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Is technology making us less productive?

January 22, 2019

Is always being on affecting our productivity?

I got my first job in communications back in 2001. I worked hard, no doubt moaned about my long hours, but once I left work, that was it. I couldn’t physically do any more work. I couldn’t answer emails because I didn’t have WiFi at home and regardless, there wasn’t the technology to log in remotely. Our mobile phones only made phone calls and sent texts (no camera phones). The height of their ability was to download a polyphonic ringtone.

If I needed to remind myself to do something, I would ring my work voicemail and leave myself a message. I (probably) received about 20 emails a day. It was generally understood if it was outside office hours, you wouldn’t get a response until the following day at best. There was no way to reply. Our expectations were much lower back then.

I ripped out pages from a printed A-Z if I went to a party and didn’t want to take a bag. As a result, there were a few areas in London that were a bit sparce… I would ring a friend for directions if I got stuck. It was pretty commonplace for at least one person to be stood outside a noisy bar navigating a friend in.

Online shopping will never take off…

People started to mention the idea of buying clothes online. I scoffed at the idea saying how that would never work – of course, only thinking about my 20-something self and not how life changing it would be for people who are unable to leave the house or dedicate a day to trailing round the shops. Millennials, please note: it’s not just your generation that can be accused of lacking in self awareness..

The impact of technology

Fast forward over 15 years and technology has changed our lives.

We buy our groceries from our phone. It’s almost impossible to get lost as GPS can determine our exact location and the maps on our phones help us navigate to where we need to be. The postal system, which we all thought was going to die with email, has benefitted from online shopping and all the Amazon and Asos parcels sent to our offices and homes. We access news and culture regardless of location as long as we can get online. We can watch the latest films and even see theatre productions all without leaving our living rooms.

Social media – initially designed to help us keep in touch with friends and family – is now a viable career option with people ‘selling’ us lifestyles and promoting products. The term ‘influencer’ has become common parlance and changed the nature of advertising.

We run businesses from our phones; processing orders and promoting products and services. We email customers, clients, reach out to potential employers all through Apps and 4G connections.

Yet is technology making us less productive?

Great power involves great responsibility.

Franklin D Roosevelt

In the name of transparency, I should say I started writing this blog on the London Underground, typing away on my phone, whilst travelling to meet friends. I no longer work a 9-5 but have a flexible working arrangement so I can spend one day a week with my toddler. Technology on so many levels has massively changed my life.

However, I also feel the pull to dedicate more time to social media. Am I out there enough? Could I be doing more? As a blogger, I find it hard to balance my enjoyment of the writing process without evaluating myself by traffic levels. I also find it very hard to not get distracted. It’s easy to start mindlessly scrolling instagram, twitter and facebook – and when you’re tired, you need something easy that doesn’t take too much brain power. It does mean I focus less on the task in hand so even though I’m achieving more than I could have done in the past, too much choice makes me feel technology is making me less productive.

Do any of us have a work / life balance?

A study by the University of West England found that over half of commuters used their travelling time to catch up on work emails. Better connectivity has enabled people to work from the train. For people with long commutes, this must add a considerable amount of time to their working day – and one that they’re not necessarily paid for.

I have a friend who works in Silicon Valley. He gets on a company bus to his office, logs on and starts work. His commute is classified as working time and as a result he spends less time in the office. He has a better work/life balance and isn’t resentful about his commute. Technology is there to make life easier (not harder) and helps people be productive.

I’ve felt for a long time we measure the wrong metrics in workplaces. We like to see early starters and late finishers and classify them as hard workers, but we forget what really counts is the work that takes place during the day. It’s a false metric to view hours at a desk as a measure of productivity.

Over 50 hours and we’re no longer productive

Research shows that working over 50 hours a week has a negative impact on our productivity. After 50 hours, our productivity falls and after 55 hours, we are not productive at all. There is absolutely no benefit to our employer in us working – they are not gaining anything other than potential health issues to manage. It has also been shown, overworking is damaging our physical and mental health, as well as impacting on our relationships. It’s a lose-lose situation. Technology and our ability to be always on has enabled this – but fundamentally we’re not productive after a certain time.

It’s not just the employed that suffer with lack of boundaries. For those who are self-employed and particularly people who work from home, it must be even harder to create a work/life balance. There has been a quote circulating on Instagram creating by New York based artist, Adam JK mocking the ‘do what you love and you’ll never do a day’s work in your life’ idea highlighting how hard it is to switch off.

Quote about running a small business
Courtesy of @AdamJK – Instagram

A more mindful approach to technology

Now, the purpose of this blog post isn’t to start an uprising at our desks or encourage you to throw your phone out of the window, but to reflect on how we we are using technology. Are we using it mindfully? Is technology making us more or less productive?

Tools to help cut down on screen time

Here are a few tricks and tips I use to keep an eye on my phone usage.

  • I monitor my iPhone screen time. If you go into settings > screen time, you get a weekly report on how much you are using your iphone. I aim to reduce this amount week on week.
  • Think about taking off your work emails from your phone or having two phones. There is also a way you can switch off your email in settings. If this isn’t possible, make sure you don’t have notifications switched on. Start putting boundaries around its usage (ie, no work emails at weekends).
  • Be aware of how sending emails outside of work times can affect other people. Are you sending a message that this is how you expect other people to work? Is it impacting on time you spend with family and friends?
  • Become comfortable with your own thoughts and not needing to entertain yourself 24/7. I genuinely think being bored can be good for you.
  • Keep your phone in your bag or away from you to stop temptation. I have a terrible habit of googling to see why I recognise an actor and losing the plot of a TV show because I’ve fallen down a Wikipedia rabbit hole. I now make sure I fully concentrate on what I’m watching  – looking at my phone just ruins my enjoyment.

Remember technology can also impact on our emotional wellbeing

  • Watch out for feelings of inadequacy. It’s so easy to compare your real life with someone’s curated Instagram life and it’s not healthy because it’s not real. It’s something that creeps up on me from time to time and that’s when I know, it’s time to take a break from the ‘gram.  
  • I try to implement Switch off Sunday. I also am much more aware of how much I’m using my phone around my child. I tend to put the radio on or listen to a podcast so I can dedicate time to him but also have a little bit of a distraction for myself.

Disconnecting from our technology to reconnect with ourselves is absolutely essential for wisdom.


Arianna Huffington

I often have my best ideas when I’m not really doing anything. My brain feels less cluttered and I have space to think. Taking a break from technology is not about working less, it’s about working better. Let’s use technology and make it productive.

mind

The lost art of being bored

March 24, 2018
The lost art of being bored

When did you last feel bored?

I remember as a child feeling bored a lot. Time seemed to tick by very slowly and there just didn’t seem to be enough to do to fill the day. I remember minutes felt like hours and I had to try really hard to entertain myself.

These days I feel the opposite is true. Admittedly, I have a far fuller life with a child, job, home and a husband. However, I can’t remember the last time I actually felt bored, which is ridiculous when you consider I commute to an office and spend most evenings at home.

Yet, why would I feel bored?

I have an iPhone providing a constant stream of entertainment. I love listening to podcasts, looking at Instagram, Facebook, reading newspapers, Twitter.. you name it. I don’t want to badmouth social media and podcasts because what I gain, far outweighs the bad. I just know that I’m reaching for my phone in any moments of down time and expecting constant entertainment.

Why being bored is good for you?

We view boredom as a negative, possibly because it invokes feelings from childhood where entertainment was out of our control – we were reliant on other people really to entertain us. However, the reality is, boredom provides us with the opportunity to be with our thoughts and feelings. We just need to learn to sit with the discomfort.

We’re so used to being able to entertain ourselves the minute boredom strikes that it’s uncomfortable to sit with our own thoughts. It’s good for us though to process things and use the time to solve problems or think creatively. Having the headspace to do this is why boredom is a good thing.

7 reasons why boredom is good for you

  1. It aids our concentration. Unless I put my phone or iPad out of reach, I will be 10 minutes into a film and realise I am scrolling through my twitter feed or googling what films an actor’s been in before. How is it possible to really determine whether or not you are enjoying something when your mind is so easily distracted? Boredom means we pay attention to one thing – there is nothing else to distract us.
  2. We notice details in the everyday.  I have a really beautiful commute home. My train stops at Blackfriars station when the sun is setting over the London Eye and I have a bird’s eye view from the train. Rather embarrassingly, it took me at least two months to notice but now I consciously make sure I drink in that view and feel grateful for it.
  3. Our mind can focus and problem solve. It’s so easy to put difficult problems to one side with the hope that if we ignore them, they go away. I believe you have to deal with things when you’re in the right headspace, however, you have to create the right environment for that to take place.
  4. There is time for reflection. A less busy mind gives us time to really think about what’s happened during the day/week/month/year. We can deal with our problems and then move on.
  5. We’ll sleep better. We don’t give ourselves the time to process what happened during the day because we distract ourselves. We’re then we’re surprised when our minds start racing as soon our head hits the pillow.
  6. Freeing up our mind encourages creativity. I listened to a podcast recently where the host said they always got their best ideas on planes because they had no choice but to switch off. There’s no internet and we’re all at the behest of inflight entertainment. By being more available, we’re opening ourselves up to new thoughts and ideas. I have my best ideas in those ‘in between’ times when I’m not really doing anything.
  7. Let’s us listen to our intuition. Less distractions enable us to hear that little voice inside giving us clarity on the right choices and pathways. It’s worth having moments of boredom for that alone.

Allow yourself to be bored

I’m trying to be much more aware of not leaning into my phone as soon as I feel those moments of discomfort. I have a bad habit of needing to listen to music or a podcast when I’m walking anywhere and it means I’m never just with my thoughts.

The access we have to information is incredible and such a power for good. However, it requires discipline and balance. This is just one of the reasons why I now try to Switch off Sunday

self-care

What does self-care mean and why is it important?

February 20, 2018
what does self-care mean

What do we mean by self-care?

Nowadays, it seems there is a whole lifestyle being sold on self-care with scented candles, luxury bubble bath and turmeric based drinks all designed to improve our health and wellbeing. Posts on Instagram portray carefully curated images of must-have products all selling the self-care dream. But if we strip all of this away, what does the phrase self-care actually mean? Is it just candles and bath oils, or something much more meaningful?

Having come of age in the 90s, the term ‘self-care’ is fairly new to me and something I always thought meant simply looking after yourself. And to a degree, that’s pretty much what it is. Self-care is any activity we do in order to look after our mental, emotional and physical health. It is key to keeping ourselves well; maintaining our immune systems and mental wellbeing.

yes, it may be as simple as running a relaxing bubble bath or lighting a scented candle; for others, it may be the key to getting themselves out of bed in the morning.

Why you need to look after yourself

Physical and mental health obviously differs from person to person. It also changes throughout our lives. This is where the concept of self-care can’t really be prescriptive: for some people, yes, it may be as simple as running a relaxing bubble bath or lighting a scented candle; for others, it may be the key to getting themselves out of bed in the morning.

On this basis, I do think it’s important not to dismiss self-care as just a luxury or a lifestyle aspiration. It can be critical to someone’s recovery from illness or being able to maintain to hold down a job. It’s also not just about wellness but ensuring lots of parts of our lives are in balance including our finances. As someone who has had my fair share of debts in the past, I know the stress it causes when you’re not sure if your paycheck will last you the month.

For me, I definitely know self-care is something I need to concentrate on more. My face takes on a greyish pallor when I haven’t been eating and sleeping properly. I also start to feel exhausted and run down. I need to get better at recognising that self-care is preventative action rather than something I do after running myself into the ground.

How to put self-care in place

One of the easiest ways to look at how best to support yourself is to do a self-care audit. This helps you identify what areas of life you need to focus on and to think about the actions you’ll put in place. It’s worth doing this every six months or so because life changes and your self-care needs will change with it.

self-care

Do you need to rest?

January 10, 2018

Why rest is so important

By the end of 2017, I felt sluggish, run down and I couldn’t understand where my energy had gone.

And then I remembered: I have a child, a house to look after, oh.. and I also work full time to a job I commute to.

My life consisted of work, train, pick my son up from nursery, bath, bed, cook, tidy, clean and then sleep. Repeat. On an average day, I had 45 minutes of time to myself.

I was burning myself out.

I’ve always been the type of person who likes to make the most of any free time. Or being entirely honest, I feel guilty when I’m not doing something and that somehow I’ll be punished for lazing about. My Dad grew up in a poor background and became successful through hard work. I think that narrative seeped into my psyche and I have a fear around what might working happen if I took my foot off the pedal.

The irony is, instead of thinking about what might happen if I took a break; I should be thinking about what might happen if I don’t…

Rest is crucial.

Always ‘on’ culture

The connectivity of modern life means we’re always available and always on. Plus the heavily curated nature of Instagram and Facebook help to fuel the idea that we should be doing something at all times. We need content to be able to show how busy we are.

We’re also told that anything is possible with hard work. I do believe there’s some truth in that; as in it’s difficult to be successful without hard work. However, not at the expense of everything else.

We need to stop fuelling the idea that resting isn’t really necessary and success only happens by pushing yourself to your limits. This is why so many people feel burnt out.

Always ‘on’ culture

The connectivity of modern life means we’re always available and always on. Plus the heavily curated nature of Instagram and Facebook help to fuel the idea that we should be doing something at all times. We need content to be able to show how busy we are.

We’re also told that anything is possible with hard work. I do believe there’s some truth in that; as in it’s difficult to be successful without hard work. However, not at the expense of everything else.

We need to stop fuelling the idea that resting isn’t really necessary and success only happens by pushing yourself to your limits. This is why so many people feel burnt out.

Why do we need to rest? 

Rest is fundamentally important. As any athlete knows, our bodies need rest to repair itself and so our minds should be no different. We need to make sure we’re giving ourselves permission to switch off for a while and recuperate.

Rest gives us a break

Most people have experienced feeling frazzled by a piece of work; looking at it again the next day with fresh eyes helps provide greater clarity on what to do next. That’s exactly what rest does for us – it gives us a break. It helps us make better decisions(rather than operating in brain fog); have better relationships(rather than being snappy and over sensitive); have more energywhen spending time with our children / families; and helps us have empathy for othersbecause we have more to give.

Joshua Becker from Becoming Minamalist suggests we have one day a week dedicated to resting. For those of us with caring responsibilities and/or full-time jobs, a day of rest may not exactly be practical (although I can dream…). However, I fully agree with the principle that we don’t need to have our foot on the accelerator all the time.

We all need to be factoring in rest time.

Rest as an act of self-care

One of the greatest acts of self-care is to give ourselves permission to rest. We need to understand we’re important too. So please, go read a book, watch a TV drama, light a candle and/or run a bath.

Give yourself a break.

5 things I’m doing to make sure I rest

  1. Recognise I don’t need to do everything right away. The world won’t end if I don’t empty the dishwasher that evening. Plus I have a husband who can equally contribute to household tasks.
  2. Dedicate two evenings a week to relaxing and doing something I enjoy. Run a bath, watch TV, read a book, listen to a podcast etc.
  3. Switch off from social media. I can waste hours looking at Facebook and Instagram looking at people’s lives. It serves me no real purpose and doesn’t contribute to feelings of self-worth.
  4. Understand that saying ‘no’ isn’t being selfish. There is a saying ‘you can’t pour from an empty well’ and I need to remember it.
  5. Simply slow down.
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