How to Go Offline in a Digital World
In an era of increasing ‘digital pollution’, authors Imran Rashid and Soren Kenner offer their five golden tips for recognising the online ‘mind hacks’ that stress us out and avoiding the potentially disastrous side-effects of information overload. Etan Smallman reports
As a business decision-maker, you should be concerned about the impact of online overload on you and your colleagues – and not just because April is stress awareness month.
Digital addiction – particularly social media use – can adversely affect mood and morale. Researchers at the University of Innsbruck in Austria found that volunteers reported feeling less happy after using Facebook, compared with general internet browsing.
Addiction to screens could be affecting your bottom line. One Business Today report found that 13% of total productivity is lost due to time wasted online or on social media.
Here, Imran Rashid and Soren Kenner, the authors of a new book, Offline: Free your mind from smartphone and social media stress, reveal the best strategy for employees to alleviate the side effects of spending their lives online.
Have anti-distraction triggers
Rashid and Kenner have coined the term DFRAG, digital fragmentation syndrome, to describe a condition where the human experience of time, space and consciousness is constantly fragmented through digital interactions. The key step to combating this, says Rashid, a qualified family physician, is to create an office infrastructure that has in-built triggers and behaviour patterns to cut through the digital noise.
He compares digital distraction to smoking – in offices, you have clear rules about where you can and can’t light up. “We need the same kind of conditioning when it comes to digital habits,” he says. “If you want to allow people to concentrate, then you have to make a distraction-free working space.”
One idea he recommends is for every employee who works in an open-plan office to have a light on their desk. “When you switch the light on, other people will know, ‘Hey, this guy wants to focus, I shouldn’t disturb him.’”
This also has a positive effect on the individual, encouraging them to take personal responsibility to digitally switch off while they complete a task and are more available. “After all, we know that about 50 per cent of all the distractions in a workplace are self-inflicted,” explains Rashid. “We have developed a behaviour where we distract ourselves.”
Schedule digital detox breaks
Co-author and online marketeer and entrepreneur Soren Kenner recommends starting your day not just with a to-do list of tasks, but with a schedule for when you access – and when you block yourself from accessing – the most potent digital distractions. These include social media, casual gaming and even email.
“For example, you could agree to a schedule that enabled emails from 9am to 11am and again from 4pm to 5pm and blocks social media except for a designated time block during lunch and perhaps a short period at the end of the day,” he says. “Doing so would lead to increased productivity and ability to focus.”
Make important decisions early in the day
Being constantly online creates what psychologists call “decision fatigue”, which leads to “worse decisions the longer you go on,” says Kenner.
“It refers to the fact that making decisions burns finite resources. That is because the process involves neurotransmitters and hormones that take some time to replenish, and therefore the more decisions you have to make in a day, the poorer they will generally be.”