There can be no argument that the digital age has made the world a smaller and more accessible place, and that opportunities, in particular for women, to work flexibly within the work place have improved immeasurably with the rise in remote working and the so called “laptop lifestyle.”
But at what cost?
Precisely that – people with the lifestyle that affords them the luxury of taking away with them on holiday the laptop can feel a sense of duty or obligation to whip out the mobile or Apple Mac and catch up on work emails or do that “little bit extra” whilst away.
The ease with which we can “switch off” in the true sense of the words these days has been seriously compromised. It is a topic which raised its head repeatedly in coaching sessions with my clients: the increased level of distraction and virtual “noise” which contributes to the feeling that we are doing lots of things badly rather than focusing on doing a few things well.
Getting Away from it All
The fifteenth of November 2002 should have been a memorable day for me anyway as I arrived on the beautifully lush Thai Island of Koh Phi Phi for the first time, taking in the steep limestone cliffs, green vegetation peppering the tops, and the turquoise ocean lapping at the almost translucent white sand beaches. But memorable not for the call to my mobile from Chambers telling me, whilst I was dressed in my bikini, flip flops and sarong, that there was an urgent advice needing my attention for a Court of Appeal case the following week.
Now more fool me for having had my mobile (a) with me, and (b) on, and (c) having answered. Yes, of course, I take responsibility for that. But it’s the fact that I stewed on the contents of the call for at least 48 hours afterwards, even after giving the clerks short shrift about the unnecessary and pointless interruption to an otherwise idyllic holiday.
There are other specific points in my career as a criminal barrister that I remember for similar reasons: the Charles Bridge, Prague on a 2 night city break; at Leeds Bradford Airport as I was lifting my heavy back pack on to the baggage carousel about to embark on a 6 week tour of Australia. And with the challenge to clerks about why the call was even made, the age old retort: “Well your diary was marked Away; Are you Away, Away?!”
YES. I AM AWAY!!
At the end of the day, the world didn’t stop turning; the scales of justice never toppled. It’s simply that in those days I allowed my mind-set to get the better of me and spoil the remainder of my trips. In the case of my lengthy Australian adventures, that was particularly regrettable.
Solutions to Quieten the Digital Noise
Older, wiser, and now a coach empowering female lawyers to achieve career ambitions whilst creating congruent lives, what tips do I offer then by way of solutions?
- If you can’t handle the interruption, don’t respond or get a separate personal/ work phone. If you do allow the interruption, be accountable for the fact that you personally made that choice and risked the possible consequences.
- Ensure you communicate clearly with your work/ organisation about the boundaries and acceptability or otherwise of calls/ other interruptions whilst away as a way of guaranteeing their support.
- Whilst at home/ work, ask yourself honestly, “Do I have a healthy relationship with my mobile/ laptop and life balance?” If the answer is no, consider what improvements, however small, you could make to support your time ownership.
The Great Mobile Switch Off
- Start your day with gratitude as opposed to the mobile phone social media “death scroll” – think of, and even journal, a couple of things that make you feel grateful to give you a pro-active sense of your own purpose and owning your own day before you allow in the reactive distractions of the digital world around you.
- Jim Rohn said “You run the day or the day runs you”. His point was around the importance of planning and prioritisation, and sticking to your own as opposed to someone else’s schedule. To this end, consider allocating 2 or 3 specific times in the day to check emails/ social media and in between times, remove notification sounds/ alerts/ banners from your phone or laptop; an extreme yet effective tool can also be to engage the “Airplane mode” facility for specific times during the day. Similarly, consider utilising the “out of office” function during the day, not just exclusively for holidays. A most effective one I saw recently read as follows: This is an auto reply. It may be unconventional, but I usually only check and deal with emails at 12:00 and after 16:00. This means I can provide a better service to everyone, including you, as I’m not sat in my inbox all day. If you need something urgently from me, please just give me a call.
- In whatever you do, be present – don’t be constantly on the phone dealing with work problems when you are with your children, or when working from home, sit yourself in an area where you can become easily drawn in to domestic dramas. By doing so, you provide focus and clarity to you and those around you. It helps you manage your (and their) expectations, plus allows you to be more productive in the pockets of time dedicated to which ever specified activity. Time blocking in this way ensures that every task you put your mind to is in short, manageable bursts which you commit your full attention to: then when you are doing your work or you are with your family for example, you can give 100% attention as opposed to feeling constantly conflicted and distracted.
- If you are a mum working from home around child care, accept that there may be isolated times that distraction is unavoidable, and but for it, you would be otherwise be enjoying a full day with your kids. The alternative might be having to opt for a full day in the office, no time with the kids, and staring aimlessly at their photos all day whilst engaging in a whole heap of mummy guilt. Acceptance is a very freeing mind-set to adopt.
- Switch off. Literally. Unplug. Lock your digital tech in a box for allocated periods in the day. If you don’t already, start with the rule “no tech at the (dinner) table”. It might be tricky at first, but how many short days of pain for some significant long term gains? Dr. Rangan Chattergee’s 4 Pillar Plan to creating a longer healthier life includes a suggested Seven Day Digital Detox which provides a helpful starting point. Then the biggie. Switch off: for a full 24 hours. The cold turkey solution to the digital revolution and one which I bet a whole heap of us secretly yearn for. Try it. One day you might thank yourself.
Nikki Alderson is a specialist corporate and executive coach empowering female lawyers to achieve their career ambition whilst creating congruent lives. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org arrange a free, no obligation consultation.
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