I've noticed a bad trend in my house. There are phones and tablets strewn everywhere; every member of our household constantly has a video, podcast, social channel or article queued up and ready to go. We have to actively think about turning them off just to have dinner.

Electronics control us. Our inability to put our phones down has impacted our relationships. Technology was going to enable us to do anything we wanted from anywhere we wanted, giving us time back for the truly important things. Instead, we're working more: streamlining work has just pushed us to want to cram more of it into our 24 hours.

But the worst part is what it's doing to us over the long term. We're drowning in information (input) and struggling to remain creative in our approach (output). We're becoming consumed by our digital lives. We're not devoting enough attention to what's physically in front of us-- and our companies are suffering for it.

Brad Weimert, founder of Unplugged Fiji, felt the pressure that being plugged in 24/7 has caused in his own life. He discussed screen time with friends and realized that being tethered to his phone wasn't improving his life. In fact, it was doing just the opposite.

Weimert polled 113 entrepreneurs to find their average screen time, which came out to four hours and five minutes per day just on their mobile devices. I checked my own: I was only three minutes under that average for the past seven days.

A lack of time away from your office or laptop can result in burnout. Most leaders know burnout hurts employee retention, but they don't realize their own motivation can take a similar hit. If they're working nonstop, they'll eventually hit a point of diminishing returns-- and there's nothing more demoralizing than realizing your hours of work amounted to nothing.  

Here are three ways to cut the cord:

1. Set boundaries.

The easiest way to meet any goal is to work your way backward. If your New Year's resolution was to lose 20 pounds, you'd have to pick up your activity level, cut your calories or both. Likewise, if you want to spend less time on your devices, you need to change your habits.

As the leader, you can clearly define the rules everyone plays by. Ban phones and laptops from meetings (or ask that they sit face down or closed). Set a new company standard that if someone's communicating with another person, the listener will stop everything else.

Make a bigger effort to take devices out of bonding moments, both inside and outside work: retreats, team lunches, date nights. My family doesn't have devices at the dinner table, and the success of that effort has encouraged me to adopt it at other times, like right before bed.

2. Intentionally schedule time away from your phone one day per week.

This might be easiest on the weekend, but don't limit yourself. To maximize your productivity, try making a weekday off-limits. A Monday after the weekend, or a Friday leading into the weekend, can be a great time to unplug while you're fresh or full of ideas from the week.

Some people worry that refusing to text, conference or post on social media will lead to their business' demise. Jake Wilder, a leadership writer and engineering manager, decided to figuratively drop off the face of the planet for two weeks while on vacation. No emails, no calls, no texts.

He found that constantly relying on people's accessibility actually inhibited collaboration: "We're quick to praise someone for their necessity," he said. "We encourage people to develop specialized knowledge and become 'indispensable' to the organization. But this also encourages people to hoard their knowledge and inhibits collaboration. It rewards the individual at the expense of the organization."

3. Try a long-term unplug.

Wilder was on to something. The longer we test something, the more likely we are to see definitive results. While it's a good idea to disconnect weekly, it also makes sense to take a full block of time-- say, a week-- to unplug.

Weimert was inspired by this need to create his Unplugged Fiji experience. A chartered plane takes entrepreneurs to Fiji; even on the plane, they take part in activities that require them to drop their phones and engage with those around them. Once they land, they join four unplugged days of workshops, speakers and activities. Weimert says this trip, focused on meditation and mindfulness, as well as personal growth, enables entrepreneurs to drop their day-to-day existence to focus on the bigger picture.

Our tech addiction has helped us automate and speed up our tasks, but it's also made us less productive by overwhelming and distracting us. Unplug to get perspective -- your friends, family and business will thank you for it.  

Published on: Jan 30, 2019