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Work-Life Balance: The Digital Detox, Part 1
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Work-Life Balance: The Digital Detox, Part 1 - Executive Leadership Articles

Work-Life Balance: The Digital Detox, Part 1

Executive Leadership Articles

Work-Life Balance: The Digital Detox, Part 1

A recurring theme in the plethora of written musings on work-life balance is the ability (or lack thereof) simply to turn off. Along with the blessings our emails, tablets, laptops, smartphones, and social networks have brought us have also come the burden of its being too easy for our work to invade our leisure, and perhaps more impressively, of turning some of our leisure into work with the daily pressure of keeping things updated, checked in, liked, followed, and otherwise engaged just for the maintenance of our personal online relationships.

For many, fine-tuning the balance can be difficult when the smartphone is the first thing we reach for upon awakening each morning. Trimming minutes here and seconds there from our constant state of being plugged in isn’t easy when we’re in the midst of living these plugged-in lives. For some, a complete “digital detox” might be in order.

The phrase has gained so much traction recently that the Huffington Post uses “digital detox” as a tag for much of its lifestyle-themed content (34 articles in the first half of 2014 alone), and Fast Company compiled enough web and print content to publish a digital anthology called #Unplug: How to Work Hard and Still Have a Life (Fast Company, 2013), which begins with a column by Baratunde Thurston in which the author details his 25-day fast from all things digital. Thurston writes about how he went from 32 tweets per day (11,541 cumulative tweets the year leading up to his detox) and 163 Gmail conversations per day, among other signs of his digital overload, to nothing at all. “The greatest gift I gave myself,” he says, “was a restored appreciation for disengagement, silence, and emptiness. I don’t need to fill every time slot with an appointment, and I don’t need to fill every mental opening with stimulus. Unoccupied moments are beautiful, so I have taken to scheduling them.”

At the beginning of his seven-day “digital diet,” Teddy Wayne recalls in the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/09/fashion/digital-detox-email-smartphone-social-media.html ) how, while about to place a deli order, he “instinctively” attempted to remove nonexistent earbuds. By the end of his seven days, he says his FOMO (“fear of missing out” on whatever everyone was talking about) became what Maite Baron and others have titled the “joy of missing out.”

Some people are so determined to unplug that they pay $570 for the privilege at Camp Grounded, a series of four-day device-free retreats run by a company called Digital Detox where all conversation about work is forbidden (it’s called “the W word”) and professional networking is so discouraged that, in order to prevent it, campers are required to adopt exclusive use of nicknames like Popcorn and Honey Bear, as described by Forbes.com writer Ellen Huet (http://www.forbes.com/sites/ellenhuet/2014/06/20/camp-grounded-digital-detox/). Campers participate in the kinds of summer camp activities many remember from their childhoods, including outdoor games, knitting, and creative writing, but also engage with others in low-tech parodies of their online lives: personal cubby holes serve as inboxes where others can leave hand-written notes, and sheets of poster paper allow others to leave messages on each other’s walls.

“Many campers didn’t have ambitious goals to revamp their digital routines after camp ended,” writes Huet. “Some want to avoid checking email on a smartphone immediately upon waking up and to save it for after a morning shower instead. Others wanted to keep phones off the dinner table when with friends or family.”

This strip-it-all-away approach so that connectivity might be re-added with reasonable moderation can result in the fine-tuning many of us seek when we attempt to locate and maintain that seemingly ever-elusive balance, the way some people give up certain vices for forty days every year during Lent, not to wipe something completely out of their lives, but to keep those things from taking over and getting out of hand. And keeping things from getting out of hand is practically a definition of balance.


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Work-Life Balance: The Digital Detox, Part 1 - Executive Leadership Articles

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