We live in an “always on” culture. Our devices are permanently connected to the internet through WiFi or cellular signals - and we have more devices around us than ever before. Many people find that the benefits of near-instant pervasive communication are being eroded by the level of noise coming through our ever-expanding communication channels, and the interruptions they represent. Even that last bastion of quiet, the long-haul flight, is steadily being infiltrated by WiFi. Is there anywhere left we can escape?
There are some places. If we hunt hard enough, we can find beaches, parks and hillsides that are pretty much signal dead, and great places to escape for a little while. It’s worth doing. Designing time into your day to walk, exercise and think has been proved to boost productivity. It’s not the only solution, though.
We can escape from communication any time we want. We just need to turn our phones off - or put them into airplane mode. If you’re writing, do you need your WiFi switched on on your laptop? Just because we can be always on, doesn’t mean we have to be. There’s the off-button. Have the courage to use it, and make that a positive choice.
Your time is limited. Our energy and cognitive capacity even more so. Saying “yes” to something means saying “no” to something else. Or, to turn that on its head, saying “no” to a low value activity means you have the space and energy to say “yes” to more interesting, more important things.
By turning off your device you’re saying “no” to being always contactable, but you’re also saying “yes” to time for reflection, deep thinking or just de-stressing. Saying “no” to having your phone on over dinner with your friends or family means saying “no” to people outside that dinner - but it conveys a very powerful “yes” to the people you’ve chosen to spend time with.
Indeed, could you make a powerful choice to commit to family and friends by taking a day a week away from your screen - the “screen-free sabbath” movement advocates putting all screens aside for one day a week. It’s not only a great way of enhancing your relationships - and plenty of research shows that good relationships are the key to life satisfaction - but also to allow yourself to relax and disconnect from your work, coming back to it with renewed vigour and passion the next day.
Making these yes/no choices is critical to designing a day that hits your priorities. Anyone who has worked in an office for any length of time has encountered the person that never says “no” to any work, and builds a reputation as a committed and hardworking member of staff - right up until their workload finally exceeds their ability to do it. Either the quality of their work drops precipitously, or they have a breakdown. No-one can say “yes” to everything, and the sooner you get comfortable with the idea of saying “no” to things, the easier it will be for you - and the less shocking it will be to those around you.
Start by turning off your phone, once in a while. It serves you, you don’t serve it.