Welcome to the Digital Era. Technology is flooding into our lives, seeping into every crevice from the moment we wake up to our smartphone alarms to the second we try (and fail) to fall asleep next to…our smartphones. We’re drowning, but it’s mostly because we fail to set healthy tech boundaries for ourselves. I dedicate an entire chapter to this phenomenon in my book The Future of Happiness, but I’d like to share with you 5 Happy Hacks for Tech Boundary Setting that will turn you into a happier spouse, parent, co-worker, and/or manager. If only I can get you to focus on my writing for the next five minutes…
- Turn off notifications. “But Amy, I don’t need to turn them off, I have amazing willpower.” Or “Amy, what if I miss out on something like a news headline or a sports score?” If it sounds like I’m writing this to my husband, don’t worry, he probably won’t ever read this because he’s too busy checking his notifications. Research has shown that individuals who keep their notifications “on” report high levels of inattention and hyperactivity, which in turn predicts lower productivity and psychological well-being.
- Limit information feeds. As much as possible, limit checking of information feeds (email, social media, news, sports) to three times a day. A recent study showed that checking email less frequently significantly decreased stress, leading to an increased sense of meaning, social connectedness, and even sleep quality! And, not to get too crazy, but try waking up to an old-fashioned alarm clock (the kind with big boring digital letters and a radio or the kind with a metal bell that your parents used to have). Using your smartphone alarm increases the likelihood that the first thing you do when you wake up is read depressing news headlines or cringe at the mountain of unread emails waiting for you.
- Protect your brain’s consolidation time. Consoli-what? Yeah, your brain actually utilizes downtime to download and consolidate all of the information it receives during the day (think of how much more efficient your brain would be if you only remembered one song from the movie Trolls and not the entire score, including the names of all the adorable trolls?). If you fill your downtime with digital distractions (playing games on your phone, posting on social media, even reading e-books), your brain has no time left to process the world, chunk information, and form long-term memories. The National Sleep Foundation and the Mayo Clinic recommend eliminating screen time one hour before bed to block the release of stimulating neurotransmitters that keep your body from entering a restful state. Try to establish device-free brain breaks to help your brain recharge and refocus (right before bed/after waking up, during a walk or free time).
- Set up safeguards. Parents, don’t be afraid to protect your kids by establishing wi-fi free times at the house or utilizing protective hardware and software like the KidsWifi router and Qustodio. Heck, you could use the same safeguards if you’re out of control in terms of your Internet usage (set your router to turn off at a set time each night or block distracting sites after a certain time).
- Model digital citizenship. You’ve got standards for what you wear when going out, for how you speak when kids are around, and even for the jokes you’ll share with others. Why not have standards for your use of technology when interacting with others? Try these ones on for size: look up from your computer when someone walks into the room, take out your earbuds to say hello, and close your laptop when having a conversation.
I truly believe that tech boundaries are a great first step towards controlling that flood of technology in our lives. You’ll be happier, and you’ll make those around you happier as well, as they learn from your tech discipline. When people ask you why you seem so grounded, share these strategies with them!
Amy Blankson has become one of the world’s leading experts on the connection between positive psychology and technology. She is the only person to be named a Point of Light by two U.S. presidents for creating a movement to activate positive culture change. A sought-after speaker and consultant, Amy has now worked with organizations like Google, NASA, the US Army, and the Xprize Foundation to help foster a sense of well-being in the Digital Era. Amy received her BA from Harvard and MBA from Yale School of Management. Most recently, she was a featured professor in Oprah’s Happiness course. Amy is the author of two books: The Future of Happiness and an award-winning children’s book called Ripple’s Effect.