When our business is being online, we harness the infinite power of the Internet every day. The digital life is never just websites and conference calls. For people who work online, not having a physical office means you’re never really “closed.” Clients and colleagues may contact you throughout the day and night, and you might feel pressure to respond quickly.
What we digital professionals often forget is being online and available all day (and sometimes, all night) can be detrimental to both our health and our productivity.
In this article, we’re going to examine the benefits of going offline and offer some tips on how to restore balance without reducing productivity and success.
The Problem with Constant Connectivity
Our always-on-always-available online culture takes a toll. What happens during that time that you’re waiting to hear from a client? You check email every five minutes, peek in on Facebook, revise your online shopping list, or a dozen other things. And then, without fail, once you do get into a groove with a project, someone pings you with an urgent concern, your partner needs to know about dinner, or that Facebook argument you were having gets even more contentious.
You multitask, trying to keep doing your work while remaining available to friends, family, clients, and customers. The problem is that this constant juggling of attention kills productivity and corrodes our creativity. ‘Always-on’ becomes ‘hardly-productive.’
Making matters worse, for those who don’t have traditional 8-5 jobs, the line between work and leisure is blurry or non-existent, making it hard to stop working.
Many of us struggle to avoid the temptation to check email, look for new clients, or chat with friends and clients late at night. Then we’re checking our emails while we’re still in bed and sitting in Skype meetings as we make the morning coffee. In our desire to be “team players” and keep up with the workflow, we make ourselves available at all hours, sending a message to others that we’re always available, thus perpetuating an insidious cycle of constant work.
As a result, for many people, working online mean there’s never any downtime.
Digital Natives Need Analog Time
We spend a lot of our time online for both work and play, but it comes at a price.
Ever wonder why you come up with your best ideas in the shower? That’s because you’re not distracted by other things, including conversations, television, or the internet, and your mind is free to wander. It’s that freedom that allows brainstorming to happen.
Our brains crave this “quiet” time.
When we allow ourselves to be distracted, we lose the ability to think critically to solve problems. Constant interruptions can prevent true inspiration and erode our productivity and focus.
We fool ourselves into thinking we’re being more productive by “multitasking”, when in fact the very opposite is true. The act of doing several things at once is the ultimate distraction. When we drop into an online chat while working on an important presentation, or reply to emails during a phone call, we’re breaking our flow and undermining productivity. And in the end, we perform less efficiently.
Screens vs. Humans: What’s More Important?
Our need to “check in” online can also affect relationships with friends and family. Responding to work messages while out to dinner or at a movie can prevent you from truly enjoying your personal and social time. It might frustrate the people around you. Instead, why not turn off the mobile phone and focus on the people you’re with? Not only will they appreciate your undivided attention, but you might discover that these conversations will nourish you and restore your energy.
At night, keeping our phones by the bed means we’re always available to people who have a “quick question” at 2 am. But being woken up by urgent work matters prevents us from being able to rest and recharge. Furthermore, the blue light from computers and phones sends cues to our bodies to stay awake, making it more difficult for us to fall asleep and get sufficient rest.
Is Going Off-Line the Best Solution?
There are tons of websites and self-help gurus who recommend going on a social media diet. This usually means ‘unplugging’ and ditching the smartphones for a week or a month. But for people whose professions require them to work and communicate with others online, going offline isn’t necessarily a realistic goal.
The truth is, it’s nearly impossible for many of us to completely unplug from our digital lives. So how can you sever that “digital leash” without dropping off the grid entirely?
Nine Tips to Break the “Always On” Habit
Here are a few ways you can limit your online time while still remaining productive and effective:
- Check Yourself – The first step in breaking your bad habits is identifying them. Using apps like RescueTime and TimingApp, you can track the time you’re spending on email or social media. Seeing hard data on how much time you’re (not) using productively can often be enough of a wake-up call to inspire changes in your routine.
- Silence the Network -Turn off wifi on your laptop when working on projects that don’t require the Internet. This is especially effective for writers, programmers, and graphic designers who benefit from extended periods without distractions, and whose tools typically don’t require a data connection to function.
- Mobile Mute – In the same vein as Tip #2, put your phone or mobile device in Airplane Mode (or turn it off entirely) when eating out, going to movies, or socializing. By taking your device offline, you won’t get the constant notifications. You also won’t find it as convenient to check Facebook when your date goes to the restroom.
- Be a DND Master – Turn on the Do Not Disturb feature on your laptop and mobile devices to silence notifications at bedtime. Some operating systems allow important calls from family members to get through even when you’re in this mode.
- Love Your Auto-Reply – Turn on your email autoresponder any time you’re on vacation, even if it’s a ‘staycation’ at home. No one has to know you’re not in Hawaii.
- Hire a Virtual Assistant – For help managing emails, phone calls, and other communications from business associates, considering hiring a virtual assistant. These people are like office managers, but they don’t need an actual office. VAs can handle many of your clerical and business tasks.
- Manage Distractions – Get a handle on the things that regularly interrupt you. Schedule email and meeting time ahead of time, and only open those applications when it’s time to use them.
- Hit the Big Red Button – The Nuclear Option. Apps for your computer and mobile devices such as Freedom, StayFocusd, and SelfControl will force you to work offline or block certain websites like Facebook, Twitter, or Gmail. Tough love sometimes works.
- “No” – The most powerful tool in your toolbox. And it’s free for unlimited use. Whenever you get overwhelmed, or people ask you for things outside of your working day, it’s okay to say no.
What Do You Think?
Do you agree that people spend too much time online? How have you seen it change (for better or worse) your own work habits? Do you have any tips to share?
Please let us know what you think in the comments below!
Jackie Dana is the Senior Content Manager at Namecheap.com, and an advocate of internet privacy, civil liberties, and free speech around the world.