Turn Off The Tech To Get Ahead

IMG - Marshall McLuhanMarshall McLuhan, well known philosopher of communication theory, said “We shape our tools, and thereafter, our tools shape us.”

That’s an interesting thought to reflect on in an age where technology is shaping the way we communicate more than ever.

In days gone by we’d send a letter or telegram, even leave a message on an answering machine, and patiently await a response.

Now, we’re controlled by the need to be connected. A lot of us are essentially available 24/7.

Man Multitasking

The Internet and mobile technology have done phime really incredible things. But they’ve also brought with them a sense of false urgency, which is damaging our ability to be present in the moment.

That impinges on focus, creativity, productivity and our ability to get quality rest. Without those three key things, massive success in any arena will remain a pipe dream.

There’s now a growing movement of people who are deliberately ‘switching off’. The concept of completely disconnecting for a while has been labelled many things – unplugging, switching off, tech sabbath, going off the grid, disconnecting. Whatever you want to call it, the evidence to support the benefits of being ‘unavailable’ for anyone other than your loved ones is there.

IMG - Arianna Huffington  In an interview with Entrepreneur Magazine, Arianna Huffington was asked what she would have done differently if she knew what she knew now  back when she was starting out. She responded, “I wish I had known there would be no trade-offs between living a well-rounded life and my ability to do good work. I wish I could go back and tell myself, ‘Arianna, your performance will actually improve if you can commit to not only working hard,but also unplugging, recharging and renewing yourself.’ That would have saved me a lot of unnecessary stress, burnout and exhaustion.”

   If you’d like to read the full interview, you can find it here http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/236501

  And Arianna Huffington isn’t the only über successful person to recommend getting off your devices. Eric Schmidt, Google CEO, gave a commencement      speech at the University of Pennsylvania during which he said:

“In a world where everything is remembered forever and kept forever, you need to live for the future, and the things you really really care about. And in order to know what those things are, you’re going to have to turn off your computer. Turn off your phone and discover all that is human around us. You’ll find that people are the same all around the world, they care about the same things. Curiosity, enthusiasm, passion and compassion are contagious. You’ll find nothing beats holding the hand of your grandchild as he takes his first steps. You’ll find that a mind set in its ways is a life wasted. You’ll find that the resilience of the human spirit is amazing. And the best chance you will ever have is right now.”

That’s our favourite part, but if you’d like to watch the whole speech, you can find it here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wKFQx30f6M

Now, obviously we’re not suggesting you throw out your smart phone, ditch computers and insist on communicating only via snail mail. The goal is simply to make sure you’re not being controlled by the need to be ‘connected’ so that you can lead a more balanced life.

Try this:

Shut down your computer. Turn off your mobile phone. Unplug your iPod. Turn off the television. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Read a book. Make a cup of tea, sit down and just enjoy it without doing anything else. Go for a walk.

Sound odd?

Perhaps, but once you get used to it you’ll find that time without technology can be absolutely liberating. And if you do it regularly, you’ll be surprised by how much more you have to give when you’re not resting.

But hey, why just take our word for it?

Here’s what we feel is the best of the Internet on ‘unplugging’…

IMG - Tiffany ShlainTiffany Shlain, writer for the Harvard Business Review, shares her family’s experiences with ‘tech shabbat’ and talks about why technology’s best feature is the off switch.

“It’s Friday evening. The smells of rosemary chicken and freshly-baked challah fill the house. My daughters, 3 and 9, sigh as I gently detach the iPads from their laps. One by one, our screens are powered down. My husband, Ken, is usually the last holdout, in his office, madly scrambling to send out just one last email before the sun sets. Then he unplugs too. We light the candles, and sit down to a sumptuous meal.

I’m prepared. I’ve printed out the next day’s schedule, along with maps and phone numbers that live on my cell phone. Most people in our lives know they will not be able to text, tweet, email, Facebook, chat, or Skype with us for 24 hours. If they want to reach us, they call our landline. Or they come over.

And so it has gone, every week for three years. Our “tech Shabbat” lasts from sunset on Friday until sunset on Saturday.

I first became aware of the importance of disconnecting in 2008, when my father, Leonard Shlain, was diagnosed with brain cancer. Some days he would have only one good hour, and I didn’t want to be distracted when I was with him, so I’d turn off my cell phone.

Soon after, inspired by a National Day of Unplugging (which commences this year at sundown on March 1st), Ken and I decided to institute something we had tried in fits and starts since we met: unplugging for one full day every week. What we call our “technology shabbats.”

Albert Einstein said that “time is relative to your state of motion.” With all this texting, tweeting, posting, and emailing, we’re making our minds move faster, which accelerates our perception of time. It seems there isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t end up thinking, “How did it get to be 5 p.m.?”

And what is the one day I want to feel extra long? Saturday. During our Tech Shabbats, time slows to a beautiful, preindustrial pace. We are able to engage in all those activities that seem to get pushed aside by the lure of the network. We’re Jewish but not orthodox. We drive our car, turn the lights on and answer our landline in emergencies, so ours is a modern interpretation of a very old idea of the Sabbath. Our Saturdays now feel like mini-vacations — slow living that we savor like fine wine. We garden with our kids, play board games, ride our bikes and cook and I write in my journal. I can have a thought without being able to immediately start implementing it. I feel more grounded and balanced. We try to be as unavailable as possible, except to each other and our children. I feel like a better mother, wife and person.

Every week, it’s like a valve of pressure releases from the daily bombardment of interesting facts, articles, and tidbits I consume daily as I travel on this info-rocket of discovery, procrastination, productivity and then, eventually overload.

Wrestling with the good, the bad, and the potential of technology is my constant state of existence. The technology we’ve created — that now dominates our work and home lives — gives us a plethora of new possibilities: the ability to experience more emotions, share knowledge, and take in diverse ideas from across global borders. Neuroeconomist Paul Zak has found that social networking produces a burst of oxytocin, the hormone responsible for bonding, empathy, trust, and generosity. I sometimes imagine that every post, tweet, and text is flooding the planet with oxytocin, making us more empathetic and more inclined to share and collaborate. Maybe this is why collaboration is on the rise.

But the technology we’ve created also takes something away from us: being present, focused, and in the moment. Have you ever faked a need to use the restroom to check email? I have. More than once. Researchers at the National Institute on Drug Abuse have compared the sense of technological dependency — the feeling that we must be accessible and responsive at any time and in any place — to that of drugs and alcohol.

Another hormone, dopamine, provides insight on the lure of digital stimulation. Neuroscientists have studied dopamine since 1958, when Arvid Carlsson and Nils-Ake Hillarp, at the National Heart Institute of Sweden, first examined how the chemical functions in the brain. Dopamine plays an influential role in mood, attention, memory, understanding, learning, and reward-seeking behavior. Dopamine is what makes us seek pleasure and knowledge. It’s what makes us search, whether it’s for food, sex, or information.

When we’re rewarded with a response or with more information, dopamine is what makes us want more. When we’re up late at night linking from website to website, or compulsively texting or emailing, those are dopamine-induced loops. For each new piece of information or for each new response, our brain rewards us with a dopamine surge so we click again, and again, and again until we’re overloaded and over stimulated.

Just as we discover — the hard way — what constitutes too much sugar or too much alcohol, I believe we are only beginning to truly understand the effects of too much technological stimulation on the brain. As we rush into this era of hyperconnected human evolution, we need to evolve and adapt to be mindful of what we are doing online and when we should go off.

There is one other benefit to unplugging each week: By sundown on Saturday, we can’t wait to get back online. We’re hungry for connection. We appreciate technology all over again. We marvel anew at our ability to put every thought and emotion into action by clicking, calling, and linking.

Still, every week we remember the most important thing about technology: It has an off switch.

Read the full article on Harvard Business Review’s website here: https://hbr.org/2013/03/techs-best-feature-the-off-swi

Author and blogger Jeff Goins talks about his powerful experience with being ‘out of touch’ while on  holiday with his wife.

“I just returned from vacation. My wife and I spent the last nine days with her family in Ireland. It was amazing.

I was forced to take a much-needed break from technology. No computer. No cell phone. Just me, a good book, and the open Irish road.

The result of this mini-sabbatical was nothing short of revelatory.

There is more to life than flickering pixels and online avatars. More than status updates and Google alerts. There are picnics and fine cheeses and laughter around breakfast tables. There are jogs through the brisk morning air and crude British humor.

There is love and life abundant.

And some of us need to remember that.

It took a trip across the Atlantic Ocean for me to understand this, but I’m slowly learning the truth of this quote:

“Life is not a support system for art. It’s the other way around.” Stephen King

So often, I think that my life exists to support my obsessions — my love affair with writing and creativity and being acknowledged. But this isn’t the case at all. Those are all means to an end.

When we treat our work as life — instead of a way to live — we fall out of balance and into unhealthy habits.

The only way out is to move in to something else. To step away and gain a new perspective. That’s what I did during vacation. And there were three lessons I learned from my recent break from technology:

Lesson 1: Embrace your surroundings

I learned that the world is a beautiful place.

Granted, I was in Ireland — a land that is lush and verdant, but when I returned to Tennessee (equally as beautiful as the Emerald Isle in its own way) I was struck with the beauty of coming home.

I realized that my time away from the laptop and iPhone made this perspective possible.

And I’m grateful.

Lesson 2: Embrace your inner life

During my vacation, I had a lot of time to think, pray, and reflect. Much of this time was while surrounded by beautiful scenery or during extended times in the car (we did a lot of driving).

During such times, I would normally pull out my smartphone and check my email or tweet something clever. But I wasn’t able to do that.

Instead, I was forced to ponder and dream. I was allowed to be creative again, no longer controlled by the urgency of the moment. I learned how to be proactive again, instead of merely reactive.

Lesson 3: Embrace inspiration from other sources

Oddly, this time wasn’t filled with much writing. Other than some scribbles in my Moleskine from the plane ride and the first night in our bed and breakfast, I didn’t write at all.

Instead of creating content, I consumed it. (This, admittedly, is something I have unfortunately been neglecting.)

I read books and listened to music and had life-giving conversations with perfect strangers. I held my wife’s hand more than I usually do and drank delicious coffee and tea. (If you know me at all, you know that this is just as inspiring at powerful prose penned by a master.)

But weren’t you writing all week?

For those of you who follow my blog and tweets, you may be tempted to call my bluff.

After all, I was seemingly writing and sharing all kinds of content while I was allegedly on vacation.

Here’s my secret: The day before I left, I hustled like crazy to write and schedule posts and tweets (and also had some help from a few guest bloggers).

In fact, I learned that I don’t have to constantly be checking my online brand in order for it to still have an impact. But that’s a lesson for another post.

A final challenge

If you are going to do creative work that will change the world, then there is one ingredient necessary to your success: rest.

You must take time to take care of your soul, to check in with your emotional self and make sure all is well with your inner life. This is essential — more than with any other type of work, in my opinion. Because your vocation requires you to pull from within, to consult the genius inside of you, to reach into the depths of your soul and share it with the world — to inspire, encourage, challenge, and change.

I will say it again: If you endeavor to create, you must rest.

Granted, my last break from technology wasn’t an intentional choice, but given what I learned, I intend to make breaks like this more of a regular discipline.”

To check out more of Jeff’s work, find his blog here: http://goinswriter.com/technology-break/

In a similar (though more planned) move, university student Jake Reilly decided to completely unplug for 90 days while he undertook what he dubbed “The Amish Project”. His reflections on that time are artfully summed up in this YouTube clip:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dpDQONK5-qI

And while we’re talking YouTube, it’s clear that this subject really resonates with people. Gary Turk’s 2014 video, titled Look Up, got 50,000,000 views in just a few weeks. The short clip is a call to put down the tech and start paying attention to the world in front of us.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7dLU6fk9QY

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IMG - Sophie BreeneSophie Breene, writer at ‘healthier health’ promotion website Greatist, talks about why everyone should unplug on the weekends. She has a great take on the subject and cites a couple of studies well worth reading.

“I don’t know about you, but my smartphone sometimes seems like Grand Central Station at rush hour. Between texts, emails, regular old phone calls, and notifications from Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, keeping up with all the inputs can feel like a full-time job. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I passed a full 48 hours without checking my phone at least once. You’d think just turning off the gizmo would solve this (admittedly first world) problem, but going without technology can feel like cutting off a limb for young adults who’ve been “plugged in” since middle school.

I’m not the only one who’s noticed this—lately, I’ve read a ton of thought pieces by Internet bigwigs about the importance of taking deliberate breaks from all things web-related. Talking about taking a break from the Internet (gasp!) raises a few important questions: Has technology transformed from a convenience into a curse? And is disconnecting an important life strategy for making constant communication sustainable, or is it just the latest tech trend?

Open 24/7: Why It’s Not So Great

Research suggests social media is the millenial generation’s drug of choice. While not technically considered an addiction, excessive attachment to the Internet is becoming more and more commonplace and problematic. A 2010 University of Maryland study found many young people describe their dependence on the Internet as an addiction, even if they’re not officially diagnosable. The 200 students were required to go on a 24-hour media fast and then write about their experience. Overall, the students complained that they felt bored, disconnected, uncomfortable, and anxious without their phones and computers.

These withdrawal symptoms suggest there must be some benefits to being “plugged in” all the time, right? For many people, the allure of being attached to an iPhone or Android is the ability to keep tabs on family, friends, and breaking news whenever, wherever. Compared to reading a newspaper or calling a friend for a long chat on the phone, social media encourages brief, unfocused, multitasking-friendly “check ins” rather than long periods of absorption. For better or worse, smartphones make it easy to check various sites and social media profiles with the tap of a fingertip, all while keeping the rest of our brains and bodies engaged in other tasks (though sometimes with dangerous consequences).

Go-Go-Gadgets

But in some cases the downsides to keeping phones and computers switched on 24/7 could outweigh the benefits. Multitasking — perhaps this generation’s Great White Whale—almost never boosts productivity. In fact, it’s usually just a form of procrastination that distracts us from what’s important and inhibits the formation of short-term memories .

Social (Media) Butterfly

Obsessive social networking isn’t doing us any favors, either. Constantly checking social media sites, work emails, and texts from far-flung friends sounds like it’s fostering connectivity, but the opposite is often true. Studies show spending tons of time online can actively harm relationships, interpersonal communication skills, and mental health . A recent study also shows that (perhaps unsurprisingly) following ex-lovers on social media can make it difficult for partners to move on after a breakup.

All of this might be due to the fact that social media is the Green Eyed Monster’s preferred stomping ground. Checking in on friends’ frequent vacations, late-night taco truck runs, and sunshiny days at the beach can create a constant state of Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) and anxiety. People obsessively refresh Facebook feeds and track Twitter followers because they’re afraid to be “on the outside” of news, events, and social gatherings. But at the end of the day, browsing photos from other people’s fun times is not the same as attending those parties and picnics and actually hanging out with friends in the flesh.

Open Office Hours

Constant connectivity hasn’t just changed how we socialize, but also how we bring home the bacon. Smart phones have created a whole new interpretation of the traditional “workaholic” trope. Instead of the classic image of a busy professional ensconced in their office at 2am, we now see young worker bees emailing while brunching and checking expense reports at the grocery store. As more and more business happens online versus in a cubicle or a meeting room, it’s entirely feasible to never stop working (minus a few hours of sleep). But is that a good thing?

The general agreement (thank goodness) is “no.” Studies show that in spite of modern work trends, we actually need weekends and nights off to disconnect and recuperate from the stresses of work . Constantly checking email, in particular, prevents people from distancing themselves from the work environment—which can make it impossible to keep stress in check.

Rage Against the Machines

In the past, people could “switch off” after work by simply going home or avoid dealing with dramatic friends by not picking up the phone. But smartphones, social media, and the expectation that everyone should be available all of the time have made taking a breather much more difficult. From this necessity a new (anti-) tech trend has arisen: Over the past few years, the concept of “unplugging”, or ditching technology for a given period of time, has become popular amongst bloggers, tech wizards, and thought leaders around the web.

Press Reset: How Unplugging Helps

If multitasking and constant email cause a lack of productivity, negatively impact social relationships, and increase overall stress, can simply abstaining from using technology reverse these negative consequences? The simple answer, according to most research, is “yes.”

Scheduling regular “rest time” in the form of unplugging makes sense—like a muscle, the brain needs recovery time in order to develop and grow (and in this case, retain new memories). In fact, shutting off completely may be crucial: One University of Michigan study found that participants who walked in the woods after learning something new were more likely to retain it, suggesting that a little quiet time is essential to optimizing brain function . Even brief activities such as taking a short walk (sans phone, of course), spending time in nature, or daydreaming can help the brain reboot. But without free time (i.e. totally unstructured and without Facebook, idle web surfing, or TV), it’s impossible to fully learn new skills and keep the brain at its cognitive best.

Luckily, more and more people are validating the importance of down time. Over the past few years, the idea of disconnecting from all online communication (and the stress that comes with it) has grown into a verifiable movement. In 2010, a group of Jewish artists created the Sabbath Manifesto, a movement designed to help people of all faiths and creeds find a day of rest amid the hullabaloo of modern technology. The Sabbath Manifesto also created a new holiday dedicated to taking time to smell the roses: The National Day of Unplugging happens once a year (It will be celebrated next on March 7-8, 2014).

Over the past few years, countless bloggers and thought leaders have embarked on their very own technological “fasts” and written about the trials and tribulations of doing so. For example, the bloggers behind lifestyle website The Minimalists suggest cancelling home Internet access to make using a computer in the house less appealing. Some Internet celebs-at-large, like writer Baratunde Thurston, advocate a more stringent approach: Thurston went cold turkey with a 25-day “digital detox” after noticing that his social media addiction was getting out of hand. Even more extreme, The Verge writer Paul Miller spent an entire year sans Internet. After their tech-free hiatuses, both Thurston and Miller are back online. It seems that both writers used their Internet sabbaticals to take a breather rather than establish a new lifestyle.

For those who can’t resist the Internet’s siren song, special getaway experiences offer real-life activities and bonding experiences that distract former tech fiends from the withdrawal process. One popular example is Camp Grounded in California, which guides tech-weary adults through a gadget-free weekend filled with vegan meals, field games, arts and crafts, yoga, and stargazing. The travel industry is also in on the trend; these days, people can sign up for fancy digital detox vacations in a number of luxurious settings.

Regardless of length or intensity (“Does texting count? What about checking email?”), these digital detoxes or technology fasts prove an important point: It is feasible to take a step back from our always-on lifestyles. With a little bit of effort, it’s entirely possible to stop living through our phones and computer screens, re-connect with other human beings, reduce stress, and enhance creativity.

Off the Grid—The Takeaway

Currently, “unplugging” is a trendy buzzword, but hopefully taking regular technological breaks isn’t just a passing fad. The Internet and mobile communication have grown by impressive leaps and bounds in the past ten years, largely to our society’s benefit. But because we’re used to tech companies rolling out a new (and better!) product or software every week, we’ve been operating under the idea that “more is more”—more communication is good, more social media sites are better, and, above all, the ability to contact anyone at anytime is best of all.

But in reality, this behavior might be unsustainable. Keeping up with email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other sites 24/7 can be exhausting, bad for our brains, bad for our relationships, and bad for our productivity. Instead of fading out like many transient trends, perhaps it would be better if the concept of “unplugging” catches on even more and helps us tech junkies develop new protocols for how to communicate and connect (without going crazy) in the Internet Age.”

You can find the original article, with loads of great links to studies, news articles and other blogs here: http://greatist.com/happiness/unplugging-social-media-email

IMG - Susan MaushartAnother excellent read on the subject of unplugging is The Winter of Our Disconnect, by columnist Susan Maushart. A funny, thought provoking book that tells the story of how one family dealt with the intrusion of technology, by banning it.

“Over a period of years,” writes Maushart, “I watched and worried as our media began to function as a force field separating my children from what my son, only half-ironically, called RL (Real Life).” Maushart was worried about her children, all teenagers, saying they “inhabited media exactly as fish inhabit a pond – gracefully, unblinkingly and utterly without knowledge of the alternatives.” Her concern led to what became known as The Experiment – six months without computers, phones, iPods or televisions.

She writes, The Winter of Our Disconnect started out as a kind of purge. It ended up as so much more…. It changed the way we ate and the way we slept, the way we fought, planned and played…. In the end, our family’s self-imposed exile from the Information Age changed our lives indelibly – and infinitely for the better.”

The story of the Maushart family is interspersed with research on modern media to create an illuminating and entertaining read.

You can grab a copy (digital or paperback!) here: http://www.amazon.com/Winter-Our-Disconnect-Teenagers-Technology/dp/1585428558/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1431940831&sr=8-1&keywords=the+winter+of+our+disconnect

IMG - Scott BelskyScott Belsky, named one of Fast Company’s “100 Most Creative People in Business”, writes about the need for deep thinking and sacred space, saying we’ll have to disconnect to do either.

“Interruption-free space is sacred. Yet, in the digital era we live in, we are losing hold of the few sacred spaces that remain untouched by email, the internet, people, and other forms of distraction. Our cars now have mobile phone integration and a thousand satellite radio stations. When walking from one place to another, we have our devices streaming data from dozens of sources. Even at our bedside, we now have our iPads with heaps of digital apps and the world’s information at our fingertips.

There has been much discussion about the value of the “creative pause” – a state described as “the shift from being fully engaged in a creative activity to being passively engaged, or the shift to being disengaged altogether.” This phenomenon is the seed of the break-through “a-ha!” moments that people so frequently report having in the shower. In these moments, you are completely isolated, and your mind is able to wander and churn big questions without interruption.

However, despite the incredible power and potential of sacred spaces, they are quickly becoming extinct. We are depriving ourselves of every opportunity for disconnection. And our imaginations suffer the consequences.

Why do we crave distraction over downtime?

Why do we give up our sacred space so easily? Because space is scary. During these temporary voids of distraction, our minds return to the uncertainty and fears that plague all of us. To escape this chasm of self-doubt and unanswered questions, you tune into all of the activity and data for reassurance.

But this desperate need for constant connection and stimulation is not a modern problem. I would argue that we have always sought a state of constant connection from the dawn of time, it’s just never been possible until now.

We are depriving ourselves of every opportunity for disconnection.

The need to be connected is, in fact, very basic in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the psychological theory that explains the largest and most fundamental human desires. Our need for a sense of belonging comes right after physical safety. We thrive on friendship, family, and the constant affirmation of our existence and relevance. Our self-esteem is largely a product of our interactions with others.

It is now possible to always feel loved and cared for, thanks to the efficiency of our “comment walls” on Facebook and seamless connection with everyone we’ve ever known. Your confidence and self-esteem can quickly be reassured by checking your number of “followers” on Twitter or the number of “likes” garnered by your photographs and blog posts. The traction you are getting in your projects, or with your business, can now be measured and reported in real time.

Our insatiable need to tune into information – at the expense of savoring our downtime – is a form of “work” (something I call “insecurity work”) that we do to reassure ourselves.

So what’s the solution? How do we reclaim our sacred spaces?

Soon enough, planes, trains, subways, and, yes, showers will offer the option of staying connected. Knowing that we cannot rely on spaces that force us to unplug to survive much longer, we must be proactive in creating these spaces for ourselves. And when we have a precious opportunity to NOT be connected, we should develop the capacity to use it and protect it.

Here are five potential mindsets and solutions for consideration:

1. Rituals for unplugging.

Perhaps those in biblical times knew what was in store for us when they created the Sabbath? The notion of a day every week reserved for reflection has become more important than ever before. It’s about more than just refraining from work. It’s about unplugging. The recent Sabbath Manifesto movement has received mainstream, secular accolades for the concept of ritualizing the period of disconnection. Perhaps you will reserve one day on the weekend where you force yourself to disconnect? At first, such efforts will feel very uncomfortable. You will deal with a bout of “connection withdrawal,” but stay with it.

2. Daily doses of deep thinking.

Perhaps “sacred space” is a new life tenet that we must adopt in the 21st century? Since we know that unplugging will only become more difficult over time, we will need to develop a discipline for ourselves. Back in the day when the TV became a staple of every American home, parents started mandating time for their children to read. “TV time” became a controlled endeavor because, otherwise, it would consume every waking moment. Now, every waking moment is “connected time,” and we need to start controlling it.

We need some rules. When it comes to scheduling, we will need to allocate blocks of time for deep thinking. Maybe you will carve out a 1-2 hour block on your calendar every day for taking a walk or grabbing a cup of coffee and just pondering some of those bigger things. I can even imagine a day when homes and apartments have a special switch that shuts down wi-fi and data access during dinner or at night – just to provide a temporary pause from the constant flow of status updates and other communications.

3. Meditation and naps to clear the mind.

There is no better mental escape from our tech-charged world than the act of meditation. If only for 15 minutes, the ability to steer your mind away from constant stimulation is downright liberating. There are various kinds of meditation. Some forms require you to think about nothing and completely clear your mind. (This is quite hard, at least for me.) Other forms of meditation are about focusing on one specific thing – often your breath, or a mantra that you repeat in your head (or out loud) for 10-15 minutes. At first, any sort of meditation will feel like a chore. But with practice, it will become an energizing exercise.

If you can’t adopt meditation, you might also try clearing your mind the old fashioned way – by sleeping. The legendary energy expert and bestselling author Tony Schwartz takes a 20-minute nap every day. Even if it’s a few hours before he presents to a packed audience, he’ll take a short nap. I asked him how he overcomes the midday anxiety enough to nap. His trick? “Practice,” he said. Like all skills that don’t come naturally, practice makes perfect.

4. Self-awareness and psychological investment.

Our most basic fears and desires, both conscious and subconscious, are soothed by connectivity and a constant flow of information. It is supremely important that we recognize the power of our insecurities and, at the very least, acknowledge where our anxiety comes from. Awareness is always the first step in solving any problem.

During research for my book, Making Ideas Happen, I was surprised by how many legendary creative leaders credited some form of therapy as a part of their professional success. If you’re willing to invest in it, then take the plunge. Whatever you learn will help you understand your fears and the actions you take as a result.

5. Protect the state of no-intent.

When you’re rushing to a solution, your mind will jump to the easiest and most familiar path. But when you allow yourself to just look out the window for 10 minutes – and ponder – your brain will start working in a more creative way. It will grasp ideas from unexpected places.  It’s this very sort of unconscious creativity that leads to great thinking. When you’re driving or showering, you’re letting your mind wander because you don’t have to focus on anything in particular. If you do carve out some time for unobstructed thinking, be sure to free yourself from any specific intent.

The potential of our own creativity is rapidly being compromised by the era we live in. I believe that genius in the 21st century will be attributed to people who are able to unplug from the constant state of reactionary workflow, reduce their amount of insecurity work, and allow their minds to solve the great challenges of our era. Brilliance is so rare because it is always obstructed, often by the very stuff that keeps us so busy.”

You can find more of Scott’s work here: http://99u.com/articles/6947/what-happened-to-downtime-the-extinction-of-deep-thinking-sacred-space

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Writing for the New York Times, Matt Richtel talks about how digital devices deprive our brains of much needed down time.

SAN FRANCISCO — It’s 1 p.m. on a Thursday and Dianne Bates, 40, juggles three screens. She listens to a few songs on her iPod, then taps out a quick e-mail on her iPhone and turns her attention to the high-definition television.

Just another day at the gym.

As Ms. Bates multitasks, she is also churning her legs in fast loops on an elliptical machine in a downtown fitness center. She is in good company. In gyms and elsewhere, people use phones and other electronic devices to get work done — and as a reliable antidote to boredom.

Cellphones, which in the last few years have become full-fledged computers with high-speed Internet connections, let people relieve the tedium of exercising, the grocery store line, stoplights or lulls in the dinner conversation.

The technology makes the tiniest windows of time entertaining, and potentially productive. But scientists point to an unanticipated side effect: when people keep their brains busy with digital input, they are forfeiting downtime that could allow them to better learn and remember information, or come up with new ideas.

Ms. Bates, for example, might be clearer-headed if she went for a run outside, away from her devices, research suggests.

At the University of California, San Francisco, scientists have found that when rats have a new experience, like exploring an unfamiliar area, their brains show new patterns of activity. But only when the rats take a break from their exploration do they process those patterns in a way that seems to create a persistent memory of the experience.

The researchers suspect that the findings also apply to how humans learn.

“Almost certainly, downtime lets the brain go over experiences it’s had, solidify them and turn them into permanent long-term memories,” said Loren Frank, assistant professor in the department of physiology at the university, where he specializes in learning and memory. He said he believed that when the brain was constantly stimulated, “you prevent this learning process.”

At the University of Michigan, a study found that people learned significantly better after a walk in nature than after a walk in a dense urban environment, suggesting that processing a barrage of information leaves people fatigued.

Even though people feel entertained, even relaxed, when they multitask while exercising, or pass a moment at the bus stop by catching a quick video clip, they might be taxing their brains, scientists say.

“People think they’re refreshing themselves, but they’re fatiguing themselves,” said Marc Berman, a University of Michigan neuroscientist.

Regardless, there is now a whole industry of mobile software developers competing to help people scratch the entertainment itch. Flurry, a company that tracks the use of apps, has found that mobile games are typically played for 6.3 minutes, but that many are played for much shorter intervals. One popular game that involves stacking blocks gets played for 2.2 minutes on average.

Today’s game makers are trying to fill small bits of free time, said Sebastien de Halleux, a co-founder of PlayFish, a game company owned by the industry giant Electronic Arts.

“Instead of having long relaxing breaks, like taking two hours for lunch, we have a lot of these micro-moments,” he said. Game makers like Electronic Arts, he added, “have reinvented the game experience to fit into micro-moments.”

Many business people, of course, have good reason to be constantly checking their phones. But this can take a mental toll. Henry Chen, 26, a self-employed auto mechanic in San Francisco, has mixed feelings about his BlackBerry habits. “I check it a lot, whenever there is downtime,” Mr. Chen said.

Moments earlier, he was texting with a friend while he stood in line at a bagel shop; he stopped only when the woman behind the counter interrupted him to ask for his order.

Mr. Chen, who recently started his business, doesn’t want to miss a potential customer. Yet he says that since he upgraded his phone a year ago to a feature-rich BlackBerry, he can feel stressed out by what he described as internal pressure to constantly stay in contact.

“It’s become a demand. Not necessarily a demand of the customer, but a demand of my head,” he said. “I told my girlfriend that I’m more tired since I got this thing.”

In the parking lot outside the bagel shop, others were filling up moments with their phones. While Eddie Umadhay, 59, a construction inspector, sat in his car waiting for his wife to grocery shop, he deleted old e-mail while listening to news on the radio. On a bench outside a coffee house, Ossie Gabriel, 44, a nurse practitioner, waited for a friend and checked e-mail “to kill time.”

Crossing the street from the grocery store to his car, David Alvarado pushed his 2-year-old daughter in a cart filled with shopping bags, his phone pressed to his ear. He was talking to a colleague about work scheduling, noting that he wanted to steal a moment to make the call between paying for the groceries and driving.

“I wanted to take advantage of the little gap,” said Mr. Alvarado, 30, a facilities manager at a community center.

For many such people, the little digital asides come on top of heavy use of computers during the day. Take Ms. Bates, the exercising multitasker at the expansive Bakar Fitness and Recreation Center. She wakes up and peeks at her iPhone before she gets out of bed. At her job in advertising, she spends all day in front of her laptop.

But, far from wanting a break from screens when she exercises, she says she couldn’t possibly spend 55 minutes on the elliptical machine without “lots of things to do.” This includes relentless channel surfing. “I switch constantly,” she said. “I can’t stand commercials. I have to flip around unless I’m watching ‘Project Runway’ or something I’m really into.”

Some researchers say that whatever downside there is to not resting the brain, it pales in comparison to the benefits technology can bring in motivating people to sweat.

“Exercise needs to be part of our lives in the sedentary world we’re immersed in. Anything that helps us move is beneficial,” said John J. Ratey, associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School and author of “Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.”

But all things being equal, Mr. Ratey said, he would prefer to see people do their workouts away from their devices: “There is more bang for your buck doing it outside, for your mood and working memory.”

Of the 70 cardio machines on the main floor at Bakar Fitness, 67 have televisions attached. Most of them also have iPod docks and displays showing workout performance, and a few have games, like a rope-climbing machine that shows an animated character climbing the rope while the live human does so too.

A few months ago, the cable TV went out and some patrons were apoplectic. “It was an uproar. People said: ‘That’s what we’re paying for,’ ” said Leeane Jensen, 28, the fitness manager. At least one exerciser has a different take. Two stories up from the main floor, Peter Colley, 23, churns away on one of the several dozen elliptical machines without a TV. Instead, they are bathed in sunlight, looking out onto the pool and palm trees.

“I look at the wind on the trees. I watch the swimmers go back and forth,” Mr. Colley said. “I usually come here to clear my head.”

You can find the original article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/25/technology/25brain.html?scp=1&sq=downtime&st=cse&_r=1

In an interview for ABC, journalist Geraldine Doogue spoke with world renowned psychiatrist and leader in the field of neuroplasticity, Dr Norman Doidge. He’s been studying how the brain can rewire and repair itself, and the potential in this field is absolutely extraordinary.

The interview is very interesting and comes highly recommended, but for now, here’s what one of the world’s foremost experts on the brain has to say about multitasking. And don’t forget – that’s what we all do with our devices…

IMG - Geraldine DoogueGeraldine Doogue: Look, last question, really. I just wonder how you might apply this to something that I’m certainly interested in: multitasking. There’s been a very interesting debate just emerging of late about whether really multitasking, which we’re all asked to do in the workplace these days, is really producing optimal behaviour and concentration and joy. How do you fit your thoughts into… ?

IMG - Norman DoidgeNorman Doidge: Well yes, I don’t like multitasking. You know, in general, studies show that there’s some suggestions that for instance the left and right hemispheres are better connected in women and that women are better at multitasking than men. But regardless of that, multitasking is happening for a variety of reasons. One of them’s technological, that suddenly now, many forms of input are coming at everybody all at once, and I’m fond of saying, you know, there is no divinity or minister in charge of this technological revolution and how it’s affecting us. But put simply, if you want to learn something, it’s a very old-fashioned statement, it really helps to pay concerted attention to do it. And if you want to do something well, it helps you to do that.

Geraldine Doogue: That’s central to your argument.

Norman Doidge: And so multi-tasking, all the studies that have been done with multi-tasking in general show that people don’t do things as well. And these are very detailed, interesting studies. It takes a certain amount of mental effort and time to switch from Topic A to Topic B and if you’re truly multi-tasking — or activity A to activity B — you’re constantly shifting your brain and booting up some circuitry and turning down other circuitry, and it’s pretty inefficient in fact. And it’s draining and stressful. Now some people will come out with a study that’ll say ‘You can train people to get better at multi-tasking’, but that goes back to the wisdom question, which is, ‘Yes, you can train people to do just about anything’, you can train people to be slaves, good slaves, and so on and so forth. Is it a good thing to do? And in general, I think it’s not a good thing to do. Internalised by our institutions, because the institution, again, it has no head, it’s multi-tasking too. It doesn’t have an executive function sometimes, it’s just saying, ‘Get it done and get it done by this time.’ So yes, I’m a militant anti-multi-tasker.

You can read or download the audio of the full interview here: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/saturdayextra/norman-doidge/2972826

Find more of Dr Doidge’s extraordinary work here: http://www.normandoidge.com/?page_id=1048

Drake Baer is the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation. Writing for Fast Company, he discusses the importance of unplugging to recharge over the weekend…

“Not separating your weekend from your week can unravel your relationships, stymie your stress recovery, and ultimately ruin your productivity, research suggests.

We can avert these disasters, scholars say, but only if we learn to detach our grinds from our lives. Kansas State University organizational psychologist YoungAh Park explained as much in an interview: “If you have a strong technological boundary and self-restricted rules for using email, laptops, or cell phones for work during off-work times, then you are more likely to experience psychological detachment from work.”

That psychological detachment is key. Why? When you’re detached from your work over the weekend, her and others’ research has shown, you are able to recover from your workweek.

There are direct results: She’s found that people who unplug over the weekend have higher satisfaction with life than people who spend their Saturdays stuck in their inbox. And that wellness, we know, leads to at-work achievement.

Fraying relationships

It seems that if you’re sleeping with your smartphone, you won’t be connecting with the person sleeping next to you. Park’s research has shown that if you’re continually stressed with work stuff at home, you’ll be able to self-regulate hostile behaviors or support your partner.

“If working couples don’t recuperate from their job stress while at home,” she says, “they would be likely to fall into a spiral of lost resources.”

The right move, then, is to learn to weekend as well as our heroes do.

A joint study between American and German universities found that weekendly recovery can come in several flavors, including:

Relaxation experiences: joviality, reading a magazine, flipping through a book, or, as the kids say, “chilling”

Mastery experiences: accomplishing something awesome like climbing a mountain or learning a language

Control: being able to decide whatever the hell it is you want to do

Detachment: anything that helps you “get away” from the situation at work

But the weekend can have stressors, too: housework, partner, or family conflicts, or, we have to add, dealing with that pile of laundry in your room. Nonwork hassles, the authors add, drain your emotional resources and cramp your recuperation. Their implicit suggestion, then, is to make at least part of your weekend a total retreat.”

You can find the original article here: http://www.fastcompany.com/3013322/unplug/unplug-your-weekend-or-ruin-your-life

Remember, we’re not suggesting you convert to an Amish lifestyle.

But it is worth considering how you could improve your habits with technology. Take the time to decide how you can design your life to reap all of the extraordinary benefits of technology, without the downside.

You can try turning your phone and computer off at sundown to spend time with your family. Or taking a full weekend without your devices on you. Perhaps even just banning screens in the bedroom would do.

Whichever option you choose, low key device restriction or a full on disconnect, make sure you really commit to it.

Use the spare time you’ve created by getting ‘off screen’ to reconnect with yourself, rest and also enhance the human element in your life. Balance is the key.

And when you find it – success will be coming your way that much faster as a result.

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