5 digital habits to work better, faster, and more creatively

Stuart McLeod

Tech has made our lives easier in so many ways. We can buy clothes or groceries with the click of a button, navigate new cities easily, answer work emails from a Caribbean beach, and keep up with our friends and family all over the world.

But despite its myriad benefits, tech has also helped fuel our worst habits — procrastination, laziness, and overspending, just to name a few. Over the last few years, there’s been a loud call for re-evaluating our relation to our devices. For all the good our phones do, our grip on them can create a slew of problems — from the physical (like eye strain to carpal tunnel) to emotional (like depression and anxiety). The rise of digital detox retreats is compelling evidence that our need to disconnect periodically is ever-increasing.

We depend on them for so much, yet we feel utterly unable to disconnect. We fear that if we’re not online at all times, we’ll miss something important.

It’s no wonder most of us have a love-hate relationship with our devices.

That said, the genie’s out of the bottle. We’re not going to be parted from our smartphones anytime soon, and the world is becoming more digital by the day. As tech becomes an even bigger part of everyday living, we have to think of ways to work smarter with the tech we have, rather than let it dictate our lives.

Here are some healthy tech habits to start cultivating now:

1. Turn off all the notifications

You know the drill. You’re in the middle of a productive work meeting or a great writing session, and your phone lights up with a notification that someone has added you as a friend on Facebook or that Netflix is suggesting a new show you might like. Your focus quickly shifts from the task at hand to your phone, and your productivity goes out the window.

After their advent in 2008, push notifications proved to be a marketer’s dream: They’re nearly impossible to immediately distinguish from a text or email, so you have to look before you can dismiss them. In 2013, Apple proudly announced that 7.4 trillion push notifications had been pushed through its servers. Today, that number is almost certainly higher.

But remember, these notifications are designed for selling things, not making our lives easier. In fact, the single easiest digital habit to help you get more done is to simply turn them off.

Unfortunately, neither Android nor iOS offers an easy way to turn off all your notifications at once. In both cases, you have to into Settings, then turn them off app-by-app. It’s a pain, but well worth your while. And make extra sure to turn off notifications on all the social apps, shopping apps, and from Netflix, Spotify, and Kindle — as these can be particularly addictive.

If you’re worried you’ll miss something, know that turning off notifications doesn’t shut you out from using your favorite apps. It just puts the control back in your hands so you’re on your phone when you want to be. Apps like Instagram and Facebook are built to show you the best stuff every time you open the app — you won’t miss much by ignoring notifications.

And if not getting notifications means you forget to even open the app or check your phone for a while? Well, you’re welcome.

2. Set your phone to black and white

Technology is engineered to be addictive and hijack our attention.

And when your phone is in color, everything looks that much more enticing. Silicon Valley insider and non-profit founder Tristan Harris likened the allure of your phone to the that of a slot machine.

If you find you’re whiling away the hours scrolling through photos on Instagram, or clicking on just one more Buzzfeed listicle, try enabling grayscale on your phone. It might not cure your addiction completely, but the Internet is much less fun when it’s not rendered in vivid technicolor.

Here’s how to do it: For Androids, the process differs per model, but it’s typically accessed via the “Accessibility” menu. In iOS 10, go to Settings > General > Accessibility >Display Accommodations > Color Filters. Switch Color Filters on and select Grayscale.

When you’re phone’s in black and white, you’re less likely to spend mindless hours staring at your screen and can move through the digital world with intention.

It may not seem like a major change, but it can make a big difference.

3. Keep tech out of the bedroom as much as possible

Our bodies are wired to respond to natural light.

But today, we’re bombarded with a constant stream of artificial light from our devices. This revs up the brain’s machinery, pumping hormones to keep us warm, alert, and anxious. We play on our phones in bed and wonder why our body has trouble shutting down.

If you have trouble sleeping, keep in mind that all the blue light from laptops and phones is keeping you awake at night. Research shows that exposure to blue light suppresses the production of melatonin more than any other type of light.

To feel and sleep better, try purging your tech at night.

That means no devices after 8:00 p.m. This includes work emails. Technology addiction inhibits your brain’s ability to relax, so you need to find a new pre-sleep activity that doesn’t involve your phone. Play some soothing music, read a book, journal, or meditate.

It takes a lot of discipline at first, but it sure beats being tired all the time. Your marriage will benefit too!

4. Reconsider social media

In recent years, Facebook has been scrutinized for a variety of privacy concerns — most famously the 2018 data scandal, when it was revealed that the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica had harvested the personal data of millions of people’s Facebook profiles without their consent.

Shortly after, I deleted Facebook for ethical reasons. And I’ve never been on Instagram. I know I’m not the only one inclined to opt out of social media.

Recent research reveals that 34% of Gen Z, or people born between the mid-1990s and early 2000s, say they’re permanently leaving social media, and 64% say they’re taking a break from it. Reasons included worries about time-wasting (41%), feeling it was too negative (35%), privacy concerns (22%), too much pressure (18%), too much commercialization (18%), and that it makes them feel bad about themselves (17%).

As Gen Z is the rising generation, this study reveals the social media craze may be on it’s way out.

People are realizing you don’t have to be on Instagram or Facebook to connect with people — and in fact, these platforms may make you feel even more lonely and disconnected that you would without them.

5. Find your quiet place

One of the most effective ways to cultivate a healthy relationship with your tech is to have a digital detox.

And the best way to do this is to find a special place where you can be free of distractions.

For some, it’s their commute. For me, it’s a bike ride. Bike riding doesn’t require as much concentration as many other sports, so you can really get in the zone and relax — I do my best thinking on the bike. Once you’re 20 minutes or half an hour into a three- or four-hour ride, you have clarity. You’re also outdoors in gorgeous scenery.

Spending time outside has been shown to lead to significant health benefits.

Studies have shown that walking in the woods can improve blood pressure, boost mental health, and decrease cancer risk. Beyond that, you’re less likely to think about your phone.

In Blake Snow’s Log Off: How to Stay Connected after Disconnecting, the writer explains that his family spends two entire weeks — once in the spring and once in the fall — with no electronic devices. Although it feels a little scary at first, an electronics fast forces you to connect with others and with yourself, which is crucial to overall wellbeing.

While tech is no doubt benefiting our lives in countless ways, we all have to figure out where to draw the line in order to get the most from our devices rather than falling prey to them.

Stuart McLeod

CEO & Co-Founder, Karbon

Stuart started his first business 11 years ago and has had many successful ventures, including Paycycle, founded in 2009, which he sold to Xero in 2011. He then built the global Xero Payroll team that delivers payroll software across the US, AU, UK and NZ markets. Stuart is now paving the way for smarter tools to improve how knowledge workers collaborate with their colleagues and look after their clients.


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