Skip to 0 minutes and 3 secondsOne of the core concepts of digital wellbeing is work life balance -- the division of one’s time and focus between work and personal life. I’m going to be honest with you and admit that this is something that I struggle with. I could at this point blame this on having too much to do but that’s not really the whole story. I know this because I recently had to take a step back and reflect on how much time, and more importantly focus, I was giving to work. So one of the things I noticed from my reflections was how often I take the office home with me, out with me and even on holiday with me.

Skip to 0 minutes and 38 secondsIf you think about it don’t we all? From my mobile device I can connect to my work email, I can access all my work documents on Google Drive, and create new documents, all on the go. All I needed was my phone and an internet connection and I could be back at work. Why would I want to be back at work? Well I actually love my job. I find it interesting and get lots of opportunities to be creative. I often get to do new things. Developing this course being one of them. But that’s no reason for spending more time at work than I should do.

Skip to 1 minute and 12 secondsSo some of the things that I noticed I was doing and needed to stop doing, was this tendency to slip back into work mode, to become distracted, and think, I’ll just do that one thing. But I realised that one thing could be adding a slide to that presentation when I was supposed to be enjoying lunch out with my husband; just checking that email that just popped up on my phone when I was reading an iBook; sending a reply while I’m at the Brudenell Social Club and supposed to be watching a band. What I realised was I was working when I really didn’t need to be working, and letting work distract me from the fun life activities.

Skip to 1 minute and 50 secondsLike I say I could blame this on having too much to do or my mobile phone. But really I just needed to make the decision to stop working -- and thinking about work outside of work. I’m not saying it’s an easy thing to do or that I have got it completely mastered, but just recognising and reflecting on how much time I was allocating to work was definitely useful.

Switch off or burn out

Thanks to technology making work just a click away, it’s easy to forget the importance of work-life balance and the need to effectively manage workloads.

Mobile digital technologies and cloud computing have enabled us to develop flexible approaches to working, making it possible to use work IT systems and communications technology outside the office. The boundaries between work and home life are becoming blurred, resulting in an inability to switch off outside of work hours. At times we might feel that being online makes us feel like we are always at work - 22% of adults indicated this was the case in a 2018 survey by Ofcom.

In a recent CIPD (2018) survey, 87% of respondents identified the “inability to switch off out of office hours” as the main negative effect of technology on wellbeing. This was closely followed by the stress resulting from technology failure (70%). The inability to “switch off” was linked to the “always-on” culture: a widely acknowledged feature of the modern workplace.

So, with the knowledge that overworking is not good for our health, and that technology can exacerbate this, what strategies can we put in place to stop us burning out?

Technology to help you switch off

Throwing technology at a technology problem may seem counterproductive, but if this technology enables us to better understand our ‘screen time’ and disconnect from the office, then it has the potential to have a positive impact on our wellbeing. We have seen a recent trend in the development of features and tools to promote digital wellbeing. Google introduced wellbeing features as part of the Android operating system Pie, and Apple’s iOS 12 also features a Screen Time app. Although there is currently no proof that these wellbeing tools will change behaviours, understanding our habits and reflecting on them can be the first step to making positive changes in our relationship with technology.

Here are some useful features, tools and tips that I identified when I was trying to address my work-life balance and ‘switch off’:

  1. Turn off your alerts: getting alerts at all times of the day can be stressful and distracting. You can use the Do not disturb function on your Apple or Android device to switch off alerts from all apps. If you want to manage this on an app by app basis then you can do this in the Settings.

  2. Make a quick note: when you have an idea or remember something you need to do, note it down somewhere to look at later. You could use a non-tech method like a post-it or notepad or a tech solution like Google Keep. The Keep mobile app has voice recognition, so as you can speak the idea into your phone and it’ll take a written note that can be picked up later.

  3. Send less email: research has found that, on average, people spend a third of their time in the office – and half the time they work at home – reading and responding to emails. All this time dedicated to emails can result in increased workload and stress. Later this week, Mike Dunn will talk in detail about the problem with email and offer some solutions.

  4. No phones rule: identify time when you won’t look at your phone. You might find it useful to have no phones in the bedroom so you can go to sleep and wake up without the distraction of technology, or no phones at the dinner table to encourage interactions with your family.

  5. 15 minute rule: when you get home, for the first 15 minutes do something that will take your mind off work and make you happy! If straight after work doesn’t work for you, pick a different time that does. This is a technique picked up from readings of positive psychology and mindfulness. The Action for Happiness website provides useful tips and activities that you could consider using for your 15 minutes.

Share your ideas on how to ‘switch off’, and any tools that you think promote digital wellbeing, in the comment section below. In the next step, we’ll look at your personal digital habits in more depth.

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This video is from the free online course:

Digital Wellbeing

University of York