Digital downtime

This is a post I've been meaning to write for a while. My excuse though is that "I've just been too busy!" Seriously though, there are few topics regarding the working environment about which I feel so passionate as the work/life balance. This is because I think of myself as a family man first and a digital marketer second and if I let the work take priority then my children are not going to wait for me before they grow up - I'll just miss out on a time that can never be repeated...

When I first switched to a senior role in digital marketing I found that I was pretty much working every week night. I'd get home, have something to eat, get the children in bed and then get back on the laptop. This is because of the steep learning curve and the fact work never seemed to be finished. However, as I began studying for my diploma, and this took up my evenings, I realised my work wasn't suffering at all. In fact, I was even more productive as I was starting the day raring to go after a bit of 'digital downtime'. Needless to say I've revised my practices since!

This topic was been covered in detail in an excellent article in 'The Entrepeneur' this week focusing on the importance of sleep (my favourite way to spend an evening!) In summary it highlights that sleep is far from wasted time and is a vital part of a healthy and efficient working life. I also spotted a BBC article on the importance of sleep for professional footballers and how top clubs are putting as much emphasis on rest as the physical training regime. The one message both of these articles have in common is to stay off your phone at bedtime. With this in mind below is a little list for detoxing from technology which I've recently challenged myself to stick to:

1. Turn off all phone alerts between 10pm and 7am - this can be set in the phone's preferences
2. Put the phone in the glove compartment whilst driving - this avoids any type of distraction
3. No phone within 1 metre of the dinner table - meal times are for family NOT the internet
4. Spend an hour of the day being creative - with a constant barrage of emails it's easy to just spend the day feeling like I'm batting away paper planes but if I can't use my creativity at least once a day I definitely won't get the same job satisfaction
5. Don't buy an Apple watch - With what is essentially a Smart phone attached to your wrist there's no escaping mundane social media updates and emails!

The final part of this is how I actually manage my time when I am at work. With so many conflicting demands the first thought is to prioritise. However this is actually really easy to do and in reality achieves very little. Creating a list and acting like everything merits my time and that I can get it all done later is impossible, as time is a finite resource and work is never finished. A way I've chosen to look at it is that some tasks are just not important enough to warrant the time! It sounds a bit harsh but I'm sure we've all had experiences of working flat out only to find that some tasks are actually not necessary. An example of this I found is exhaustive minuting of weekly team meetings. Everything moves so fast that actually just a matrix of actions is much more efficient.

A much better system for managing workload is triage (as in the medical profession) and actively ignoring the items whose importance falls below a certain threshold. Flipping my thinking to the infinite amount of emails and queue of people vying for my attention to actually be a sign of success, and not failure, is the key to this working. All these people want my time so I must be doing something right and therefore an empty inbox is not the goal but an inbox empty of all of the important messages/tasks is.

To summarise, the 'I'm too busy' excuse is a hollow one that I've only ever heard used by the least productive of people. The key is to not get swept along with the modern world and the thousands of shiny distractions (which are in equal parts good and evil) and to leave time for the really important things in life.

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