Focused success in an ‘always on’ world

Mar 29, 2018
With technology demanding an increasing portion of our attention and time, here are Chris Flack's four tips to help you unplug.

Many of us will remember the first time we checked our work email in the comfort of our own home. I was sat with the TV on and it felt effortless, almost a luxury, to be able to check in while relaxing at home. Technology brought us the promise of always being connected; a world in which we could work and get jobs done outside the office.

Swathes of people bought into the idea of efficiency, and yet our smart devices have now shifted our lives and culture to be one that’s always connected. In the ideal world, this would mean we would have greater flexibility and more freedom. What often happens, however, is once we have done one set of tasks in the office, work follows us home and we continue to do more.

As an early adopter working in a technology consultancy, I was probably the fastest email responder in the office. The feeling of being busy often distracted me from focusing on my most important work. As the philosopher Henry David Thoreau wrote, “We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas, but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate”.

Top tips to help you unplug

I set up UnPlug in 2015 to help individuals and organisations manage their focus, their ability to switch off, and their capacity to work smarter in the digital age. Based on my experience, here are some tips to help you control your technology habits:
  • According to Ireland-specific data from Deloitte’s Mobile Consumer Survey, 48% of us check our phones before going to sleep and 40% of us check our phones within five minutes of waking up. Start by keeping technology out of the bedroom and replace your phone with a traditional alarm clock;
  • Most people agree to receive notifications for all apps. Instead, run a notification audit to assess which apps you really need to hear from. This will help ensure that you are in control of your attention instead of your phone;
  • Changing our tech habits is hard and buy-in from the top is crucial to success. For example, Boston Consulting Group developed a global programme called “PTO” (predictable, teaming and open communications), which assessed how technology impacted work/life balance. For each new project, roadmaps were developed to show transparent working practices including collectively agreed time-off goals. As a result, the firm rose to number four on Fortune’s 100 Best Places to Work list in 2018; and
  • Keep devices out of the meeting room. For example, Sinead McSweeney, Managing Director at Twitter Ireland, has a device-free policy for team meetings to encourage people to be more engaged and empathetic with one another.
Chris Flack is Founder and CEO of UnPlug.