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Switch off or burn out

Watch Susan Halfpenny talk about work/life balance and the importance of switching off from work.

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 (2020) survey, 86% 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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Digital Wellbeing

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