You’ve been there before. A seemingly productive morning quickly becomes afternoon, and the project with a looming deadline seems far out of your reach … however, you’ve checked your email and your social media posts countless times. You’ve probably contemplated a response to another email and were about to type, only for your phone to buzz with a news update. By the time this whirlwind of a day is over, or even halfway over, you’ll probably ask the question: What have I done today? As you’re surfing your web browser yet again to fact-check, you find yourself hard-pressed for an answer.
If it sounds almost nightmarish to summarize this all too familiar workday, it’s because escaping into distraction is usually just a click away. Fortunately, many of us can unplug — and perhaps need to — in order to distance ourselves and keep perspective in our day-to-day lives.
Set Simple Goals To Start
You’ve probably thought from the start of this article that going without internet entirely isn’t exactly feasible. Even cutting yourself off at work isn’t very likely — so try to start with an objective that’s easy to follow. Try to set aside an hour or so between when you get off from work and start checking your emails again. Don’t use the internet on your break time. Even something as simple as using an “old-fashioned” alarm clock rather than your phone — to wake up in the morning can make a big difference, as you won’t fall into the cycle of checking your news alerts and email immediately after shutting the phone’s alarm off.
Multitasking Does Not Exist
We like to pride ourselves on the ability to multitask — shuffling through phone calls, emails, and projects as we flip windows open and shut on our screens, but the evidence doesn’t support that we’re as good as we think.
One study published by PLOS One found that people who report multitasking the most actually did the most poorly at multitasking in their experiment, compared to people who multitasked less. This could be because people who engage in multitasking more had less consideration of the potential losses when multitasking not realizing the key elements of the movie you have on in the background while writing, for example. They also tend to have less negative appraisals of risky situations, and it is possible that this could be due to a poor memory or lower “executive control” — the ability to carry out goal-directed behavior.
Therefore, limiting the devices you use when you’re at home leaving your email until the next day — could be the opportunity your brain needs to recharge providing time to meditate or enjoy some light reading.
Set Your Hours At Work And At Home
While we always seem like we’re rushing to prepare the next day, you may want to punch out mentally as well as physically at the end of your workday. Unfortunately, it’s not so easy to do both these days, as your colleagues have a way of getting in touch with you via phone or email, long after the workday is over. “Competition in the workplace is getting fierce,” said Kansas State University researcher YoungAh Park. “People may worry about job security, want to increase their salary, or advance in their career, so they feel they have to be more dedicated to their work. They show that by being available outside of normal work hours through communication and information technologies.”
Unfortunately, the convenience of these methods tends to let the workplace stress bleed into your personal time. Therefore, you should inform your co-workers of your preference for personal time after work. It may benefit your company to do this as well, allowing everyone to come in the next day mentally prepared and ready to take on new challenges.
It’s not just your co-workers that will benefit from limiting your smartphone use in your spare time either. According to another study conducted at the University of Maryland, excessive cellphone use could play a role in anti-social behavior. The survey found that when people used their cellphones, they were less likely to be courteous to the people around them (something you might have already seen at a few parties), but also less likely to volunteer their time.
You’ll Sleep Better
“Regularly using a computer late at night is associated not only with sleep disorders but also with stress and depressive symptoms in both men and women,” says researcher Sara Thomée, who conducted a study in Sweden. Among its findings, young people who regularly used smartphone and tablet technology risked depression, stress, as well as sleep disorders. Another study by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Lighting Research Center suggests that the reason for this is due to the electronic screen lighting on handheld devices. Just two hours of screen use could reduce the serotonin levels in your brain — the hormone you need for a good night’s sleep. So the next time you’re reaching for your smartphone in bed, consider unplugging instead.
This article was first published in Brain World Magazine’s Fall 2018 issue.
- For Healthier Minds: An Interview with Dr. Jeffrey Borenstein
- How Fantasy Becomes Reality: Our Media in Everyday Life
- Juggling Responsibilities: Does Multitasking Retrain the Brain?
- Live Well, Feel Well: 7 Tips for Healthy Living
- Tracking the Mind-Body Connection: An Interview with Dr. Herbert Benson
- Why “Let’s Do Lunch” (For Real) is a Good Idea for Your Brain