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Tech your time: 12 top tips for a digital detox

Over the last few years there has been increasing use of the term ‘digital detox’. According to the Oxford Dictionary, digital detox is a period of time during which a person refrains from using electronic devices such as smartphones or computers, regarded as an opportunity to reduce stress or focus on social interaction in the physical world”. I have to admit that I often find it hard to switch off from work (mainly because I love my job). Given that my job relies on technology, by implication it also means I find it hard to switch off from technology. Today’s blog is as much for me as anyone reading this and provides some tips on how to cut down on technology use, even if it’s just for the weekend or a holiday. I have compiled these tips from many different online articles as well as some of my own personal strategies. 

Digitally detox in increments: For some people, going a few minutes without checking their smartphone or emails is difficult. For many, the urge is reflexive and habitual. If you are one of those people, then ‘baby steps’ are needed. Such individuals need to learn to digitally detox in small increments (i.e., go on a ‘digital diet’). Start by proving to yourself that you can go 15 minutes without technology. Over time, increase the length of time without checking (say) Twitter, Facebook and emails (e.g., 30 minutes, 60 minutes, a couple of hours) until you get into a daily habit of being able to spend a few hours without the need to be online. Another simple trick is to only keep mobile devices partially topped up. This means users have to be sparing when checking their mobile devices.

Set aside daily periods of self-imposed non-screen time: One of the secrets to cutting down technology use to acceptable levels is to keep aside certain times of the day technology-free (meal times and bedtime are a good starting place – in fact, these rooms should be made technology-free). For instance, I rarely look at any emails between 6pm and 8pm as this is reserved for family time (e.g., cooking and eating dinner with the family). Another strategy to try is having a technology-free day at the weekends (e.g., not accessing the internet at all for 24 hours). However, watching television or using an e-reader is fine. Another simple strategy is to have technology-free meal times (at both home and work). Don’t bring your smartphone or tablet to the table.

Only respond to emails and texts at specific times of the day: Only a few individuals are ‘on call’ and have to assume that the message they receive will be an emergency. Looking at emails (say) just three times a day (9am, 1pm, 4pm) will save lots of time in the long run. Turning off email and social media, disabling push notifications, or simply turning the volume setting to silent on electronic devices will also reduce the urge to constantly check mobile devices.

Don’t use your smartphone or tablet as an alarm clock: By using a standard alarm clock to wake you in the morning, you will avoid the temptation to look at emails and texts just as you are about to go to sleep or just wake up (or in the middle of the night if you are a workaholic!).

Engage in out-of-work activities where it is impossible (or frowned upon) to use technology: Nowadays, leisure activities such as going to the pub, having a meal, or going to the cinema, don’t stop people using wireless technology. By engaging in digitally incompatible activities where it is impossible to access technology simultaneously (e.g., jogging, swimming, meditation, outdoor walks in wi-fi free areas) or go to places where technology is frowned upon (e.g., places of worship, yoga classes, etc.) and individual will automatically decrease the amount of screen time. In social situations, you can turn people’s need to check their phones into a game. For instance, in the pub, you could have a game where the first one to check their phone has to buy a round of drinks for everyone else.

Tell your work colleagues and friends you are going on a digital detox: Checking emails and texts can become an almost compulsive behaviour because of what psychologists have termed ‘FOMO’ (fear of missing out) that refers to the anxiety that an interesting or exciting event may be happening elsewhere online. By telling everyone you know that you will not be online for a few hours, they will be less likely to contact you in the first place and you will be less likely check for online messages in the first place. Alternatively, Put your ‘out-of-office’ notification on for a few hours and do something more productive with your time.

Reduce your contact lists: One way to spend less time online is to reduce the number of friends on social networking sites, stop following blogs (but not mine, of course!), delete unused apps, and unsubscribe from online groups that have few benefits. Also, delete game apps that can be time-consuming (e.g., Angry Birds, Candy Crush Saga, etc.).

Get a wristwatch: One of the most common reasons for looking at a smartphone or a tablet is to check the time. If checking the time also leads to individuals noticing they have a text, email or tweet, they will end up reading what has been sent. By using an old fashioned wristwatch (as opposed to new smart watches like the Apple Watch), the urge to reply to messages will decrease.

Think about the benefits of not constantly being online: If you are the kind of person that responds to emails, texts and tweets as they come in, you will write longer responses than if you look at them all in a block. The bottom line is that you can save loads of time to spend on other things if you didn’t spend so long constantly reacting to what is going on in the online world.

Enjoy the silence: Too many people fail to appreciate being in the moment and allowing themselves to resist the urge to log onto their laptops, mobiles and tablets. It is at these times that some people might interpret as boredom that we can contemplate and be mindful. This could be made more formal by introducing meditation into a daily routine. There are also many places that run whole weekends and short breaks where technology is forbidden and much of the time can be spent in quiet contemplation. 

Fill the void: To undergo digital detox for any length of time, an individual has to replace the activity with something that is as equally rewarding (whether it is physically, psychologically or spiritually). When I’m on holiday, I catch up on all the novels that I’ve been meaning to read. In shorter spaces of time (such as sitting in boring meetings) I doodle, write ‘to do’ lists, generate ideas to write about, or simply do nothing (and be mindful, aware of the present moment). In short, I try to productive (or unproductive) without having to resort to my technology. 

Use technology to beat technology: One thing that can shock technology users is how much time they actually spend on their mobile devices. Working out how much time is actually spent online can be the first step in wanting to cut down. (For instance, someone I once worked with was shocked to find he had spent 72 [24-hour] days in one year playing World of Warcraft). Tech users can download apps that tell them how much time spending online, (e.g., Moment). Being made aware of a problem is often the first step in enabling behavioural change.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Goodnet (2013). 7 steps to planning your next digital detox. October 22. Located at: http://www.goodnet.org/articles/7-steps-to-planning-your-next-digital-detox

Hosseini, M.D. (2013). Top 10 tips to unplug this summer with a digital detox. Advertising Week Social Club, June 28. Located at: http://www.theawsc.com/2013/06/28/top-10-tips-to-unplug-this-summer-with-a-digital-detox/

Huffington Post (2013). 10 digital detox vacation hacks to help you truly unplug. July 31. Located at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/31/vacation-hacks-_n_3676474.html

Levy, P. (2015). 15 tips for a total digital detox. Mind Body Green, January 15. Located at: http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-17030/15-tips-for-a-total-digital-detox.html

Lipman, F. (2015). 12 tips for your next digital detox. March 2. Located at: http://www.drfranklipman.com/shake-it-off-12-tips-for-your-next-digital-detox/

Lipman, F. (2014). 8 ways to disconnect from technology and get more done. November 5. Located at: http://www.drfranklipman.com/8-ways-to-disconnect-from-technology-and-get-more-done/

South China Morning Post (2015). Five tips for a digital detox. Located at: http://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/technology/article/1673273/five-tips-digital-detox

Vozza, S. (2013). A realistic digital detox in 5 easy steps. Entrepreneur, November 12. Located: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/229783

Workaholism: Healthy enthusiasm or an addiction?

As someone who is often called a ‘workaholic’ by both my friends and colleagues, I have always been interested in whether people can be genuinely addicted to their jobs. The term ‘workaholism’ has been around for over 40 years since the publication of Wayne Oates’ 1971 book Confessions of a Workaholic, and has now passed into the public mainstream. Despite four decades of research into workaholism, no single definition or conceptualization of this phenomenon has emerged. Much of the work into the area has used operational definitions that do not conceptualize workaholism as an addiction or if they do conceptualize it as an addiction, the criteria used are somewhat dissimilar to the criteria used when examining other behavioural addictions such as gambling addiction, Internet addiction, sex addiction, exercise addiction, video game addiction, etc.

Reliable statistics on the prevalence of workaholism are hard to come by, although some researchers claim that one in four employed people are workaholics. It has also been claimed that amongst professional groups, the rate of workaholism is high especially in occupations such as medicine. As a result they work long hours, rarely delegate, expend high effort, and may not necessarily be more productive.

Workaholics have been conceptualized in different ways. For instance, workaholics are typically viewed as one (or a combination) of the following:

  • Those viewed as hyper-performers
  • Those viewed as unhappy and obsessive individuals who do not perform well in their jobs
  • Those who work as a way of stopping themselves thinking about their emotional and personal lives
  • Those who are over concerned with their work and neglect other areas of their lives.

Some authors note that there is a behavioural component and a psychological component to workaholism. The behavioural component comprises working excessively hard (i.e., a high number of hours per day and/or week), whereas the psychological (dispositional) component comprises being obsessed with work (i.e., working compulsively and being unable to detach from work. This may sometimes be accompanied by other characteristics such as low work enjoyment.

There are those scholars who differentiate between positive and negative forms of workaholism. For instance, some view workaholism as both a negative and complex process that eventually affects the person’s ability to function properly. In contrast, others highlight the workaholics who are totally achievement oriented and have perfectionist and compulsive-dependent traits. Workaholics appear to have a compulsive drive to gain approval and success but it can result in impaired judgment and personality breakdowns.

In relation to studies of workaholism, the most widely employed empirical approach proposes three underlying dimensions. These are (i) work involvement, (ii) drive, and (iii) work enjoyment. I have noted in my own writings on the topic that what starts out as love of work can often end up with the person developing perfectionist and obsessional traits. Some have argued that workaholism can be deadly and dangerous with an onset (e.g., busyness), a progression (e.g., loss of productivity, relationships etc.), and a conclusion (e.g., hospitalization or death from a heart attack). Others have argued that the final stage of workaholism is narcissism, often characterised by a complete loss of compassion and empathy. Furthermore, psychological research has shown links between workaholism and personality types including those with Type A Behaviour Patterns (i.e., competitive, achievement-oriented individuals) and those with obsessive-compulsive traits.

Research appears to indicate there are three central characteristics of workaholics. In short, they typically:

  • Spend a great deal of time in work activities
  • Are preoccupied with work even when they are not working
  • Work beyond what is reasonably expected from them to meet their job requirements.
  • Spend more time working because of an inner compulsion, rather than because of any external factors.

Workaholism as a syndrome is characterized by the number of hours spent on work, and the inability to detach psychologically from work. Although these features of workaholism appear to have good face validity, I have argued in a number of my papers that the amount of activity engaged in is not necessarily a core feature of addiction.

Some in the field view workaholism as much a ‘system addiction’ as an individual one. Although the manifestations of workaholism are at the level of the individual, workaholic behaviour is socially acceptable and even encouraged by major organizations. Organizations can potentially facilitate addictive work in a number of ways. For employees, an organization can provide the structure and/or the mechanisms and dynamics for both the addictive substance (e.g., adrenalin) and/or the process (i.e., work itself). I have argued that for someone working too much, it makes little practical difference if they are dependent or addicted. In relation to excessive work, the public understands notions of ‘addiction’ and ‘workaholism’ and these are therefore still very useful constructs for both academic (research) and educational purposes.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (2005). Workaholism is still a useful construct. Addiction Research and Theory, 13, 97-100.

Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Workaholism: A 21st century addiction. The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 24, 740-744.

Matuska, K.M. (2010). Workaholism, life balance, and well-being: A comparative analysis. Journal of Occupational Science, 17, 104-111.

Schaufeli, W.B., Taris, T.W., & Bakker, A.B. (2006). Doctor Jekyll or Mr Hyde? On the differences between work engagement and workaholism. In R. Burke (Ed.), Workaholism and long working hours (pp. 193-217). Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.

Sussman, S., Lisha, N. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Prevalence of the addictions: A problem of the majority or the minority? Evaluation and the Health Professions, 34, 3-56.

van Beek, I., T.W., Taris, & Schaufeli, W.B. (2011). Workaholic and work engaged employees: Dead ringers or worlds apart? Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 16, 468-482.