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Low Productivity? You May Need a Digital Detox. Essay

We are inundated with technology. From the moment you wake up in the morning and pick up your smart phone to end the alarm, to the time you spend checking Twitter before bed, technology is constantly there to help your life — but is it really helping? With so much technology in every aspect of life, are you more productive, or are you losing an essential part of what keeps you passionate and alive to a digital addiction?

If you’ve been feeling less productive than usual, the cause may be your technological devices bogging you down. Though tech has drastically improved many things (coffee maker on a morning timer, anyone?) it can also have a detrimental effect if you’re relying on it too much. Research has shown that you can be addicted to your devices much like any other drug that gives a dopamine hit, and with that addiction comes a decline in productivity, creativity, and joy. A digital detox might be in order.

A digital detox can help you reset your brain so that you’re not relying too much on your digital devices to plan your life, conduct your business, or keep you entertained. Here are a few of the common

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ways that tech can interrupt your productivity and what you can do to detox and get back to a balanced life.

1. Your digital calendar is over-scheduled.

Paper calendars or scheduling books are passé, and electronic calendars are in, which means scheduling all of your time is easily accomplished with the push of a button. Sometimes you don’t even have to accept to have your time scheduled for you. Electronic calendars can be very helpful, but can also keep you a slave to a minute-by-minute schedule with no time for contemplation, friendships, a leisurely lunch, or spontaneity. Overscheduling your days so easily can, ironically, lead to less productivity as the creativity, excitement and passion that leads to truly great work is arrested in deference to a colored box that says, “meeting.”

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Detox: If you really must live by a calendar, schedule in your “me” time — time for a walk, a lunch with a friend, relaxation and reconnection. Schedule meetings in shorter increments of 20 to 25 minutes to reduce wasted time. This also gives you more leeway for spontaneity in between scheduled meetings and projects as most happen on the hour or the half hour. Even those 10 minutes will make a world of difference.

2. Screen culture is making you less creative.

All I hear in Silicon Valley is regarding the next big disruption. Who’s going to come up with the next big idea? Not you, if you’re constantly stuck looking at a screen. According to Dr. Nicholas Kardaras in his book "Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction is Hijacking Our Kids," too much screen time makes those who were raised on technology “… Almost universally what I like to call "uninterested and uninteresting." Bored and boring, they lacked a natural curiosity and a sense of wonder and imagination that non-screen kids seemed to have.”

Many of you are digital natives and don’t remember a time when you didn’t have a TV and a touch screen. Unfortunately, you and your children are at a greater risk for stunted creativity from screens. But even those of you who are digital immigrants are not benefiting from extra screen time — the perpetual entertainment and stimulation is making you less likely to entertain yourself with other means that would stimulate your brain in a less addictive way.

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Detox: First and foremost, put down the phone and close your laptop. Go for a hike, go for a swim, play a board game, read a paperback, and make it a habit. When you wait in line at the coffee shop, let yourself be bored, and see what comes up; what do you think about? Give yourself intentional times for being on-screen and intentional screen detox where you shut down your devices for a while. 

3. You’re distracted by incoming messages.

Truly awesome creativity happens in what psychologists call the “flow state,” or alternatively “being in the zone.” When you are fully immersed in a task that challenges you and excites you, you feel energized and hyper-focused, making productivity and creativity easy and joyful. But when your attention is pulled, that flow state can be very easily disrupted.

Now think of how many alerts you receive in a day. Is it 20? Thirty? Anytime your messages beep, your email pings or your phone rings, your attention is drawn and your flow state interrupted. You have to find it all over again and it can take time and energy to get back to where you were.

Detox: First, turn off all notifications while you work. Put your phone on night mode, turn off desktop notifications and make sure your Skype and chats are on away mode. If you need to check your devices, do so on scheduled breaks after a significant amount of work time — say, 45 minutes to an hour. Many of the best tech founders I know check their email way less than you would think; around three times a week. I also encourage you to track your tech using with an app like Rescue Time if you really want to see just how often you’re interrupted by your devices.

4. You’re inundated with too much information.

It’s astounding how much information is available on a daily basis. It can be difficult to not want to start reading the news and checking messages and email from the moment you awaken, with so much to read at your fingertips.

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When you stuff your brain full of information beginning the minute you wake up, your own innate wisdom and creativity is stifled. The interesting dreams you had that could have been your next big project are instantly gone, the relaxation in your body from a good’s night rest is tightened from the news of war and violence, and before you know it, you’ve spent an hour or two reading news stories and catching up on social media when you could’ve been accomplishing your goals. 

Detox: Take some time in the morning to be in your body. Wake up slowly, drink some water and fast from media. If you have a tendency to read on your phone in bed, keep your phone across the room so you can’t check it first thing in the morning. Buy an analog clock with an alarm so your phone isn’t a necessity. Set a time later in the day to check the news, messages and emails — and check social media later in the day as well, with a time limit.

With a little bit of effort and time, you can drastically change the amount of time you spend immersed in technology and up your productivity without even noticing that it’s happening. A balanced relationship with technology is once that allows us tech to work for us and keep us from relying on tech for every little thing. New technological innovations are arriving every day, so keep your balance and you’ll keep up just fine. 

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