A funny few days ago I was having a rather reminiscent conversation with a teenager about the hit TV series “Friends”. I said that I remembered it was on Thursdays, and that you had 3 choices: to rush home for the 5:00 show, wait until 8:00, or be completely devastated that you missed it and hope you caught the re-run one day. She was a bit stunned (I could tell by the way she was blinking at me) and said “why didn’t you just PVR it?” HA!!! She was even more stunned when I said PVR didn’t exist. So many things came up as I laughed out loud… better known today as LOL… and like, seriously, how could we SURVIVE in a world without Google or cell phones!???
As funny as I thought it was, I just couldn’t help but think that as much as we say “oh these darn kids”, we ALSO think just like them! When do you leave the house without your cell phone? When do you ever get home by 5:00 to watch a show? And what is your reaction when you ask someone for their cell number and they say “I don’t have one”? Shock. Disbelief, or perhaps the wild wonder of how can you SURVIVE without a cell phone!?? We are walking, talking oxymoron’s.
Oxymoron, by definition: OX – EE – MOR – ON
/a figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction/

Here’s and example:
“kids these days, their heads are always buried in those dam cell phones.” a text message sent from a 30-something year old to a 40-something year old.

Yes, we can accept change as we are ever evolving creatures, but certain things are hardwired into our species. Our brains are programmed with two very powerful systems. The “fight or flight” system which is a survival tool that triggers us to respond to certain sounds, and the “reward” system which is the feel good system we naturally crave. Our land roaming hunters were alerted by the crack of a branch or the rustle of bushes, a noise that meant the presence of a predator, and compelled by the reward of food for survival. Today the buzzing, beeps or flashes of our devices may be new noises, but we are still triggering the same system which makes us stop what we are doing and respond, and now we are compelled by the reward of new social information. It’s the way of the new world, and whether we want to admit it or not, most of us are a part of it. Our cell phones help us remember, schedule, and communicate, seemingly making us more efficient than ever, but many of us pay more attention to our tiny 3×5 inch DEVICE than we do to each other. It’s an inner battle we face daily, but even our hunting ancestors had to put down the bow and arrow to rest for a while.

So what can we do? How do we disengage while staying engaged?

Let me start by giving you a few reasons to consider powering down once in a while:

  • NO BRAIN can focus on two things at once. You self proclaimed multitaskers are just that – self proclaimed. Yes we can DO two things at once, but I’m talking about FOCUSING on two things. It is a scientific fact that the brain just can’t do it, which means every time your device alerts you with a message, you immediately lose your train of thought, which means? You are not focused.
  • When you constantly have instant access to ideas and answers, you are missing out on thinking! Thinking creatively and thinking deeply, and truly connecting with yourself.
  • There are physical effects and health hazards to constant cell phone use. Accidents happen much more frequently, tripping, falling, and vehicle all included, and one study actually shows that the angle you hold your head to look at your phone (approx. 60 degrees forward) puts about 60 pounds of pressure on your neck!
  • A recent study funded by the National Institute of Health linked high social media usage to depression and anxiety. Just think, at the click of a button and any time you want, you can compare yourself and your life to others… how fun. NOT.
  • You are placing more value on someone else’s time than you are your own. When you are getting and checking new e-mail every few minutes, you are allowing other people to prioritize what THEY consider urgent in YOUR day.

Here are just a few simple ideas to give yourself a break, and give yourself permission to look up…

  • Schedule your technology, don’t let it schedule you. Consider removing e-mail capabilities from your phone all together, and schedule specific times during the day to check emails on your laptop. If you aren’t dealing with e-mails all morning long, you should easily be able to take an hour before lunch and an hour before the end of your day to look at and respond to e-mails, and perhaps let people know to call or text you with anything urgent. This will actually make you a much more efficient and productive employee as you will likely be able to FOCUS on the task at hand.
  • If you absolutely can’t do it without your phone, try a less drastic approach; you can set your phone up to only receive new emails every half hour or hour, or two, whatever works for you. Another consideration would be to set up dedicated e-mail accounts for family or an assistant or your boss so that only those emails will go to your phone.
  • Set an auto reply! It’s simple, and it’s freeing!! One corporate employee has a reply that reads “I am unplugged, connecting with people and the world around me, and I’ll get back to you as soon as I’m reconnected.” Copy. Paste. Voila.
    Schedule tech-free periods. I set a rule for myself that I will not check my phone for at least 1 hour after waking up, and after 8pm at night. It’s way too easy to lose 20 minutes scrolling through Facebook in the morning instead of enjoying my coffee or connecting with my children by being able to make them breakfast.
  • Go old school and get yourself an alarm clock instead of using your phone. Put it in a different room at night and it will make it much less tempting to look your phone right before bed or first thing in the morning if it’s not within reach.
  • Try to pick an entire day of disconnecting. If it’s too much to do weekly try starting with one Sunday a month, or every other Sunday! Disconnect for 24 hours, and even though it might be difficult at first try, it’ll be a habit in no time and one you’ll look forward to. Start by leaving a simple message on your voicemail like “I won’t be available this Sunday, but please leave a message and I will get back to you on Monday.”
  • Don’t take your phone with you everywhere you go. Leave it on your desk when you go to get coffee, or better yet lunch! Leave it at home when you go for a walk, or to the park, or to someone’s house for dinner. Things that are personal and require engagement should be just that – engaging! Get involved in play, exercise, and conversation.
  • When you’re trying to quit a habit, it always works best when you replace it with something else. Don’t just say “I’m staying off of Facebook tonight”, but know that you’re going to replace that time by saying ”I’m going to call an old friend tonight” or “I’m going to read the first chapter of the new book I just bought.” Hopefully you’ll find yourself so immersed in conversation or reading that you’ll put Facebook out of your mind completely… at least until tomorrow 😉
  • Try to follow the same discipline with texting by setting the Do Not Disturb function and only allow people to be able to message you during certain times. You’ll still get any messages sent, but you don’t have to read them until you turn the DND off.
    Let’s say you default to the almighty EMERGENCY. I would like you to take a minute and try thinking about the last time there was an emergency. Can you think of one? Realistically, if it were a true emergency you’re going to find out about it whether your cell phone is on or not.

We always have a reason to keep our devices on, but keep in mind that if we are in an airplane, a hospital, a presentation, a wedding, a funeral, or a meeting at work for example, we do not hesitate to shut our phones off because we consider these things non-negotiable. We see it as a sign of respect for things like the rules, the bride, or our boss, so perhaps you should consider adding one more reason to that list. YOURSELF.

Business consultants, therapists, and people on the cover of Forbes magazine know that the key to success is finding balance. There is no doubt that there are many benefits to modern technology, but in order to achieve balance you must learn to use it strategically.
Become the master, not the slave.