This appeared in The Quint website on June 15, 2018
The only time I ever truly relax is on a plane. That’s when I actually have time to think. And the culprit is the smart phone – or rather the way we use it. Let me explain. What shall I start with – why I relax on a plane or why the smart phone doesn’t leave me with time to think?
I like to think of myself as a fairly organised person, practising time management using Stephen Covey’s matrix. And yet, of late I’ve been struggling.
Putting Off Work for Later
And instead of pursuing the task at hand, I end up responding to a query (I’m not even referring to the family/friends groups with jokes and good morning messages; these are legitimate work-related interactions.) It could be Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) Or ‘structured procrastination’ something Ajit Ranade introduced me to.
“. . . anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn’t the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment.” – Robert Benchley, in Chips off the Old Benchley, 1949
Meanwhile the task I started out with is now pending.
A Relationship With My Smartphone
Then say I want to use my bank’s app; I’ll see a notification pop up reminding me of a meeting that I’d forgotten about. The task in the bank app gets pushed ( it wasn’t urgent to begin with, but needed to be done eventually). Then en route to the meeting – when I’d planned to respond to emails, I get a call ( again, not a social call) – and before I know it I’m responding to texts, WhatsApps, and my entire plan for the day has gone awry, as I’m now functioning on other people’s agendas. It’s because everything I do, I do with my phone – scheduling, banking, shopping,research, reading, etc – including writing this column!
And I haven’t even got to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest yet.
Suddenly I’m stressed out as I have work piled up. And now I don’t know where to start.
Of course, I’m exaggerating to prove a point here. But the fact remains, my focus and attention span is reducing. (It’s well documented that smart phones are leading to attention deficit disorder). That smart phones are causing havoc in off-line interactions is something we’ve all experienced. A group of people sitting – each one on their smart phone – is a common sight.
It’s not good enough to just put your phone away in your bag.
Perils of Social Media
Now throw social media into the mix. I try and regulate my social media time – only checking in for news on Twitter a couple times a day. The rest – Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest – are essentially during my breaks. Speaking of break time – that’s time to breathe – but the mind has no respite as our senses are constantly engaged via amazing (or disturbing) content via social media platforms.
Arianna Huffington has written a lot on the relationship between sleep (quality and quantity) and smartphones.
My own experience is dodgy. Even on days that I manage to get in bed at the planned time, if I decide to spend 10 minutes scrolling on say Instagram, next thing I know it’s midnight! I wake up under-slept and tired, and the cycle starts all over again – this time with exhaustion added to the cocktail.
One is constantly on a treadmill that’s going a little faster than one’s comfort. You don’t need to be a CEO or a head of state to be busy all the time.
Why am I writing this? I’m writing this because I want us all to examine our relationship with our phones. Because as Arianna jokes and says, “We are in a relationship with our phone!”. In the process of examining our relationship with our phone, it might be a good idea to take a look at work-life balance too – because that’s one of the things the smart phones have the potential to destroy. Why do you think companies give Blackberrys to their employees?
I tried to simulate what it’s like on a plane (not with reduced atmospheric pressure and all) but the phone part of it. And I found that taking 2-3 hour ‘breaks’ from the phone really made me feel much better and made me more productive. We really don’t need to be available and connected all the time.
In order to regain work-life balance and get my productivity levels up, I have a new policy in place. Data off at 8:30 PM, if not the phone all together.
And it’s really helped.
Coming back to relaxing on a plane – I find that many things that I keep putting in the ‘I’ll think about that later box’, I’m able to think about – because I don’t have my phone as a distraction. The other time I feel this way is when I’m exercising, because guess what, I don’t have my phone on me.
A lot of things that appear to stress us out, are appearing that way because we haven’t thought about them with a clear head.
The moment one applies oneself – the solution is visible. I’m often able to resolve issues during my exercise time. (I think to distract myself from the fact that I’m struggling and panting, but that’s another column.) I feel on top of the world. Quite like in an airplane!
Until next time, try my ‘Data Off at 8.30’ plan.
(Gul Panag is an actor, pilot, politician, entrepreneur, and a lot more. The views expressed are personal. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)