In 2016, the University of Pittsburgh conducted a study assessing the effects of social media habits on the mood of users, and as expected, there was a direct correlation between time users spent on social media and overall happiness. Like many of us, I subconsciously fall into the endless cycle of looking at my phone ad nauseam, opening and re-opening Instagram, reading curated news headlines, or checking phantom texts. It’s much better than boredom.
Yet, under the square content pieces lie perpetual self-affirmation, and the meaningless graphic of a thumbs-up sets off enough dopamine in a person’s brain to have them clicking into the same app every other minute. As we continue to scroll day in and day out, we can hide our thoughts behind the constant drones of entertainment and sleepless computer screens. It begs the question: Have we abandoned our independent thought?
The perception of productivity, busy-ness, and the desire to be busy has become ingrained into our culture. Americans are now considered to work more than any other country in the world, yet, productivity does not correlate to the hours spent behind a desk. In fact, the Center for Disease Control reports that this need to always be “on” leads to deterioration on various measures of cognitive performance. We need to breathe…and slow down a bit. How can we be truly effective if we can’t even connect ourselves?
Appreciate your own existence.
Let’s start big. You have a responsibility to yourself to pursue experiences that will enrich your life and influence your work for the better. I can tell you right now that most of those experiences do not include your laptop. The things that you do outside the office–whether that’s traveling, participating in sports, or creating art–will only broaden your worldview and make you a better professional. Find ways to expand those opportunities and inject what you learn into your work. Construct an experiential dictionary that you can pull from in everything that you do and suddenly you’ll be able to develop work product that is more well-rounded and understanding of different perspectives.
Work doesn’t always have to take place in front of a screen.
John Maynard Keynes predicted that technology would advance far enough to allow first-world countries to enjoy 15-hour workweeks. He argued that with these technological advancements, people would become more productive and more capable of completing their work in a shorter amount of time. What he didn’t account for was what constitutes “productivity” in the modern professional. For a long time, being productive meant being the first one to arrive and the last one to leave, but in recent years there has been a shift in how people are optimizing their working hours. Just like the experiences that help you to appreciate your own existence, you need to engage with your professional community instead of putting in “face-time” just for the sake of “face-time.” Use your commute to catch up on the day’s news or spend time with clients in-person to develop relationships and provide more personalized solutions.
Don’t be compelled to respond immediately.
Just because you have a phone doesn’t mean you need to answer it every time it dings. Last year, The Skimm published a set of recommendations for reducing anxiety caused by your devices. These included changing your color scheme to black and white so you aren’t haunted by red message icons, setting “Do Not Disturb” times, and turning off social media push notifications. Think about how much more productive you’d be if you weren’t waiting for alerts every time someone likes your latest Instagram post.
Accept your inner introvert.
In this day and age, we’re all forced to be extroverts. We’re expected to share pictures of our dogs, our vacations, funny things that we see on the way to work–even our meals. And it’s constant. There are screens everywhere begging you to digest content. However, with more people exploring meditation and travel that takes them “off the grid,” it seems as though we are reaching an inflection point. Find a way to make time for yourself every day and use that time to declutter your brain and find creative outlets. All artists have a studio in which they try new mediums and test new styles. Find your studio, turn off your phone, and get to work on yourself.
Take it one step at a time.
A lot of people start businesses with the goal of changing the world, but real change doesn’t happen overnight. Start small. What are your individual goals and how will achieving them affect your immediate circle? What are your goals for your community? Your city? Your country? And then how do you continue to scale? By spending time with yourself and identifying what drives you, you’ll be able to make a greater impact over time.
We have become so obsessed with our contributions to society and the fear of missing out, but that fear keeps us from being present, and the lack of presence makes it impossible for us to understand ourselves and our peers. Sometimes all it takes is admitting your own loneliness and using that to connect to the world around you. So, put down that front-facing camera and take some time to introspect instead. I guarantee you’ll start to feel a sense of peace that will carry over into your work. The world can wait.