Digital Detox: How to Unplug and Why You Should

Remember when we all had hopes that technology was going to reduce our “busy time?” Well, guess what? If anything, the exact opposite has happened—to a degree that I bet no one could have ever predicted 20 or 30 years ago. Now, I am a huge fan of technology and of the positive aspects it offers for work and play. However, I also understand the benefits of a “digital detox,” and unplugging from technology from time to time.

Our “Always On” World

In a recent whitepaper titled Always On, Never Done? Don’t Blame the Smartphone, The Centre for Creative Leadership outlined stunning research, stating, “…professionals, managers, and executives who carry smartphones for work report interacting with work a whopping 13.5 hours every workday, (72 hours per week including weekend work).” Seventy-two hours. PER WEEK! Survey respondents, who are professionals, managers, and executives, reported having—on average—only about three hours on workdays for “discretionary” activities; things like being with family, exercising, showering, and all of those chores at home that, let’s face it, someone has to do.

But here’s the kicker—and here’s where we need to sit up and take notice: “Startlingly, they don’t blame technology for this dilemma that has them scrambling to manage their personal lives. They blame their companies—specifically, poor process, people (and time) management that is robbing them of their equilibrium and ability to recharge.”

The people interviewed for the research blame their companies.

And that’s why making sure your employees are aware of, understand the restorative powers of, and regularly partake in a digital detox is a responsibility that, as leaders, lies squarely on our shoulders.

The Harmful Effects of Too Much Tech

Call it what you will: Going off the grid, unplugging, disconnecting, shutting down—taking breaks from technology is essential to our productivity and our overall mental health. Here are just a few ways being “always on” digitally affects our wellbeing.

Increased stress. Our brains need time to unwind after work. Getting a stern text message or an urgent email late in the evening keeps your adrenaline levels high and your “fight or flight” instincts in motion. And the resultant worry and increased stress lead nicely into this…

Decreased sleep. It’s common knowledge that when you’re stressed out and “wired,” sleep becomes elusive. But, did you know that using technology at night—even for fun—can impact sleep? That’s down to cortisol, a hormone that keeps us alert. Studies have found that the blue wavelength light from LED-based devices (phones, tablets, computers) increases the release of cortisol in the brain, not only keeping us alert when we least need to be, but also inhibiting the production of melatonin, which is necessary to fall asleep. Double whammy. Thanks, iPad.

Addiction, anyone? Yes, the Internet can be addictive—but I’m not talking FOMO (fear of missing out) addictive, I’m talking drug abuse addictive. Studies have found actual changes in the brain sizes of heavy Internet users, as well as problems with connectivity between certain areas of the brain. And if that’s not alarming enough, according to, Internet abuse can cause a “…pattern of neural circuitry associated with…a diminished ability for self-modulation, lessened aptitude for maintaining long-term goals, and easy distractibility.”

Not traits you want to see in your employees. And just one more reason why a digital detox should be on your radar screen. But what is a digital detox, exactly?

Digital Detox

According to Google, the term detox describes “…a process or period of time in which one abstains from or rids the body of toxic or unhealthy substances; detoxification.” So a digital detox is just taking a break from all things digital to breathe—to reflect.

The Digital Detox movement has grown to the degree that there’s actually a company out there called Digital Detox® – with one of the greatest brand slogans I’ve ever read: “Digital Detox® is a slow-down, not a start-up.”

Their goal? To slow. Us. Down. And get us off the hamster wheel of non-stop connectivity. They do this through a “…mindfulness-based and psychologically driven program with a handful of journals, yoga mats, arts and crafts, typewriters, and one agenda; disconnect to reconnect.” With programs aptly named Camp Grounded, Recess, Playshops, Color Wars, and Day Care, this is a company who clearly want to see a return to the stress and worry free days of our childhoods. And they’re hard core. Just check out the rules that you need to adhere to if you attend one of their retreats:

  • No Digital Technology
  • No Networking
  • No Phones, Internet or Screens
  • No Work-Talk
  • No Clocks
  • No Boss
  • No Stress
  • No Anxiety
  • No FOMO (fear of missing out)

I know a few people whose heads would blow off just reading that list!

How to Detox on a Dime

It’s imperative that as leaders in the HR space, we need to drive the change needed when it comes to disconnecting digitally. We can’t be afraid to be the driving force behind policy changes and other company-wide initiatives—remember, the goal here is to minimize technologies impact on employee health (and ultimately increase productivity). That said, you don’t have to shell out big bucks or carve out great chunks of time for a corporate retreat to rejuvenate your teams through a digital detox. Here are just a few ways your company (and your HR department) can help encourage employees to unplug.

  • If you can, mandate set hours (say, between 7 pm and 6 am) where sending texts and emails is verboten—unless an emergency arises, of course. Include weekends, and lead by example by sticking to that dark time.
  • Have teams hold at least one “tech free” brainstorming/blue-sky meeting per month. Bring back the whiteboard and markers, and ensure everyone in the room understands “anything goes.”
  • Actively encourage socializing, and make breaks mandatory, whether weekly lunch outings, birthday celebrations, or monthly team building exercises.
  • Where possible, insist that staff on vacation leave their work behind. Make sure people know who’s on vacation and when, so they’re not being bombarded by emails and texts.
  • Go out of your way as leaders to encourage good old-fashioned face-to-face communication.

And, perhaps most importantly, make it clear to your employees that their worth doesn’t lie in their “reachability.” If anything, it’s the exact opposite.

People change when they’re disconnected. They become relaxed and present. They maintain eye contact again and build deeper relationships. They become more empathetic, kinder, more focused, and they definitely sleep better. And these benefits spill over into their performance at work.

Our digitally connected world is expanding at a frightening pace, and it’s just going to continue getting bigger and more connected. And just like any “bad habit” that’s so hard to break, a digital detox might not come naturally. But if you start switching up your digital habits today, even incrementally, I guarantee you’ll be healthier and happier, and both your workplace and your personal relationships will benefit. And that’s a win-win in my book.

What do you think? Have you been actively “detoxing” from technology? Do you think taking a break from tech is just a pipe-dream in our digitally driven world? I would love to hear your thoughts!

A version of this post was first published on

Photo Credit: Joe The Goat Farmer via Compfight cc

How to Build Your Network Without Burning Out

(Editor’s Note: All of us in the TalentCulture community mourn the loss of our dear friend, brilliant colleague and mindful mentor, Judy Martin, who passed away unexpectedly on January 31, 2014. The following is the last post she contributed to our blog, only 10 days earlier. Her message and her life are a lesson for us all.)

The unthinkable happened during the first week in January.

TalentCulture CEO Meghan M. Biro had gone missing. She hadn’t returned a tweet from me for more than three days. Unheard of, I tell you.

Naturally, I was concerned about her well-being. I actually considered contacting Boston area hospitals. But instead, I did what any good friend would do. Resorting to an antiquated strategy, I picked up the phone and called her.

“Seriously Judy, I’m taking a break. I don’t want to burn out,” Meghan told me.

“What? A break from your BFF?” I almost blurted. Then, a calm washed over me, and instead I said, “Good for you.”

This sparked a conversation about how busy professionals like us can continue growing and navigating our social networks without compromising our stress levels. Connection and communication have taken on new importance in today’s 24/7 world of work. Those who manage the energy and minimize the stress are able to stay ahead of the competition, and sustain high performance. But it’s not easy.

Everyone manages a social network differently. It’s an intimate and personal process. We all have close connections with whom we can exchange ideas and openly vent. That’s typically not a burden on our time and attention. But in this era of digital exuberance, our social circles are growing rapidly. We need to find the signal in our niche, while filtering out the noise of a much broader network. Keeping pace requires a strategy:

8 Tips to Reduce Stress In The Face of Digital Exuberance

1) Schedule Social Sessions: Timing is everything. And quality time counts. When does your network naturally buzz with activity? If you’re a rock star, you might be inclined to check Twitter in the late evening, but if you’re into talent management and business news like me, you’re probably trolling Twitter from 7-8 a.m. Instead of trying to pay attention 24/7, pick one or two intervals each a day to dip into the stream. Don’t just “fly by” with retweets — really dive in and engage in conversations that build relationships. But when your scheduled time is up, move on. Eventually, you’ll adjust to an established rhythm, and so will those in your inner circles.

2) Take Breathing Breaks: Twitter and Facebook interactions can become surprisingly intense. Periodically, take 5 minutes to literally sit back and just follow your breath. Close your eyes, or look away from the screen. Simply being aware of how you are breathing helps regulate cortisol, the “stress-producing” hormone. Count as you inhale – one, two, three. Then hold your breath for several seconds, and exhale to the count of three. Better managing stress “in the moment” gives you more energy later, when you may need to tap into your reserves.

3) Stand Up and Stretch: Once in a while just walk away. Yes, leave the computer behind. This is important to get blood circulating in your body, which delivers more oxygen to your brain. If you prefer not to stand, push your chair away from the desk. Inhale and raise your arms above your head, clasping your hands in a “steeple” position. Look up and gaze at your hands for several moments. Then exhale slowly while your hands float gradually back down to your sides. You’ll feel refreshed and ready to shift back into business gear.

4) Hum with Purpose: That’s right — make noise. Humming actually calms the mind and body. It’s an ancient yogic technique that helps focus attention prior to meditation. The sound reverberates in your skull, and helps your brain rewire your attention. Here’s how: Plug your ears with your fingers and inhale deeply. Pause. Then as you exhale, hum for the reminder of the “out breath.” Repeat two more times. If you feel dizzy, stop. But ideally, it will help release tension and help you focus.

5) Let Filtering Tools Work for You: Sometimes we need to look beyond human behavior for help. If we opened every link that came our way we’d never sleep. Aggregation tools help consolidate and organize the chaos — news sources, blog posts, and other information sources of interest. I’ve set up Google alerts to deliver breaking news on keywords that matter most to me. For less critical topics, I receive news feeds once a week. You can use Hootsuite, Buffer Tweetdeck and Aggregation tools and dashboards to identify relevant content and create a delivery schedule that works for you.

6) Harness Hashtags: Hashtags are the fastest way to share and find relevant information on Twitter. For example, professionals who participate in the TalentCulture community share HR and business leadership knowledge by adding the #TChat hashtag to their tweets. At any moment, anyone can search for #TChat, to see the community’s latest tweets. It’s like round-the-clock access to the most popular human resources conversation on the planet. If you follow a hashtag like #TChat in your Twitter dashboard, you’ll quickly and easily find helpful peers, ideas and advice. Also, when you schedule Twitter posts, be sure to add hashtags that reflect your area of expertise. Your posts will reach people in your niche, even when you’re offline.

7) Leverage Human Relationships: Sometimes, all of us need to unplug for several days or more. When you do, plan ahead. Just because you’ll be off the grid doesn’t mean your networking must come to a standstill. Reach out to several people in your immediate network. Let them know that you’re taking a break, and ask for a little extra support in sharing your work on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn — wherever you’re most active. You can even form ongoing support alliances and develop common “social back-up” guidelines. Just remember, you’re not alone.

8) Create a FOMO Free Zone: Perhaps the most important advice I can offer is to honor your social self. Competitive pressure shouldn’t drive your social brand development. Don’t let yourself become obsessed with how other people behave on social channels, or about whether volume or frequency of their activity trumps your own efforts. Whatever your message is, you’ll succeed when you deliver it through your own lens, with your own voice, to an audience that is naturally interested in you. Forget #FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)!

Of course, even with healthy habits, it often feels like we’re networking at the speed of light. But hopefully these tips help you slow the pace a bit, focus on what matters, and generate more energy to fuel your social success.

Do you have tips for reducing stress and improving productivity in the age of social networking? What techniques and tools work for you? Share your ideas in the comments below.

(Editor’s Note: To discuss World of Work topics like this with the TalentCulture community, join our online #TChat Events each Wednesday, from 6:30-8pm ET. Everyone is welcome at events, or join our ongoing Twitter conversation anytime. Learn more…)

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