Articles - 28th June 2019

Cold turkey tech

Words by Caroline Kelly

Looking for a healthy glow? How does ingesting a bottle of radium powder grab you? 

Don’t be like Eben Byers, the poor guy was convinced the radium-infused drinks he took were great for his health and wellbeing and, to be fair, he was doing pretty well up until his jaw fell off, back in the good old days of the 1930s. 

What we’re trying to say is that just because something talks a good game it doesn’t always mean it’s going to work out to be in your best interests. If you’re not sick of the constant stream of sponsored Twitter, Facebook and Instagram ads claiming to be the ONE THING YOU NEED TO TRANSFORM YOUR BUSINESS, are you even freelancing?

The same is true of technology. Software for this, software for that. Increased revenue stream through this app, customers putting money in your pocket with this simple trick that the world’s richest people don’t want you to know and so on and so on ad infinitum.

Quite simply, this constant barrage to take on the latest technology, to install lifechanging software, to pick up a gadget or phone, is out of control and is affecting us, as a community of freelancers, more than you might even imagine. Don’t believe it? According to App creators RescueTime, their 11,000 users spent an average of three hours and 15 minutes on their phones each day but broken down further, the top 20% of smartphone users clocked up more than four and a half hours every day. Take a moment to think about that, four and a half hours every day, scrolling and posting, replying to emails and WhatsApping your sister about your dad’s birthday. It’s a phenomenal amount.

But combine that with the amount of time you spend staring at your laptop and if your eyes aren’t square, then what your mum told you about too much telly probably wasn’t true.

And the effects of our addiction to tech? The RescueTime app research revealed that around 40% of our working day is spent multi-tasking. This isn’t the same thing as feeding the cat, while dressing a wriggly toddler and writing an email with your toes. This is flicking from screen to screen and back again and it does us no good.

According to Professor Nancy K. Napier, at Boise State University: 

Much recent neuroscience research tells us that the brain doesn’t really do tasks simultaneously, as we thought (hoped) it might. In fact, we just switch tasks quickly. Each time we move from hearing music to writing a text or talking to someone, there is a stop/start process that goes on in the brain. That start/stop/start process is rough on us: rather than saving time, it costs time (even very small micro seconds), it’s less efficient, we make more mistakes, and over time it can be energy sapping.”

Technology, or rather our use of it, can be detrimental to how we run our businesses. Switching context slows us down, forces us to make errors and takes its toll on our energy levels. We feel exhausted. And how do we spend our downtime when trying to relax after a day spent frantically meeting deadlines and juggling our personal lives? We pick up our phones. We re-connect with friends on our social media channels, we allow ourselves some mild indignation over a mistimed Tweet on Twitter and we firmly believe Celeste Barber is the funniest Instagrammer on the planet.

We’ve been through this all before but let’s take a minute to think about how this use of post-work technology affects the brain as you’re heading towards bedtime. According to there are three ways that screens can impact on your nightly shutdown.

  • By suppressing melatonin – that blue light emitted from phones, tablets and laptops actively reduces this sleepy wonder hormone. When you’re in a depleted melatonin state your sleep/awake cycle is in pieces.
  • By keeping your brain active – if you start reading Twitter before bed, your brain’s going to be alert and stay alert. It simply doesn’t have adequate time to wind down after a day and a night spent in front of a screen.
  • By disturbing your sleep – every ping and every vibration can wake you up. Even if you don’t fully wake-up, you can be sure you’ve been disturbed from a deep sleep, the part of the sleep cycle your body needs most.

Yes, you could take melatonin as a supplement or switch off all notifications, but the real trick is to go cold turkey. No screens for at least half an hour before you hit the hay and leave that phone or tablet in a different room.

Look, part of the real joy about going freelance is that you get to make your own decisions about your working hours, but with that very often there’s no reason to take those prescribed twenty minute breaks a day or have a lunch hour and there’s no one standing over you seeing that you do.

It’s time to treat yourself as your own best employee. Insist on regular screen breaks. Do the best for yourself by shutting down in the evenings and giving your mind and body the chance to process the day. You want long-term success, don’t be like Eben – listen to your body and step away from the harmful practices technology can bring out in you.

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