4 proven ways to find a happy balance with life and technology

Part of Dalice Rose’s new series “How small changes make profound effects”

A few months ago I attended an unconference (yes I spelt that right) with 100+ other women (WWGSD). One of the subjects discussed throughout the weekend was around finding a balance with technology. Like with so many other things in life there are many differing views on the subject.  That in itself can be overwhelming. If like me your business is connected to multiple social media sites and/or your have children you are searching for guidance on the art of balance. My businesses are all online, almost all of my customers I meet using digital technology which brings us face to face, allowing me to broaden my client base and for my clients to have a greater choice on who they work with. Which is absolutely fabulous.

The challenge is that to go online and connect with my client base or for them to find me we have to navigate ourselves through the maze of distractions.  The online world is full of them, facebook itself, like so many other social media sites, is designed to distract, to pull you in, to get you addicted. It’s the perfect business case as then they can then promote their platform as a business tool – which it is – and business advertising helps perpetuate the cycle of distraction.  Although at times those ads lead us to making positive changes, thus our desire to stay within that maze as we know there is opportunity for value to be added to our lives.

Interestingly, we started using technology to increase our efficiency so that we could have more quality time in our lives. Somewhere along the way, we got side tracked and veered off that path. Starting to use technology to increase our efficiency so that we could accomplish more tasks, which required more technology.

The average person now checks his or her smartphone 150 times every day. Now, if we conservatively estimated that every distraction took only one minute (which is seriously optimistic), that would account for 2.5 hours of distraction every day. That’s 912.5 hours a year, or roughly thirty-eight days each year!

I can hear you gasp out loud reading that, and I’m guessing that’s because you know your spend longer than 1 minute with every distraction.  You may not think your are accessing 150 per day yet can not say how often you are.  Is the solution a digital detox, a south beach tech diet, going bush without any tech? I don’t think so, although the going bush has additional benefits I will talk about at another time. We know that most diets fail because they are short-term interventions, not long-term lifestyle changes. Technology is not leaving us in any hurry so we need to learn how to live with the complexity of life, not escape from it.

Rather than just getting away from our devices, Amy Blankson advocates a method called “strategic unplugging.” It’s a method that has helped me make sense of my time.  Setting aside specific times when I do not have my phone with me has changed my world, increased my effectiveness, reduced my guilt of wasting time and contributed to feeling even more happier in life.  If ‘strategic’ is too business like then replace it with ‘mindful’ in this context they are both meaning the same thing.  Being mindful means you have a greater awareness of the impact your actions have on your life and use that awareness to put steps (& thoughts) in place to make positive changes.

The following are 4 proven ways to find a happy balance with life and technology:

Create invisible fences

One invisible fence you can install in your home is Safe Surfer. Safesurfer is ‘pay what you want’, so you can choose what having safe internet is worth to you and your family. Your donation will go toward continually improving technology to block pornography, and ensuring it is freely available to every family. Because ultimately together we have the power to make a real difference today for the generation of tomorrow.  One way they help keep your family safer is via their lifeguard device it does it all.  Blocks all pornography, sets internet bedtimes, restricts websites of concern and has internet history reporting.  Bonus is that it’s simple to install and you don’t need any tech knowledge or experience. They have other options to, so if you are looking for a great solution to how to protect your children as well as manage their online time they have the solution that will work for you.

Set boundaries

There is so much research out there proving that screen time boundaries for children is critical, as adults we seem to forget it’s just as important for us.  Okay our brains are not under the immense amount of development children’s are, however our brain is still changing, and every day it deletes unused files, reorders stored ones and adds new ones to our memory library.  Setting boundaries allows us to get time in all aspects of our lives.  Ideas for boundary setting are:

  1. Not having any devices at the dining table (if you aren’t having breakfast and or dinner at the table with your family/partner then start by doing that tomorrow – device free).  Eating time is people engagement time, an opportunity to set plans for the day, catch up on kids homework, reflect on how the day has been.  Relationships need nurturing, that means connecting verbally, listening, laughing, enjoying each others company.
  2. Not taking it to your bedroom when you go to bed at night. So many people use their smartphones as their alarm clocks, it makes sense that many would want their phones within an arm’s reach. But when your cell is that close to you, the temptation to check social media sites, work email, play games and/or the news headlines is often too strong to resist—even if it’s 11:00pm. As a result, you might feel energized from interacting with others or stressed out by something that you read when you should actually be relaxing. That partly explains why people who consume electronic media in bed are at higher risk for insomnia. If you use it for your alarm, then go out and buy an alarm clock.  Your brain needs time to switch off.  How will it learn how to fall back to sleep if you use artificial light and over stimulation when you find yourself waking in the night?  Think back to the techniques used to help a baby learn how to self-settle, those techniques are what will help you achieve great sleeping patterns again not your smartphone.
  3. Not taking the phone with you when you have a lunch break at work. This gives you an opportunity to connect with colleagues/friends; to take a walk; to read a book; to write a blog or to sit, eat and enjoy the moment of peace and quiet.
  4. Put all smartphones in the centre of the table when out for dinner with friends and/or family. By all means get a waiter/waitress to snap that memory shot but after that put them in the centre of the table.  If it’s in your handbag or jacket pocket temptation is greater to grab it as you exit the table to the bathroom so you can check if the world has changed drastically since the last checked (15 minutes ago).  Having them all placed face down in the centre of the table means you are less likely to grab your phone as everyone is watching you, and you are watching them. What it does mean is you all will be more engaged, better listeners, more aware of your environment and have a much better time.  Remember to turn the sound off as well so the chirps & dings don’t provoke your inquisitive side.
  5. Setting time limits and sticking to them. This works fantastically for children (in fact I’m a firm believer it’s imperative) yet it works for adults to.  If you find that once you are alone with your partner, flatmate etc… and you have the TV going yet are all also on your devices it might be time to set some time boundaries.  Perhaps easier with family/partner but worth attempting with flatmates too.  If you are watching a movie then move your phone away from where you are so it’s not a temptation to check it because when you do you are no longer enjoying the movie! Schedule in some ‘Power Time’- this is when there is not devices going, TVs, tablets or phones.  During this time you engage on a personal level, whether by talking, playing cards, a board game, going for a walk whatever takes your fancy but do it without technology.  If this seems a little weird start off with small chunks of time, 30 minutes once a week set for Power Time, see the difference it makes and how after time it is something your look forward to and want more of.  If you do start slow then set a plan to build it up each week, make is twice a week for 30 minutes then the next week make it twice a week for 60 minutes, keep going until you find what works well for you.
  6. Lead by example, if there are others in your life you wish/want to be using technology less then show them how you would like them to live. This is especially true if boundaries are being set for only one group in the house i.e. children yet Mum & Dad are using their devices all day.  The messages we send by our actions speak louder than our words and where they conflict then the actions become the stronger message.

Create a technology policy

When our boys were 4 and 6 we sat down to a family meeting and talked through and agreed what we thought were appropriate times to use technology. This was inspired by experiencing what we called brain fade moments, when after having too much screen time the boys were agitated, quick to anger, reactive and uncooperative, all of which was out of character.  So we called a family meeting to talk about creating a policy, we explained the reason was to make sure the boys get to experience fun using technology and to prevent brain fade.  As the boys were so young their concept of time was a little out, so when asked how many minutes would be a good time they said 5 minutes, as a result when we suggested 30 twice a week they were ecstatic.  The guidelines are keep it simple, which days of the week and for how long, then have all family members sign the piece of paper (technology policy).  Put it on the fridge and stick to it.  Use a timer to keep you honest so you don’t lose track of time when making the most of having the kids distracted.  We have progressively increased the time as the boys have grown older, they are now 7 & 9 and the policy method still works to this day.

Don’t stress

Stop worry so much about how much time you spend, by all means implement some if not all of the above to make better use of your time just don’t get yourself tangled up in knots for using technology.  There is a lot technology can do to help us, every day more apps are launched, some of these are amazing and can definitely make living in our crazy technological world a little easier to navigate.  First we need to create a strategy that works for us, then we can start adding in tools use technology to help us with all sorts of aspects in our busy lives. Watch out for a future blog when I’ll give you tips and hints of some of the great options out there and what they can do for you.

If you spend most of the day glued to an electronic screen, then it’s time for you to step back and reflect. Too much technology use can leave you feeling tired, stressed, overworked, and mentally exhausted. Stepping away from gadgets such as smartphones, tablets, laptops, TVs, etc. is a simple solution but nonetheless can feel difficult to implement.  The suggestions provided above are tried and true and I can guarantee when your implement them you will feel so much better, get more balance and to top it off have greater happiness.

If you have enjoyed this blog, the first of my “How small changes make profound effects” series then register to be first to know about future instalments.

If you want to learn more, you can visit Kathy Caprino and read her research more Can Technology Really Help Us Lead Happier Lives? The Answer Will Surprise Youblog.  In addition Total Phase has some other great tips to balance technology usage.

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