Right now, the world feels a bit like a huge sociological experiment.
Just ten years ago, none of us were connected to the internet 24/7. Over the past ten years, since the launch of the iPhone in 2007, the world has experienced a rapid shift–one in which it’s normal to be tethered to our devices.
Let’s face it–we’re addicted to our phones and computers. This shift has happened without our conscious attention. It just feels normal to see phones everywhere.
When I look around at the airport, everyone’s on their phone. Heck, I’m on mine too. When my friends are texting when I’m with them, no surprise–because I’m guilty of it too.
81% of people are connected to their phones 24/7, almost all of us are checking our notifications within 5 minutes (or less) of waking, and the average person touches his or her phone 2,617 times per day.
We’re also looking at our work email. All. The. Time.
50% of us are checking it in bed, 98% of executives are on it at night and on the weekends, and 57% of people are looking at work messages during family outings with their kids.
Listen, I love technology just as much as the next person. My work is made possible by the advances in technology: I’ve got an online business, a remote team, and social media has given me the opportunity to connect with people across the globe.
However, just as much as technology is an important part of my day, so is unplugging.
I believe that, in the future, we’re going to look back at the way technology is used today and compare it to smoking.
Let me explain why.
Just as the cigarette is addictive because of its nicotine content, our technology is also addictive because of the way that it’s designed.
Cigarette companies are not inherently malicious–they produce a product that people demand. However, that product hooks people in and eventually causes cancer and a ton of terrible health effects.
Tech companies do a ton of social good–but they also, very deliberately, seeking to hijack your attention and hold it for as long as possible.
When designing their products, tech and social media companies, vying for your attention, leverage the most cutting-edge research on behavior change, persuasion, biochemistry, neuroscience, conditioning, and habit formation.
In today’s world, the more that you can hold people’s attention with your products, the more money you make.
In other words, “We’ve lost control of our relationship with technology because technology has become better at controlling us,” wrote Bianca Bosker in The Atlantic.
And the research is clear: being connected all the time is hurting our health.
Research shows us that checking your work email off hours leads to emotional exhaustion, burnout, stress, and psychological, gastrointestinal, and cardiovascular problems. Another study found a direct correlation between the amount of time spent on a screen and higher rates of depression.
However, there’s an easy cure–just spend more time away from your screens.
Research backs this up. A Harvard study followed a team at Boston Consulting Group. Their prescription? Absolutely no work email on evenings and weekends.
The results, shown almost immediately: Lower stress levels, skyrocketing excitement about work, a huge jump in job satisfaction, and absolutely no loss in productivity–even though they were working less.
Simple, but not easy.
With notifications constantly popping up, apps that scroll endlessly, and emails begging to be read, taking control of how you use technology can feel almost impossible.
Here are my top tips on how to detach better–I use these every day.
• Become aware.
Download Rescue Time for your computer and Moment for your iPhone to see how much time you actually spend on your phone.
• 30 before 7:30 a.m.
Sleep with your phone out of your bedroom. When you wake up in the morning, don’t touch it. After getting up, grab a notebook or piece of paper, and plan your day. Choose your top priority for the day and plan when you will do it. Once you finish your 30 minutes of planning, you can look at your phone. Hint: this doesn’t work if you keep your phone next to your bed while you sleep. Keep it where you won’t be tempted by it in the morning.
• Progress, not productivity.
Responding to emails makes you feel productive but never moves the needle on what matters. Instead, work on your top priority first thing in the morning. Do it right away and don’t check your email until you finish.
• Phones off the table.
Choose to unplug when you’re around other people. If a phone comes out, ask the other person to put it out of sight. Ban phones from the dinner table or family gatherings. Why? Research shows that having a phone on the table distracts people–even if it’s not their phone.
Another reason–being around people you care about is one of the greatest ways to boost your happiness.
Instead of giving up your attention to companies trying to turn it into a profit, focus your attention on what matters most: your big picture goals and the people you love.