Switch off, unplug and do nothing (and not just on holiday!)


Posted on: August 14, 2018 by Marianne Hewlett

Technology has given us the flexibility to work anywhere and anytime, but it doesn’t mean you should be “on” all the time. We lead very busy work lives; we run from meeting to meeting, spend hours on phone conferences, file report after report and opt for a working lunch to make the most of our available time – every working hour is planned and accounted for. With one eye on the clock and the other on a screen, whether phone, tablet or laptop, we try to keep on top of the unprecedented flood of information that we feel compelled to read and respond to at all hours. As a result, work-related stress has become a major concern, with a recent survey from the European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks (ESENER) revealing that within the EU, these pressures have an impact in nearly 80% of establishments.

How often do you pick up your phone in a day just to check if you missed something? A few times, a few hundred times? Apple recently launched the beta version of its new Screen Time phone-tracking tools, which may reveal that you pick up your phone far more than you imagined! Digital wellbeing is becoming increasingly important and in Apple’s iOS 12, there will be more features added to help us switch off. These will include enhancements to the “do not disturb” feature and a bedtime mode that dims the display, hiding all notifications from the lock screen until prompted in the morning.

We must do less to do more

With such a high percentage of employees struggling to cope with the ‘always on’ working culture and considering that 12.5 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2016/17, employers are rolling out wellbeing strategies for their workplaces at a rate never seen before. Interestingly, most actions and interventions are aimed at increasing productivity, since a healthy and happy worker is a productive one.

However, Alan Lightman, professor of human sciences at MIT, throws a spanner in the works. Literally, as he suggests we should come to a grinding halt a few times a day and do nothing. We need the time to contemplate and reflect. According to Lightman, it is important to waste time again, spend time without a goal, where you try not to achieve anything. A dinner with friends, a walk in the woods, or even blankly staring into the distance.

The danger of being busy

In Lightman’s recently published book, In Praise of Wasting Time, he talks about the dangers of being busy and continuing to live as mechanically as we do now. We hardly have time to think, to fantasize and be creative, yet we know that the best ideas usually come at the strangest of places or times; in the shower, taking a walk, cycling home, and so on. Therefore, it is concerning that studies in the US show that creativity amongst young people has decreased since the nineties. With the rise of the internet, we see more anxiety in young people, who fear that they are missing out or are not keeping up with their peers online.

In an interview with the Dutch newspaper NRC recently, Lightman talked about people exhibiting almost robotic behavior and mentioned that the average walking speed in Singapore has increased by 30 percent since the mid-nineties!

Fortunately, there are some useful tips to help you unplug and switch off on a regular basis. It may be difficult to start with, and you may find you have a minor phone addiction, but with a little bit of perseverance you too can learn how to do nothing to do more:

  • Take a half hour walk every day with your phone switched off
  • Meditate or simply sit and think for thirty minutes a day. Find a quiet room or space with no distractions
  • If you find it difficult to “find” time, just book the time in your agenda. The important thing is that you have half an hour to calm down in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the office
  • Some employers, like Google, have installed nap-pods for taking a quick nap or just having some time out

 If you feel you don’t have time for it just yet, then join the UK initiative “National Days of Unplugging”  which will take place on the 1-2 of March 2019. Find some colleagues or friends to join the initiative and support each other in your quest to do nothing to do more.

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About Marianne Hewlett

Senior Vice President and member of the Scientific Community
Marianne Hewlett is a Senior Vice President at Atos and a seasoned marketeer and communications expert. Passionate about connecting people, technology and business, she is a member of the Atos Scientific Community where she explores the Future of Work and the impact of technology on individuals, organizations and society. She is a strong ambassador for diversity and inclusivity – and particularly encourages female talent to pursue a career in IT – as she believes a diverse and happy workforce is a key driver for business success. As an ambassador for the company’s global transformation program Wellbeing@work, she explores new technologies and ways of working that address the needs of current and future generations of employees. A storyteller at heart, she writes about the human side of business and technology and posts include insights into the future of work, the science of happiness, and how wellbeing and diversity can drive success.

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