While many of us in the U.S. are enjoying the spoils of a three-day Memorial Day weekend, there are some who are working despite the holiday. Besides hourly workers in retail, hospitality and restaurants (and entrepreneurs!), most people get weekends off.
Well, they did.
Then came the Internet. And managers and bosses were suddenly expected to check their work emails regularly on the weekends. Employees soon followed. What started out as, “I’ll just check email for anything that’s an emergency,” quickly turned into, “Shoot, these four things really need to get done. Might as well work on them now — even though it’s a Saturday.”
Then came the iPhone and smartphones. And suddenly everyone is reachable any time, anywhere.
While I love how connected technology has allowed us all to become, it’s also become obvious that the line between “work” and “not work” leisure time has been blurred for many beyond all recognition.
Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start of summer here in the United States. June is around the corner and we can all smell the warm summer days are nearly here.
But many of us can’t seem to relax this weekend. We’ve all become like world-class surgeons — always on-call or at the beck and call of our bosses. Or the work. Or just checking in to ensure we still have a job. In fact, it appears that for anyone who carries a mobile phone in their pockets or purses (not just a smartphone), they end up checking their phone over 150 times a day!1 That’s a lot of time spent not relaxing.
Being always-on in our connected world can be wildly beneficial. We feel like we’re getting more done. We’re reconnected with old friends and better connected with our extended family — even across extraordinary distances.
But it also brings a darker side, according to the research. As we reported last year:
The findings reveal that extreme use of cell phones (and computers) may be linked to stress, sleep disorders and depressive symptoms. The researchers could not determine causation, so it may be that people with depression or sleep problems are simply more likely to reach out to others using mobile technology.
We are increasingly becoming people who are attention-exhausted. Whereas television was always a passive activity requiring very little attention, our mobile devices and smart phones require constant attention. Such attention would be fine if it were critical for our career, relationship or life success.
But it isn’t. Instead our attention is requested on our devices for Becky’s latest photo of her baby. For a check-in by someone we barely know at a location 1,800 miles away. For yet another funny tweet by a follower. For an email that could wait until you got back in the office on Tuesday.
Humans weren’t built to be “always on” every conscious hour of life. Downtime and regular disconnection is critical to recharging our very human, non-technology side. Being alone with our thoughts (or with a good book, for instance) allows us to recharge ourselves and our creativity. Downtime allows us to move short-term memories into long-term memory. Without taking that time out, we risk losing those memories.2
We fear missing out on “better” experiences. We fear our bosses will get angry at us for not responding within 10 minutes on a Sunday afternoon.
Fear is a horrible reason to do something in your life. Your life will be just fine if you take that time out for yourself, and digitally disconnect. You will not suffer unhappy consequences in your career.3 You will not “miss out” on something better going on because life is a never-ending parade of good (and bad) experiences — there will always be more in the future.
Psychologists teach their patients about the importance of strong, clear boundaries in relationships. You need to know where you stand with another person — and they need to know where you stand with them. Technology is blurring these boundaries between “work” and “non work” leisure time. This is bad for us because our relationship with work is becoming even more — not less — intense. Weren’t computers and technology supposed to free up even more leisure time?
Employers, on the other hand, love it because they get more from an employee — without having to pay for it (this is, by the way, illegal in many jobs). Some employers, like technology startups, even believe it’s a necessary ingredient for success (but they are dead wrong — it is simply an indoctrination strategy, much like 80 hour work weeks once were for medical residents).
You can re-take charge of your leisure time today. Start by resetting expectations and those clear boundaries with your employer.
And remember, despite your beliefs otherwise, you do need downtime from technology and always-on connection too. Use this long weekend to begin.
- http://communities-dominate.blogs.com/brands/2013/01/an-attempt-to-validate-the-150x-per-day-number-based-on-typical-user.html [↩]
- But hey, maybe we’ve got a video of it instead! [↩]
- There are some notable exceptions to this, but don’t apply to 99% of us. [↩]