Hi gang! So I have been on an accidental theme for a while now. Perhaps it has been part of my own self-discovery and journey but either way I find myself posting a lot on values, passion, self-care, boundaries and intentional living. In the age of the ‘2min read’ there are a lot of great articles out there that you can find and read about any of these. What I find is that they don’t get real for us…. tangible… relatable… So I wanted to pick on digital boundaries and share what I do.
Firstly though, I’m going to tie these concepts above together as best I can. I will write a few more articles soon that go into them a little more, but in concept – values and passions are our base. If you don’t know what these things are for you then to be honest you are going to struggle in pretty much every aspect of life. Good news is it’s an achievable task for all of us, and may be an ongoing activity for you. Self-care, boundaries and intentional living all come in support of our values and passions primarily but also have a range of other benefits.
So digital boundaries. I am getting pretty specific here to look at the ways in which information, distraction, demands, stress and anxiety enter our lives through digital means. There is lots of research out there on the impacts of screen time which has led to international organisations like WHO releasing screen time recommendations. The mental health impacts of screen time cannot really be disputed any longer in my mind. (https://psychcentral.com/news/2018/11/11/too-much-screen-time-linked-to-anxiety-depression-in-young-children-and-teens/139931.html)
Apart from the broad impacts of ‘hours per day’ there is also the subtle impacts that devices have on our ability to concentrate on what our rational mind would choose. You may not love reading books but hopefully you can relate to the analogy; we decide to read something we enjoy, it may be learning something, it may be something joyful or inspiring, or motivating – the phone beeps with a new message. Where has your mind gone?? Really think about it for a second, can you ignore the beep? It beeps again. Is it urgent? Are you feeling like you’re missing something? Or perhaps it is just curiosity that gets you reaching for it. Again there are a range of studies out there on the psychological process and impacts. Couldn’t find it at the time of writing this but I read one paper suggesting that this ‘always-on responsive lifestyle’ is resulting in reductions in our ability to concentrate in general. It really is an addiction, check out this article and explore FOMO for other information (http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2018/dopamine-smartphones-battle-time/).
Down to practicalities then. So aside from counselling I also work in tech, in roles I could work 24/7 if I let them. And that is probably true for a lot of people either in work or personal. My current role has a burn out rate of 80% in the industry I found out recently. I also have two children and study. I just share that because I want to give you a taste of why I needed to take control of my digital boundary. It evolved and continues to evolve… I’m going to break this list into three parts ok. Behind each of the dot points is a change from being driven by reaction to allowing me the decision on what and how I engage with devices. Happy to explain more on my thinking or what it changed!
What has worked that is now part of my setup
- My phone is always muted.
- No ring tones, no beeps. Vibrate is only for phone calls.
- Visual notifications for nearly all apps apart from selected messaging apps are off.
- lock screen icons notifications for select messages only.
- App icon badges are off for all apps apart from some messaging apps. So this only shows once I unlock the phone.
- Some apps needed some more specific tweaking to turn off all app notifications apart from just messages.
- Email notifications on all devices are off all together, no sound, no vibrate, no popup, no icon, no badge.
- My smart watch only notifies me of meetings and phone calls.
- My phone goes into DND early in the evening and comes back out in the morning well past a reasonable waking hour. This allows breakthrough calls and select contacts to bypass still if its urgent.
- Online presence and read receipts have been disabled on all personal apps. I was finding there was an expectation to respond.
- My calendar has blocked out hours each day for focus time.
- I have had used entire days blocked in the past also work well.
- I label it as focus time and have no issues declining meetings organised over them.
- My phone also goes into DND during these times.
- If you are in a work environment then you could look into implementing a visual indicator for your workplace to use so you all know when people are having focus time. I have used a red flag in the past with teams I managed.
Occasional boundaries to deal with overload
- DND gets turned on for the phone and workplace apps for a few hours. On most devices this really turns down a lot the notifications and directs people into channels you can respond in your own time.
Other ideas / extreme measures for some 🙂
- Flight Mode.
- Digital detox for a few days if you can.
- Ditch social media for the social connection elements. It isn’t keeping you connected to people anyway.
Actually… I have to tell you of an experience on the above. I needed a break so ended up taking a weekend to myself and turned on flight mode. The anger I received from various people when I came back online was a little surprising. There was two interesting parts to it, people got concerned when some apps report that the message hasn’t been delivered to the phone. And then that in general I didn’t respond in a reasonable timeframe. So just a reminder that digital communication is as much a part of communication as standing in a room with people these days. If you leave the room some people like to know your leaving and when you might be back 🙂