Did you check your email before you got out of bed this morning? If you did, is this because you’ve decided that this is the best way for you to spend the first minutes of your day?
Do you ever find yourself watching television, and simultaneously flicking through your smartphone or tablet? If you were reading a book instead, would you also be flicking through a magazine?
I’m a big fan of technology, but I feel some of our digital habits are starting to disrupt our mental and emotional health, and cripple our productivity.
According to a major mobile carrier, the average person checks their smartphone approximately 150 times per day. Researchers at The University of Sussex found that people who used multiple media devices simultaneously had less grey matter in their anterior cingulate cortex (or ACC), the part of the brain responsible for cognitive and emotional control.
We are cultivating a state of ‘continuous partial attention’. Forever switching our cognitive gaze, can we be surprised when we find it hard to focus? Digital technology may even be changing the way we process information and experience the world. Are we still able to process large volumes of text, or grasp the same meaning when we read from a screen? Can we still recall information without computer bookmarks, or navigate unfamiliar cities without Google Maps?

  • Stop checking email first thing. I’ve mentioned this elsewhere, but just try it for a week. If might make no difference or it could change more than you might think. Make using your smart devices, and apps, a more conscious choice. Move your ‘addiction’ apps (you know the ones) to the second or third page of your device. This will help make your choices more conscious.
  • Batch process emails a few times a day (aim for three) and turn your email application off when you’re not using it. Some working roles demand immediate email response – but most don’t. And speedy responses become self-perpetuating be- cause you create, and then reinforce an expectation. If some- thing is urgent people can always call you.
  • Have a tech-free hour before bed each night. Try having a week without tech, at least once a year (do you really need to check your email on holiday?).