We’ve been talking a lot recently at Consortium more than marketing about how we can manage our time more effectively and avoid blurring the boundaries. That includes everything from responding to weekend emails to working when you are meant to be on holiday to simply finding it hard to switch off from thinking about work.

This becomes even more challenging when we consider just how accessible everything is, all the time. So is there a way that we can truly switch off without compromising the quality of service we offer to clients? A heads up here that I don’t think I have the answers – this is still a work in progress, particularly from a personal point of view, but here are some ideas and thoughts.

A smartphone doesn’t always mean smart working

One of the major boundary-blurring culprits is the smartphone. We’ve become increasingly tied to our smartphones – after all we use them to pay, store tickets, access apps on the go, make online purchases and in my case even track the kids’ homework and school life. We want, no we demand, service out of hours, online and on the go and at the same time resent the hold phones have on us. Recent research from the University of Leeds suggests that 54% of British adults use screens more often now than they did before the pandemic – and we are becoming ever more reliant on our phones.

I liken my own smartphone use to the digital equivalent of the middle of Lidl – I go in with a singular focus or purpose and am easily distracted. I’ve set time limits on my apps but I consistently override them. I can’t simply close down all the social media apps because part of my job is to be immersed in social media. It feels like a total digital detox is doomed to fail as we can’t be totally disconnected. But is there a way to strike a balance?

Be mindful

The first sensible step is to prioritise what you need and want to use your phone for and what falls into the digital rabbit hole. Have a look at your screen time analysis ( it’s in your settings). I’m too embarrassed to share my stats – especially the amount of “pick-ups” per day. But the analysis is a useful starting point to see where you are spending your digital time. There are also apps you can use to help use your phone more mindfully ( sounds like an oxymoron to me) but Freedom, Headspace and Social Fever get some good reviews.

Form some good habits

The number of “pick-ups” per day suggests that reaching for a smartphone is a habitual and almost unconscious action. Designed to be addictive, our phones lure us in with the promise of stimulating content. It feels like breaking the habit is a first step. Work out your peak pick-up time and schedule some phone-free time. Turn off notifications and you can even turn your screen to grayscale to make it less appealing. I’ve tried time limits on some of my most used apps but found them too easy to override, but deleting or repositioning apps on the home screen to help change the muscle memory can help. I may even go as far as deleting some of the time-draining apps from my phone so I only use them as necessary on my desktop… I might have to work up to that but it’s definitely on the table. As a team, we’ve explored some ideas from James Clear’s Atomic Habits about “habit- stacking” too but that’s for another blog!

Get Schedule Savvy

As a marketing agency we use scheduling tools (Sendible) so actually we can be fairly savvy about when we are managing social media (ad hoc posts notwithstanding). But scheduling can work in other areas too. Sending or replying to emails can be scheduled/delayed and helps us to be mindful of not contacting people outside of their working hours. Similarly we encourage staff to use our team WhatsApp or Google chat within core hours only, with anything which needs to be communicated urgently done via WhatsApp broadcast instead of chat (it cuts down on all the to-ing and fro-ing!). We also use TMetric to schedule tasks and track time so we can be mindful of how work is allocated according to capacity and working patterns.

#Techtimeout

As a business we also took part in techtimeout – there’s something in the collective uptake which makes switching off seem more acceptable! Although in your everyday life it’s not feasible to just switch off all tech and go incommunicado, the techtimeout challenge encourages you to schedule this sort of time in so it will work for you. And by getting colleagues, friends or family to join you, you’re encouraging them to collaborate and communicate in different ways (yes, talking to each other, in person really can help). Techtimeout also advocates for replacing the tech with another meaningful activity that not only stops your tech attachment but diverts your thinking into something non-work related that you enjoy. I’ve found some of the techtimeout resources useful – the Pomodoro timers helping to keep me focussed – at least in short bursts!

Communication and consistency

As with anything, communication is key. If you are planning to take some creative time away from tech or simply switch off for a bit, letting your team and clients know (an out-of-office or a Google status update/ time marked out in your diary will suffice) helps to keep everyone in the loop. Also, it’s important to be consistent – so if you finish at 3pm but continue to work til 5pm there’s a mixed message (I’m definitely guilty of this). Of course, flexibility is key – we work for a Flexa 100 accredited firm after all – and to work flexibly there’s always some give and take. Working out what feels comfortable and where you can blend time away with delivering great service is the ideal.

The Productivity Peak

Proper breaks, rests and time away really can help to refocus and re-energise. With the support of your team, it is possible – and I’ll go as far as to say essential.  We are all more productive when we have had the time to switch off.

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