Unplugging, how to disconnect without getting lost

How often do we unplug? I mean, really disconnect, go off the grid, no social media, phones, emails? I hear people joke that when they have lost their mobile they feel like they have lost an arm, they don’t know what to do with themselves or that they feel lost.

With smartphones we have become hyper-connected in a way we haven’t before and we can sometimes be in a permanent state of partial attention

This has been well documented with some interesting research pointing to a corresponding increase in anxiety. I recently went out for dinner and while waiting for our meal, there were people at our table, checking out other Facebook posts and taking and uploading photos while we were sitting there. By the time the meal had finished there were ‘likes’ and comments from people present and absent. This is probably now commonplace. I remember when mobile phones the size of bricks became available and if someone took a call in a restaurant, the level of consternation from other diners was high.

Having conversations by text, by social media, by email is often the norm and it’s not unusual for colleagues in the same team or floor to email each other rather than chat. I often used to walk round to people’s desks and could sometimes feel a level of suspicion being aroused with a face to face conversation. Have we become so used to other forms of communication outside meetings that these meetings are perceived to be the ‘serious’ types? The relief on people’s faces when I would explain it was just quicker to chat rather than to send an email was often palpable.

Just as our phones can’t survive without being charged, I believe that we don’t thrive without unplugging regularly. Sure, we might have lots of energy, be well versed in late night emails and almost enjoy anticipating the next text or email BUT and here’s the thing, somewhere along the way there is the very really possibility that we lose perspective. We genuinely believe things are more urgent than they are, that we are more indispensable or important and worse, that not being connected is a huge risk. A risk to sales, to projects, to business and ultimately a risk of failure. When our stress levels rise and cortisol and adrenaline flood our body we are put in a state of arousal that is not sustainable. We can start to feel anxious, overwhelmed and stressed but as Dr Libby points out, emails are just emails. Real stress is a critically ill child or a redundancy or divorce. When communication overload feels like some of these other events it is time to unplug.

I acknowledge commercial realities but this can be accommodated through putting strategies in place to avoid being connected all the time. This can be as simple as changing your voicemail message letting people know when you are available or switching your phones or emails off over dinner or while on holiday. For those of you who are quietly scoffing at my naivety now would be a good time to acknowledge someone I know well in this space who leads a team in a consulting environment. When we go on holiday he switches his phone off, actually off for the duration of the holiday. He leaves a message directing people to his highly capable and competent team. He once had a client who complained that he wasn’t available after hours one particular day while he was looking after the kids and spoke negatively about why both parents shouldn’t work. He told the client that if he couldn’t appreciate his core values around family there were other people he could work with.

Have you unplugged recently? Would you, should you, could you?

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