Years ago, I was among the first of my friends to get a smartphone—a big, clunky, purple BlackBerry. Being able to email, text, surf the web, and make calls from the same device made me feel like I was a superhero with the world at my fingertips—or at least somebody with urgent messages to send and receive. Thinking back, I couldn’t tell you whom I was communicating with or about what, but I know for sure that my BlackBerry made it look like I had it going on. Fast-forward to the present, and those first-date butterflies I felt with my BlackBerry have since morphed into a toxic relationship my iPhone.
It’s funny how being busy (or in this case, seeming busy) on a device can make you feel important and successful. The busy trap, a still-too-relevant term writer Tim Kreider coined years ago, keeps us glued to our smartphones, caught up in our calendars, and thinking about nothing but the next thing. While the gadgets aren’t directly responsible for the chaos, they certainly don’t help; studies have even shown that an addiction to them can mimic symptoms of substance abuse. And since we cannot, for the life of us, just turn them off, we masochistically self-subscribe to get notified about those after-hours work emails, which fuels the stress that keeps us up at night and more-ominously threatens our health. A way to know the epidemic is real and really threatening? Big tech companies that have a vested interest in this very addiction have launched initiatives to get people to be less connected. Even if those programs are just for optics, they’re still a sign that we have to do our part by consciously prioritizing balance and IRL connect. But, easier said than done, of course.
I’m constantly emailing when I know I really shouldn’t be—like while stopped at a red light, on the treadmill, during dinner, or in the middle of another conference call.
As the founder and CEO of InternQueen, I receive hundreds of time-sensitive messages every day from all kinds of people who need urgent answers—often college students, who are executing our campus-marketing programs on nights and weekends. So I’m constantly emailing when I know I really shouldn’t be (like while stopped at a red light, on the treadmill, during dinner, or in the middle of another conference call). Not only is this draining, but since every email isn’t a good email, being a multitasking-messaging maven doesn’t do my mental health any good either. Mixed in with those exciting sales wins, RFPs, and press hits, I also get rejection letters, resignation letters, complaints, invoices, and random problems to handle. So when my brother got married a few months ago, I decided to step off the hamster wheel for the long weekend to—gasp!—actually be present for the whole weekend.
I realized that I’m the problem, not my device. So I did something I’d never done before: disconnected my email from my smartphone.
I’d been prepping my team for months (months!) leading up to the occasion so I could feel great and confident about being offline. But still, while getting my nails done pre-wedding with the bride, I found myself scrolling through work emails out of habit despite my automatic out-of-office message being set and there being nothing I had to tend to. In that moment, it couldn’t have been clearer that I’m the problem, not my digitized pocket companion that serves me an unending slew of messages. So to make sure I took in every moment with my family and friends that weekend, I did something I’d never done before: disconnected my email from my phone (a shockingly easy and fast task to complete).
It worked: At the wedding, I danced a lot, laughed more, and didn’t have any unnecessary distractions clouding my focus from making lifelong memories. Yes, I still had my fully functioning phone with me, and in the event of a work emergency, someone could have called or texted (it’s a rule at my company that after-hours calls and texts are to be used only when absolutely necessary). But since that didn’t happen, I learned that I may need my phone more than it needs me and that the world keeps revolving on its axis regardless of the last time I refreshed my inbox. And now, six weeks later, email is still off my phone—and I don’t miss it. I’m able to enjoy my weekends, evenings, and time off the clock more. But the best part? I finally feel like I’m prioritizing myself.
Six weeks later, email is still off my phone—and I don’t miss it. I finally feel like I’m prioritizing myself.
I’ve had people criticize me for not having my email on my phone. “You are the CEO of a business, how are you not always connected?” Well, don’t interpret my lack of desire for 24/7 accessibility to mean that work isn’t a priority—because it’s really the opposite. I take my work so seriously that I recognize a need for some balance, some quiet, some disconnection. I find that I’m actually able to respond more effectively and professionally when I intentionally sit down to get stuff done, handle emails, and show my day who’s boss.
Taking my email off my phone is me setting a boundary for myself and my work. It’s me saying, this is my time, not work time. Of course, this method of disconnection isn’t realistic for everyone. For many jobs in many industries, being responsive and available is an out-in the-open expectation. In this case, start small with the boundaries. For example, perhaps you don’t check your email first thing in the morning or while scrolling in bed at night (which is a great habit to curb anyway). You could try avoiding your email until you get to your desk in the morning, because what can you really accomplish from the shower anyway? Maybe just turn off push notifications. Maybe ask your coworkers to email you (and avoid texting or calling) between certain off hours. Or, decide that for one hour every evening, you are going to turn your phone completely off or leave it at home while you go for a run. Start small and watch the effect.
No matter how minor-seeming the boundary is, setting some rule that gives you agency over your time and life amid this era of constant information bombardment is a worthy investment in your health and happiness. It might even help your find higher levels of success.
Lauren Berger is the founder and CEO of internqueen.com, careerqueen.com, and the IQ Agency for college marketing. She is the author of three books, including her latest, Get It Together: Ditch the Chaos, Do the Work, and Design Your Success. She lives in Los Angeles.
Since the happiness-boosting potential of taking a digital detox has science-backed legs, consider going on an unplugged vacation. It is a hot travel trend this year, after all.
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