The book I started reading last, Limitless, reminded me of another important stress management strategy, digital detox. In this day and age, we are inundated with information from so many sources every time we look at our phones or computers. Even when we are not seeking out the news, our phone will kindly alert us to the “breaking” news, which is almost always negative and dramatic in nature. Then, our phones, which are really mini-computers, constantly buzz from text messages, chat requests, Facebook friend updates, emails, and various other types of messages/notifications demanding our attention. Of course, there are obvious benefits to having all this information at our fingertips and being able to communicate with friends and family in an instant.
The problem is not the technology, rather the problem is the way most of us use it, or more accurately, never stop using it! When we are constantly getting “pinged” our brains start to become more like reaction machines than the super computers they are. We surely wouldn’t want to be rude and not text our friend back within thirty seconds or not answer their call every time. And of course, we better respond to emails as quickly as possible, or our cousin Bob’s political message on Facebook.
Now, it is understandable that many of us gets pulled into the digital domain. When we receive a new message, our brain gets a dopamine hit, which feels good and we all like to feel good! But just like any drug, the “digital drug” has some side effects, including reduced attention span, increased distractibility, impatience with others, and ultimately brain drain. This is because when we never de-plug, our brain doesn’t get the downtime it needs to restore itself and consolidate the deluge of information it just dealt with.
So, what should we do to keep our brains functioning optimally and still be “there” for others in the digital age? The answer, we believe, lies in “chunking” the emails/messages and other social media interactions into time blocks throughout the day. The system that we recommend is to allocate a thirty-minute time block to read and respond to emails/texts every two hours. Or if a two-hour time block of no technology feels too long, then consider a one-hour block followed by a 15 minutes digital time block. Either approach should keep you “caught up” and digitally connected with loved ones and/or co-workers.
Now you may be wondering what you do with the one to two-hour block when you are not plugged in? The answer is whatever you want, but here are a few suggestions: creative/focused work, study important subject, learn new skills, exercise, play with kids, talk (not text) with family and friends, be in nature, or some combination of these. Like everything, you will need to experiment a bit to see what works for you.
Enjoy the newly found productivity and meaningful time!