Dr Rachael Kent – otherwise known as ‘Dr. Digital Health’ – has been researching the impact of technology on wellbeing for the last 17 years, using her research to advise employers on how to help their employees manage their relationship with tech better.
Often the first piece of advice tech wellness ‘gurus’ give is to get off our devices – but that advice is unhelpful and unrealistic for many, especially those who rely on the tech to do our job, which is a huge number of us today.
She advocates taking a much more self-reflective approach to tech and weighing up more, at work and at home, whether the tech is positively impacting our personal and professional lives, or not.
We asked her for her three main tips for managing the relationship we have with the technology at our finger tips so our wellbeing isn’t compromised.
Here’s what she said.
1) Reflect on how you feel when you use different devices and platforms
The classic digital detox ‘total switch off’ approach to tech isn’t necessarily achievable for most of us in our daily lives because we are answerable to family, friends and colleagues, etc.
However, what we can all do is reflect on the different technologies that we’re using and think about the impact they’re having on us mentally and physically.
We can ask ourselves: is this useful? Is it helpful? How do I feel when I’m using this tech?
This is not about how many platforms you’re on. Again, that advice can feel reductive and too simplistic for our complicated modern lives. It’s more important to notice how you are feeling when carrying out different tasks on a platform. For instance, you might feel very different creating a post for your business on Instagram versus scrolling through other people’s posts. These are two very different uses on the same platform.
2) Be aware of how these devices are designed to pull you in
Devices have been created to pull you in, which is called ‘choice architecture’. They do this through constant ‘nudges’, like notifications. It’s important that we recognise these nudges and take control of them.
If we are consciously aware of the different ways a platform is trying to pull us in, we can manage our wellbeing better because we can see we have control over the device, not the other way around.
If we’re aware, we can also start to train ourself not to mindlessly react so we are not stopping what we are doing every time we get a text or a notification, but we are choosing when we pick our phone up to do tasks. It’s the habitual, compulsive – arguably addictive – attitude to tech that is unhealthy.
3) Batch activities before you use your device
Before you pick up your device, wait until you have three tasks you want to do on it, rather than habitually checking it, or being nudged to check it.
For example, you may wait to pick up your phone until you can focus on the three tasks of 1) making a phone call 2) checking your work emails 3) researching a dinner recipe.
This avoids habitually checking your device all the time so you’re disrupting that tendency towards compulsively checking, which is bad for our focus, wellbeing and productivity.
Kent believes that the Covid pandemic, in forcing the world to slow down, encouraged us to reflect on how we were spending our time and highlighted widespread ‘toxic productivity’.
“The problem with this kind of productivity is that it makes us behave like machines – always on – and perceived as constantly achieving. But we are not machines. We are human. And never taking rest or time out to re energise is bad for us,” she says. (For more of her views on this, see this article).
She urges employers to learn from the “world changing experience” of the global pandemic and “avoid slipping back into that always-on culture”. This is a message that forthcoming MAD World speaker Helen Willis, Chief Finance Officer at Costain also gave us, when we interviewed her recently in this article: “I’m nervous we’re quickly forgetting the wellbeing lessons we learned from Covid”.
Learning lessons and looking to a brighter future is one of the key themes of MAD World on 12th October in London. To join the conversation and benefit from inspiration from a wealth of thought-provoking speakers, if you haven’t already registered for this event, get your ticket here.
Dr Rachael Kent’s book is called The Digital Health Self: Wellness, Tracking and Social Media.