Healthy boundaries help you focus on what matters most. They serve as the framework to focus your efforts, harness your energy, and recharge your batteries.They help you honor your decisions, and make it easier to follow through by helping you to recognize and accept the need to focus your full and undivided attention. Digital boundaries should help you emphasize meaningful and respectful connections with other people and prioritize [due] respect during face-to-face meetings.
Interruptions can add up. According to estimates based on a recent UC Irvine study, refocusing your efforts after just one interruption can take up to 23 minutes. That same study found that the average worker switched tasks on average every three minutes. That's a lot of lost time and energy. Yet when it comes to your digital lifestyle, priorities and focus areas fall prey to pop ups, notifications, and messages.
Here are four fundamental digital boundaries that you can put in place to stay sane and productive.
1. Screen your phone calls -- unapologetically
It's that last part that's new. Let's frame what an unexpected phone call is in the modern age. It is an unscheduled request for an impromptu audio meeting. As a busy person, you have a right to decline such an invitation, and honor your priorities. You can and should do this without hesitation, and without a feeling of guilt or shame. You can only do one thing at a time. You have little to no obligation beyond your own guilt to be immediately available to the rest of the world. You don't need to hire an assistant to feel at peace as you manage and triage incoming meeting requests.
Pro tip: Get in the habit of using 'do not disturb' mode on your smartphone. If you don't know how to do this, put your phone on silent and face down on your desk. Focus on developing the willpower to not flip it over every 15 seconds.
2. Minimize your notifications -- no news is good news
The signal to noise ratio of actionable intelligence to distractions, coming from all the apps on your phone, is astonishingly noisy. Grab a geek if you need to, and have them disable notifications for all the noisy, irrelevant apps that invite you to upgrade, subscribe, rate, buy, or see the next breaking story. These notifications break down and eat away at your digital boundaries and will power to keep noise and distraction at bay.
3. Set reasonable expectations regarding communications
Add your response time policy to your email signature. I've been using this trick for years. Here are two phrases to add to your email signature:
"I check my email twice a day. Once at 10:30 a.m. and once at 3:30 p.m. Pacific Standard Time. Email received after those times will be read the following day."
This way you can set expectations. You cannot schedule your response times for "around the clock availability" for anyone and everyone.
I also have this nugget in my signature that ensures if we are to collaborate we're not going to drag it out via email when there are faster and more efficient alternatives.
"I'm happy to collaborate on documents and files using modern technologies. Emailing revisions via attachment does not fall into this category. Please share Google Docs or equivalent modern tools with me, so we can collaborate faster and interact in real time."
4. Keep your phone out of your hands, face down, for all to see during meetings
This one seems like a given, yet so few practice it. You need to model the behavior and respect you'd want to receive in a meeting. You also don't want to give the rest of the world the idea that they can interrupt your meetings. Keeping the phone out of your hands and face down will make it easier to fight the temptation to check it every few seconds.
Setting digital boundaries to limit disruption and distraction in your life is an essential life skill. Focus on using these four as your standards to protect your precious time, energy and attention. Healthy boundaries give you the room to do your best work and it's important to remember to apply them to all those gadgets you're using.