Unplugging: Myth or Reality. Can a Digital Detox Improve Your Productivity?

Americans could use a vacation and unplugging from the digital world. Recent data shows that an estimated 53 percent of Americans continue to work over the weekend, 52 percent outside of designated office hours, and 54 percent still work even if they call in sick, according to Deloitte.

Unplugging benefits – myth or reality?

In many cases, this is due to the instant access of technology and being connected 24/7, which has become the cultural norm. Smartphones make it easier to read and answer emails off the clock and social media has its place in this digitally-connected culture as well.

Social media is not only constantly around us, but it inundates the brain with more content than it’s wired to process. And it obstructs its capacity to multitask, according to research from the University of Oregon.

This saturation of connectivity can lead to an always-on work mindset which, Deloitte adds, could diminish your performance. To maximize productivity on the job and maintain balance in the other areas of your life, it may be time for a digital detox. Here are just a few reasons why this break may be necessary.

A digital detox refocuses your attention span

Technology is constantly evolving, with new apps and tools competing for our attention. This causes overstimulation and decreases the ability to focus. James Williams, author of Stand Out of Our Light: Freedom and Resistance in the Attention Economy, explains the danger of this rapid evolution:

“The constant stream of new products this unleashes—along with the ongoing optimization of features within the products already in use—can result in a situation where users are in a constant state of learning and adaptation to new interaction dynamics, familiar enough with their technologies to operate [the devices], but never so fully in control that they can prevent technologies from operating on them in unexpected or undesirable ways.”

James Williams

Imagine what would happen if you’d be unplugging, even for just a few minutes each day. Cal Newport, a professor of computer science at Georgetown University, says that when people minimize their digital time, they find it easier to stay focused. They also have more cognitive energy to put toward projects.

Keep your phone in your desk drawer or bag when arriving for a particularly challenging day of work. You may find yourself more focused and  therefore more effective.

Unplugging form the digital world improves communication

While an email, text message or a chat thread is often the quicker and more convenient form of interaction, it’s not a substitute for the value of real time dialogue and interpersonal contact. In fact, Carol Kinsey Goman, PhD, author of The Silent Language of Leaders, explains:

“Face-to-face is still the most productive and powerful communication medium. An in-person meeting offers the best opportunity to engage others with empathy and impact. It builds and supports positive professional connections that we can’t replicate in a virtual environment.”

Carol Kinsey Goman

Words matter, but they can easily be misinterpreted if you never hear and see the other person’s body language, facial expressions, posture, gestures, eye contact and vocal tone. Give your communication a digital detox and step away from technology to have face-to-face meetings whenever possible—especially the most important ones.

Unplugging boosts your creative potential

The continuous urge to swipe or scroll has reduced the amount of time your brain is unoccupied. Every spare moment is filled with something, whether we’re scrolling  Instagram while standing in line or reading an email at a red light.

This constant activity reduces creative thinking. “Boredom,” or moments where we’re not doing anything else, redirects the mind toward abstract ideas and sparks imagination, according to the study, On the Function of Boredom.

To inject some creativity into your thinking, leave your phone in the car while you wait in line at Starbucks or when you walk to get coffee in the office kitchen. Give your mind space to create instead of filling it with games, photos and unimportant status updates.

Time for unplugging

Your always-on mentality is not helping you at work. You may feel like you’re getting more done, but instead, you’re stifling creativity, reducing your attention span, and making communication harder, not easier.

All of this leads to reduced productivity because you’re never working at  your best. Unplugging helps, even in small amounts during the day, to reclaim your time, at work and at home.

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