It’s no secret that the pandemic has accelerated our already ultra-digital culture. Daily online content consumption has more than doubled globally, according to the marketing and advertising source World Advertising Research Center, as COVID-19 restrictions shift our work and social interactions to take place over the internet. It’s become more difficult than ever to separate ourselves from constant digital stimulation—from our laptops to our smartphones and TVs, we are always jumping from one screen to the next.
It takes effort to carve out time away from devices when our home and work environment has molded into one and there is little freedom for other activities outside of our screens. But as we start a new year, it’s important to set and maintain digital boundaries to avoid burnout, as well as give our eyes a needed blue-light break.
Give the phone a rest
One of the easiest bad habits to fall into is checking your phone immediately when you wake up. It comes as a natural instinct, since most people use their phones as their alarms. However, this leads into checking work emails, Slack messages, and social media channels from the moment we open our eyes. This immediate overload of information can start our day off with a sense of urgency, obligation, and worry.
Try investing in an alarm clock, and leave your phone outside of your bedroom so you don’t reach for it as soon as you wake up. Leaving your phone by your work computer can be a good reminder that the phone doesn’t need to open until your laptop does and your workday officially begins. Instead, spend this time in the morning in a quiet and calm environment that sets you up for the day ahead.
Set boundaries to offline hours
If you’re feeling as though your offline hours aren’t being respected by your colleagues, it’s important to address this head-on. While breaching sensitive topics like boundaries can be uncomfortable, communicating authentically and transparently will make the conversation go a lot smoother. In any discussion where there’s room for misunderstanding, it’s always best to have it in person rather than over email to avoid your words being misconstrued. As many of us are working remotely, opt for a call with video over just audio, to maximize personal connection.
Finally, don’t beat around the bush. Misunderstandings can live and thrive under the surface if not worked through. At the software company where I’m an executive, we regularly practice “putting the moose on the table.” A spin on the “elephant in the room,” it means we encourage each other to put those uncomfortable, scary, and sometimes awkward topics on the table and talk them out.
If you preface a conversation by saying you want to speak transparently and openly about a concern, this will help to avoid any confusion or lack of clarity. Further, being open and honest will also help to establish a relationship of trust and respect.
Nix the screen-jumping
Even though we shut down our work computers for the day, we may still have a tendency of jumping right to our phones or our TVs (sometimes, even both at the same time).
Closing one screen should not mean immediately opening up another. Try taking breaks from screens altogether for large portions of time throughout the day. Maybe go for a walk on your lunch break instead of scrolling through your phone, or try reading a book after work rather than watching TV. These little breaks from screens can add up throughout the day and result in a significant amount of time that would otherwise have been spent in front of a device.
Avoid tempting triggers
Putting away digital distractions at the end of the day allows you to get the rest needed to approach life with energy and creativity. Unfortunately, the pandemic has created somewhat of a world with nonexistent work-life boundaries. It’s easy to feel like we need to stay updated on what’s happening with work, our friends, or out in the world on a 24/7 basis. But these constant digital distractions prevent us from recharging and resetting.
Beyond just shutting down your computer at the end of the day, create a physical boundary by keeping it in a desk drawer or in a separate room that isn’t your main living space. Consider making your bedroom or living room “no-tech zones,” and use those spaces to focus on self-care or to interact with your loved ones instead. Turn off push notifications on your social media, Slack, and email, so you avoid getting drawn back into the digital world during your “off” time. More than likely, that one seemingly urgent email can wait until tomorrow.
It’s common to set intentions early in the year, but as we head into another period of living through a global pandemic, maintaining healthy habits when using digital devices is easier said than done—especially when the only way to see friends and loved ones is online. There are some useful, cost-free apps, like Flipd or Moment, which can help you stick to your digital detox. When screen time can’t be avoided, try to prioritize quality interactions; for example, hanging with friends over Zoom versus scrolling mindlessly through TikTok. It may be tough to give up the cat videos, but your mental health and well-being will thank you for it.
Keith Cerny is chief people officer at Galvanize, a global leader in SaaS governance, risk, and compliance software.