This is a guest post from Monica of Fuller Life Makeover: Balanced Living for the Modern World.
How many times have you started your day feeling tense as you scroll through your inbox first thing? At work do you find yourself constantly interrupted by emails or conversations on Slack? Are you able to focus on your most important project for more than a few minutes at a time?
With over 66% of employees using 2 or more devices at work, it’s no wonder why deep work, the true key to innovation, is largely not getting done. It is too easy to become consumed by the litany of small tasks that demand our attention, especially when they arrive electronically in a seemingly endless stream.
Sure, it may be part of your job to receive and respond to electronic communications. But letting this interfere with the main tasks of your job slows down your output. It also decreases the likelihood you’ll produce a key insight that will push your company to the next level.
Short of making a career U-turn where you no longer have to interact with technology on a daily basis, there is a simple solution to mitigate the amount of time spent glued to a screen, while increasing productivity – a twice-daily tech sabbath.
What is a Tech Sabbath?
A tech sabbath is a period of time in which you do not engage with technology whatsoever. Committing to a twice-daily tech sabbath provides an opportunity for engaging in restorative or creative pursuits, ideal for a balanced life.
The idea of having two – one at the beginning of your day and one at the end – is due to the special nature of these times. Choosing to start your day free from technological distractions will reduce your stress upon waking, a time when your cortisol levels are already naturally rising. It will also make you a more productive person in the long run.
If you’re starting your day in a reactionary way, by checking email and putting out fires, like over 80% of workers do, you are putting yourself at a disadvantage. If you can break out of that pattern, you can put yourself ahead of those 80% of workers.
Similarly, you can’t make progress without reflection at the end of your day about what was successful and what could be improved. It’s like steering a ship without a rudder.
How to Take Your First Tech Sabbath
Start your day by devoting the first 15-30 minutes upon waking to restorative activities. Drinking some water and getting your body moving are great ways to start the day. These activities will boost your energy and put you in the right frame of mind to tackle your highest priority project.
Without your phone as a distraction, the likelihood that you will enter a state of flow once you do begin working significantly increases.
The tech sabbath doesn’t have to end the moment you walk out the door in the morning. In fact, you can extend it into the workplace for maximum productivity.
It’s easier to do this if you slowly wean yourself off email. I used to turn on my computer at work first thing after setting my stuff down in the morning. Less than a minute later, I was going through my overfilled inbox.
At first it was incredibly difficult to change this habit. Every email seemed equally important, and I was afraid of what people would think if I didn’t respond right away. It wasn’t easy, but I realized that approach was not resulting in meaningful progress. I was bogging myself down with tasks that didn’t deserve my attention. I was wasting my peak energy levels on trivial emails.
Now I go over a notebook which has my reflections from the previous day, which I wrote during the tech sabbath the night before. I use those to make adjustments to my work plan. When I find a comfortable stopping point, I will go ahead and start wading through my inbox, but not before making progress on my top priority.
Creating a Tech Sabbath Routine
The next step is to start building the habit of a tech sabbath into your daily routine so that it will become second nature. Use a regular alarm clock rather than your phone to wake you up. That makes it easier to resist the temptation to check email right away.
Likewise, developing a routine of meditation, journal writing and even drinking coffee or tea while looking out your window are all infinitely better options for starting your day. Staring into a screen doesn’t provide an opportunity for your mind to wander and reflect. Quiet time for your brain is the key.
Making time in the mornings for these types of endeavors makes us more productive in the long run. It also decreases the likelihood of burnout. Make a conscious choice to do something that brings you joy first thing in the day. Only when that activity is finished do you check your phone or open your laptop.
Making the Habit Stick
Enlist your partner, family members or roommates in holding you accountable to tech-free time, and offer to do the same for them. It is very likely that they could also stand to benefit from a tech sabbath.
If willpower is an issue, consider using an app (ironic, I know) that will prevent you from sending work emails for a certain amount of time. Even better would be to turn off push notifications altogether. Even non-work related screen time can be problematic in the long-term, diminishing your attention span and problem-solving skills. Those are the same skills that are indispensable for success in today’s modern workplace.
To create a tech-free period in the evenings, consider leaving your phone, tablet or laptop in a different room. Spend at least 5-10 minutes writing down three reflections for your day. They don’t all have to be work-related.
I also find it helpful to write down how I plan to deal with any challenges, like feeling overworked and stressed. That way the next time a similar feeling or situation comes up, I can quickly go over my notes and remember my previous solution. Instead of wasting precious time trying to deal with the situation from scratch, I can solve the issue right away.
Without creating and protecting this important time in your day, you are putting yourself at a competitive disadvantage. It’s truly amazing how much better life is when you’re in control of technology rather than the other way around. (For many more balanced living tips check out Monica’s site).
Building a tech sabbath into your routine may not be easy at first, but it’s essential if you want to reap the personal and professional benefits of true daily introspection.
About the author: Monica Lannom is a PhD candidate in Biology. When she is not doing research or chasing after her dogs she writes about careers, productivity and balanced living. Follow her on Twitter @life_fuller.