cutting screen time: embracing turnoffs

Few of us wake up in the morning looking forward to a day of turnoffs.Turn-your-email-off

Yet such days can be filled with the kind of productivity and focus simply not possible without them. Researchers at the University of California, Irvine, have demonstrated concrete findings that reveal how removing the nonstop distractions of email during the workday not only reduces stress but enables tangibly sharper focus. “We found that when you remove email from workers’ lives, they multitask less and experience less stress,” said informatics professor Gloria Mark, who coauthored the study, “A Pace Not Dictated by Electrons,” with a UCI project scientist and U.S. Army senior research scientist, funded by the Army and the National Science Foundation.

To be sure, being on screen call can be both fun and stimulating. Receiving and responding to a dozen emails every hour or so requires quick thinking, provokes additional mental and personal connections, opens a range of possibilities and offers a palpable sense of productivity. What happens, though, when preparing a speech under deadline that requires hours of focused thought and related research? Or completing the chapter of a book with an unbroken arc of logic and engagement? Or helping a son or daughter with a complex school project? Or… Or… Or….

Turn off the email program for several hours at a time and watch what happens. The clock doesn’t move at quite so relentless a pace. Concentration can’t help but be enhanced. The mind’s natural elasticity responds with previously denied creativity. In a typical 10-hour workday (the cliché of an eight-hour workday having gone the way of the Palm Pilot), having four or five periods of email access and completing the associated tasks enables the kind of dedicated attention not otherwise available.

The continuous bursts of adrenaline may initially be missed, but the longer-term feelings of peace and demonstrated increase in productivity should more than compensate. Projects can be savored rather than rushed, akin to lunch with a colleague at a relatively quiet restaurant, away from the computer and with mobile access either left at the office or turned off from appetizer to dessert.

Life’s menu awaits.