptic rejuvenation meant to happen at night and reduces your mental acuity. The solution is simple: Don’t bring your devices to bed!
Over the past decade technology has taken over our lives. While it offers access to information, connection and entertainment, it also has been shown to diminish our brainpower and harm our mental health. These six tactics—which you can implement for yourself or encourage on your team—are simple ways to ensure these ubiquitous devices do less harm than good.
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