More and more, our lives are inextricably intertwined with technology. From the moment we wake up until we finally switch off our devices at the end of the day, most of us in the western world are locked into the digital realm.
This is especially true for those of us that work in front of a screen all day. But across the board, companies vie for and profit from our attention during the idle hours of our days. This constant exposure can lead to burnout, decreased productivity and an underlying sense of existential dread.
I believe this is the unconscious default for most of us, it’s absolutely true for me. After a few years of poor post-college work/life boundaries that led to pretty severe burnout, I have been trying to be more mindful about choosing when to be online and when to disconnect.
This slow reevaluation of my relationship with the digital world has given me more autonomy over my time and attention — two of my most valuable personal resources.
Start the Day for Yourself
When your alarm goes off in the morning, what do you do? I used to help myself wake up by checking my email and compulsively zeroing my inbox (a truly egregious practice that I’d suggest to no one).
I know a lot of people who get out of bed at the last possible second and go straight to work. And then there are those enviable freaks who are up at 4 am, running and getting things done — having a whole day to themselves before work begins.
Somewhere in the middle of all those extremes is something that feels sustainable for all of us: a 15 to 60 minute block of time to meditate, go for a walk, read a book, or do anything at all for yourself to get grounded, present, and engage in something that you enjoy doing.
By starting the day off with “me time”, you are guaranteeing that other things won’t pile up and get in the way, pushing it to the slimming periphery until you finally give up on it entirely and go to bed without.
This simple insurance has a profound effect on mental clarity and overall mood throughout the day and is a great way to make sure your work-life balance remains sustainable.
For me, this looks like an alarm that goes off three hours before I am meant to get to work. I leave myself plenty of time to snooze and make my way out of bed at a leisurely pace.
I meditate, move my body, hang out with my pets, enjoy breakfast with my husband, and get lunch and snacks together before I make my way out the door.
But, I’m flexible with it. Life happens and there are days that I just need to sleep. The commitment is always there to find time again tomorrow.
Decompress Without Screens
At the end of a long day, the easiest thing to do is plop on the couch and shift from one screen to another. This doesn’t give our brains a much needed break, and leaves our vision locked into an unnaturally narrow focus.
Doom-scrolling and binge-watching typically isn’t leading to higher levels of fulfillment in our lives, either.
Making the conscious choice to decompress without screens at the end of the day allows your mind to shift into a different state and truly unwind. Engaging in a hobby, enjoying the company of your friends and family or reading a physical book are all great ways to relieve stress and come back to yourself after a long day at work.
Try to do something that allows you to broaden your vision — this signals to your brain that you are safe and helps to facilitate calm.
Usually when I get home, I head to my garden or to my cutting board. I love food and I love to cook, and doing something sensory and tactile after a full day of screens is a welcome shift.
Work Hard & Go Home
Slack has one of my favorite corporate mottos of all time, “work hard and go home”. This ethos encourages employees to give their all during work hours and then to disconnect after work.
It’s frowned upon to be in communication on Slack during evenings and weekends. Constant connection and overworking doesn’t equate to higher productivity or better results. In fact, it often leads to the opposite.
Unplugging at the end of the day is actually unintuitively productive. Taking a break from digital stimuli enables you to recharge and focus better when you’re actually working.
The concept of the Sabbath, or day of rest observed across religions is traditionally dedicated to stepping away from work and focusing on spiritual rejuvenation.
I was recently introduced to the concept of a secular version of this practice, the digital Sabbath, in an episode of the Ezra Klein Show. While I haven’t been able to implement it just yet, I’ve found the concept very alluring as a next step in my journey towards living a more balanced life.
A digital Sabbath means consciously disconnecting from our devices for a designated period of time — say, one day a week. This time would be set aside to recharge, reflect and engage in the tangible world around us; to commit to ourselves and to our own personal joy and fulfillment.
Beyond taking a break from work emails and Slack messages, it’s a holistic unplugging from the constant barrage of digital stimuli and external messaging. This practice is a great opportunity to nurture physical, mental and emotional well-being. And would help affirm that we are the masters of our digital tools, not the other way around.
Whether it’s just 30 minutes after work or a full Saturday, I hope we can all devote a little more time to hitting the ‘off’ button. Not only for our productivity and focus, but for our overall well being and happiness.
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