Going offline is harder than we think...

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We are increasingly connected in every moment of our waking day. From looking at our phones in the morning to check our messages, news, emails, and Facebook feeds, to our jobs where most of us are expected to simultaneously reply to emails, whilst answering the phone, and getting on with our work

I've recently earned a bit of a reputation with my colleagues. I'm always talking (they might say banging on!) about the fact that we are too connected in this high-speed world, that there are fewer and fewer 'safe' spaces in our lives where we cannot be reached. I'm always telling people that we need to put our phones down and talk to each other more. I think it's pretty sage advice, but then I would say that!

It was therefore to my horror that last week I realised just how much I am addicted to my smart phone. Picture the scene - I took the half-term week off to go on holiday with my twin daughters. I told myself it was going to be a great time to disconnect and spend some quality time with my children. Whilst packing I decided to take my work phone, (telling myself that it has a good camera even though I have a cupboard at home with a stash of good quality digital cameras!). We then jumped into the car and drove over to the Forest of Dean where we spent the week camping. On arrival, the first thing I do (before even putting up the tent) is to look at my phone to check if there was 3G or 4G signal. None. I tell myself this is a good thing, that it will force me to disconnect but before I was able to consciously realise what I was doing, by day two I found myself walking around the perimeter of the campsite looking for 4G...just in case I needed to do some work, just in case there was some super-urgent thing that couldn't wait until my return.

It was at this moment that I suddenly saw myself stomping around a field, staring at my phone and completely ignoring the fact that I was in one of the most beautiful places I have ever been, I wasn't listening to the amazing bird song or the gorgeous sound of my children laughing as they played frisbee, I was looking for 4G. It hit me at that moment - I realised I was a total hypocrite and in truth found it much harder to separate from my smartphone that I cared to admit. I also realised that my brain had not switched off, that I had utterly failed to disconnect. Thankfully this light-bulb moment happened early on in my holiday and I was able to make a much more conscious effort to disconnect and enjoy the moment but it made me realise just how hard it is to do. The reality is that many of us are expected to multi-task on a constant basis in a world of super-connectivity which keeps us ultra-alert and quite frankly wired most of the time. It really is hard to properly disconnect.

There is no simple answer, but I think the start point (as with much of what we talk about at byrne·dean) is all about awareness. This is ultimately about well being and by making the 'smartphone addiction' a conscious thought process and by recognising how hard it is to let go and truly disconnect, it becomes more likely that we will actually do something about it. I also think that starting the conversation in the workplace has got to be a good thing - we should talk about the fact that we have lots of demands placed on us, that it is difficult to switch off even when you're on an amazing holiday. If you are a manager, those conversations should absolutely include explicit messages about the importance of people getting good rest and true disconnection - you need to facilitate that by telling people it is okay to do it! Our brain is a powerful thing but it needs a rest, without it we are unlikely to return to work refreshed, happy or productive.

As for my story? In the end I had to just switch my phone off and put it out of sight to resist the temptation. And guess what - there wasn't anything that couldn't wait until my return. I think next time I might just leave my phone at home, although i'm already breaking out in a sweat just thinking about that!

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