Is email making you stressed?

Next time you open your inbox, notice what happens to your breathing. Do you hold your breath when you open your inbox? Or does your breathing speed up?

Email makes many of us feel anxious, overwhelmed and stressed.

The never-ending stream of demands coming at us can seem just too much to deal with. The information overload can be overwhelming.

Close your inbox for a moment and step back. Ask yourself just how healthy your relationship with email is… and if it is causing you stress or strain, what can you do to improve this?

The huge reaction to the recent news that 250,000 French workers have been told – following a legally-binding labor agreement – to disconnect outside of working hours, shows that many of us are perhaps missing a vital element when it comes to email: boundaries.

For these French workers, it’s simple. The rule says no email outside of working hours, so no email outside of working hours it is…

Is this what many of us are craving? For someone to draw us a line?

In the absence of someone to tell us to switch off, it’s time to put our own boundaries in place.

Try these tips:

1. Avoid keeping your email open all the time. Being constantly distracted by updates and pinging demands from other people means that you’ll never turn your full attention to the work you’re doing. It means you’ll be constantly ‘on alert,’ will be less productive and will make more mistakes. Even half an hour switched off at a time is beneficial. Try it.

2. Decide how many times a day you want to check email. Twice? Four times? Only once? This can depend on the day. Many of us blame the boss or the people we work with for the reason we check email so much. But in fact, much of the pressure we feel to check we actually put on ourselves. Notice this, and talk to your boss about email methods and productivity if needs be.

3. Don’t check your email first thing in the morning. If you do, you’ll immediately be spending your time and energy on other people’s demands, rather than on your own priority tasks. Do something else first for an hour (or two hours). See what a difference this makes to your productivity.

4. Decide what time to switch off email at the end of the day. Stick to this. Log out and breathe.

If all else fails, however, there is always one more option… shut down, pack up and move to France.

This blogpost also appears on The Huffington Post website


5 tips on how to do a digital detox

Gorging on information streams, hungry for just one more click, our mental and physical systems are becoming overwhelmed, overworked, and overloaded.

Yet many of us don’t realise this until we either take a step back, or until it is too late and we burn out.

Here’s a chance to opt for the step back option. This Friday to Saturday (7th-8th March) is National Day of Unplugging (originating in the US, with people in many other countries also taking part).

This is a chance to switch off, shut down your digital devices, and recharge your own batteries for once.

Why should you try a digital detox? The best evidence for this comes when you experience it for yourself. Try it, and you’ll see …

Ask someone who’s done a detox what they experienced, and they’ll be likely to mention some of the following benefits: feeling less stressed, feeling calmer, a sense of perspective, a sense of being unhurried, quality time with those you care about, a chance to think, lack of demands, better sleep, a sense of freedom, time slowing down. Not a bad trade off for pressing the off button.

However, pressing the off button can be surprisingly difficult. Why is this?

Detox implies we’re dealing with something toxic. And we are.

Toxic is the anxiety caused by being constantly on call. Toxic is the waste of precious time, as our attention is pulled away from the things that really matter to us. Toxic is the pressure cooker of our own making, as we chase perpetually after digital demands.

It is precisely because it is now so difficult for us to disconnect that we need to make sure we can do it.

On an individual level, constantly connectivity is having an impact on our health. We often don’t equate being constantly wired to feeling constantly exhausted. We often don’t realise that being ‘always on’ is the reason for our stress or burnout.

On a wider business and economic level, ‘always on’ culture is contributing to lack of workplace productivity, poor decision-making, lack of time management, shortened concentration spans and employee sickness and absence.

While a digital detox can’t solve all of these issues overnight, it’s a very good place to start.

The National Day of Unplugging from 7th-8th March is a 24-hour detox from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. During this time, you switch off from all digital devices – including laptop, mobile, smartphone, tablet, and computer.

If you need solidarity in deciding to take part, there are hundreds of inspiring photos from people around the world sharing the reasons they switch off.

Keen to try it? Intrigued? Ready to give it a go?

If you’ve never done a digital detox before, what can you expect and how should you go about it?

Try these tips:

1) You’ll probably feel withdrawal symptoms in the very early stages after switching off. These might include a strong urge to check your phone/email/social media, a feeling of boredom, and a sense of unease. Stay with it and these feelings should pass within a couple of hours.

2) Before you switch off, a common concern is missing out. Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) is one of the strongest pulls that keeps us checking. However, notice whether – when you eventually switch back on – you did actually miss anything. In reality, things like boredom are usually harder to cope with during a detox. Instead of thinking FOMO, think JOMO – Joy of Missing Out. Enjoy playing your own thought soundtrack instead of having your thoughts led by social media. Enjoy setting your own agenda instead of answering to other people’s demands.

3) Get prepared before you press the off button. Print out maps, look up any travel or visiting information you need, and if you’re arranging to meet someone say you’ll be there on time but not available by phone. Yes, old school. But a different way of doing things can sometimes be refreshing.

4) Don’t expect too much of yourself if this is the first time you’ve tried a digital detox. Aim for 24 hours. But if you get to 12 hours and break, don’t worry or be harsh on yourself. Just notice how those however many hours felt for you, and take it as an experiment. Try again another time. Enjoy however long you do spend switched off. Just press the off button and see …

5) Plan something for your digital detox time. It’s a good idea to swap screen time for an interesting activity. This could be quality time with friends or family, a trip to an interesting place, or hours reading a good book. Dream, cook a great meal, or pick up an interest you’ve neglected recently.

Good Luck and enjoy your digital detox

This blogpost also appears on The Huffington Post website


Suffering from information overload? Time to look up from that screen …

Do you feel like you are constantly on call these days? As though your day is dictated by the beep and ‘pling’ of messages and updates, pulling you this way and that?

Picture the scene: you’re in the middle of a conversation with a friend, and their phone beeps. They turn to their smartphone, saying “hmm, what was that,” as they pretend to listen to you. How does that make you feel?

Here’s another snapshot: It’s the end of the day, and you stand up from your desk feeling frazzled and wired. Yet when you tot up what you’ve done you realise it amounts to little more than fielding email demands, your attention pulled this way and that. You’ve been busy, and you’re stressed, but somehow you didn’t get round to the one thing you were meant to do today.

Sound familiar? If so, you’re not alone …

People often ask why I wrote The Distraction Trap. It was because I started to notice that everywhere I went, people were staring down at screens. You’ve probably noticed them too, on trains and buses, or walking down the street veering in front of you. Perhaps they’re even in your own front room …

I started to question whether this constant connectedness was really healthy, or productive. Had we all really opted in to being on call? Was everything really so urgent?

Researching these issues, I found that the reasons for our behaviour around digital media are complex.

We check, and check, and check again. It’s a habit, verging in some cases on addiction. We check our smartphones every few minutes. We check our social media all the time because of Fear of Missing Out (FOMO). We check our email because we feel like we should (though the expectation we put on ourselves is often far heavier than the expectation of others).

And while we adopt these new behaviours, other things go by the wayside; things like concentration and communicating in person.

In this blog on digital life, I’ll be exploring some of these issues. I’ll look at the huge pressures constant connectivity puts on us, the cost of distraction to productivity and wellbeing, and how to – whisper it – press the off button now and again and do a digital detox.

Can you be happy and disconnected? How much is too much when it comes to screen time for young people? And is it possible to spend a bit less of your life checking email?

These of the some of the questions I’ll be answering.

This is not about saying technology is bad. It’s about exploring how we choose to use technology, and understanding the pull digital devices have on us. It’s about being in control of how we fit digital devices in to our lives, rather than being ruled by them.

Long, long ago, in a past far away, there was a time Before Google (BG). Those of us old enough to remember it can vouch for the fact that there was also a time before mobiles – never mind smartphones. Somehow, the world turned.

Then, things changed. And fast.

In the 10 years between 1997 and 2007, huge swathes of our digital landscape as we know it were formed. We started emailing en masse, went mobile, and met Facebook and Twitter for the first time …

It’s strange to think that these changes were so relatively recent. We’ve embraced platform after platform, without even stopping to look up.

However, as anyone who has ever felt overwhelmed by information overload knows, sometimes we go a little too far.

Now, it’s time to take a step back, and look around. This is a chance to regain a sense of digital balance, and to decide what a healthy, productive digital life means for you.

Try this today: Notice how often you check your smartphone


10 ways to tackle digital overload

Smartphone getting all the attention in your house?  Teenagers texting not talking? Here are 10 tips to help you and your children deal with digital overload.


1. Start small

Relatively recently we were learning how to switch our phones on for the first time (remember your first mobile?). But now, we’ve forgotten where the off button is.

With our phones next to us all the time, we allow near constant interruptions. It might ping! It might buzz!

We let our smartphones wake us up in the morning. We take them to the corner shop. We read them last thing at night before we go to bed.

We feel as though we are drowning in information overload, but still we don’t press the off button.

Here’s a challenge. Switch your phone off, just for five minutes, while you’re reading the rest of this article. Yes, you might miss something. Yes, you’ve got important things happening in your life. Just try it.

2. Other people’s demands can wait

What happens when you open your inbox? In it, are a list of demands, niggles, and calls for your time and attention.

If you check your email first thing each day and start scurrying around doing what other people ask, the clock can spin round to lunchtime with no time spent on the things important to you.

Flip things the other way round – and do the tasks that matter to you first – and your productivity will soar.

Try it tomorrow: spend an hour doing what you want to do first, before opening your email or social media accounts.

3. Manage expectations

We may blame the boss for the fact that we are constantly checking email. “They expect me to be there.” Or we blame the children for the fact we constantly check our phone: “What if they need me?”

But often, the heaviest expectation is the one we place on ourselves. We expect ourselves to keep up with communication via text, Twitter and Facebook, as well as on email, phone call and in person. We log in every day because we feel we ‘should’.

Managing other people’s expectations is, in fact, not that hard. Stop checking email constantly and people (even the boss) will quickly get used to a less speedy reply.

If they want an explanation, say you’re spending the time working. Explain that you’re doing, not pretending to do.

Put an out-of-office reply on your email that explains that you check it, for example, twice a day. Set a predictable time that you will be available via your mobile for your children – during lunch and their school breaks, for example. If there is a real emergency, people will find a way to contact you.

4. Set a goal

If you weren’t so overwhelmed by digital overload, what would you love to do? What would be fun to try? What would you like to spend more time on?

Having an incentive helps, so that each time you ‘reach’ for a digital distraction, you can stop yourself and spend time on what you want instead.

Think about what you love doing. Think about times when you feel in ‘the zone’.

Think about what you want to look back on at the end of the year having done.

Use your time for that, and send fewer emails. Post fewer status updates. Live a little more.

5. Account for the distraction factor

“I’ll just check the Internet for five minutes…” you think. Then whoosh. An hour has gone. An hour!

While the task you logged on to do perhaps took you exactly the length of time you expected – five minutes – the rest of the time was taken by ‘the distraction factor’.

Where do these distractions come from? That link you clicked on that looked interesting. A quick search for reviews of the restaurant you were about to book. The emails you answered while forgetting to send your own.

Watch the clock and watch out for distractions. Learn to assess how long a task takes with distractions factored in.

And tips for your children…

6. Scream louder

Could that screaming toddler and that sulky, non-committal teenager want exactly the same thing? Often, what they are both calling for is attention.

Imagine if you were a toddler trying to get attention, but your parent was always on their mobile. What would your toddler-style response be? Most likely, scream louder.

Imagine if you were a teenager sat next to your parent – wanting to discuss something – and your parent was always checking their emails on their BlackBerry. What would your teenage-style response be? Most likely, be uncommunicative.

Children are being forced to up the ante in the battle for their parents’ attention.

Think about your child’s response. Could they in fact just want your attention?

Make sure that your mobile or smartphone is out of sight (and preferably switched off) at points when you set aside time to give your – 100% – attention to them.

7. Set a good example

Getting your child or partner to look up from their screen and have a proper conversation may seem practically impossible.

But before you blame your children for being glued to their screens, check on the example you are setting.

Children watch their parents and copy their behaviour.

A classic example of digital devices damaging relationships is the phone on the restaurant table. This is quality time, interrupted. What you are saying here is ‘there is someone more important than you’.

Your toddler grabs for your smartphone because they know it’s important – they see that you always dive to answer it. Your two-year-old scrolls the iPad transfixed because they’ve watched you do the same.

By the time your child is a teenager, they’ve learnt many digital patterns from you. Be aware of the example you are setting.

8. Talk to your child about missing out

For older children especially, the fear of missing out is what keeps them checking and checking and checking again, particularly when it comes to social media.

Fear of missing out (termed FOMO by MTV who investigated the behaviour) means they worry they will miss the latest gossip, and they worry they will feel out of the loop.

Yet they’re often exhausted by the need to constantly check.

Encourage them to stop and assess the information stream they are actually taking in. How much of this is what they would consider ‘spam’? Can they tailor their feeds?

Another huge pressure young people may feel around social media is that of creating and maintaining an online persona. Discuss this with them and encourage them to develop an ‘offline’ sense of self.

9. Try a family digital detox

Suggesting you switch off altogether may cause uproar in your home on first mention. But once you try it – even just for one meal-time – you’ll start to feel the benefit to your relationships.

A tech cleanse, or digital detox, is a great way to connect with each other, rather than be connected only to digital devices. It’s also a great way to recharge.

Start small, and build up to longer spells switched off. Think of fun activities to replace digital activities – such as trips out or cooking together.

A digital detox could mean switching off on a Friday night for 24 hours. Or switching off on holiday.

If this is too much for your child at first, try boundary-setting. Limiting the amount of media use (with any rule at all) means they will cut down on their media consumption significantly.

And altogether…

10. Now breathe

When you make conscious choices about digital usage, there’s a feeling of relief

You feel human, rather than frazzled. There is enough time. You know where you’re spending your attention.

Your productivity will soar, your stress levels will drop, and you’ll find you have little tolerance for distractions.

This is a great state to aim for.


– A longer version of this article by Frances Booth was published by Mumsnet

– For further advice on dealing with digital overload, contact Frances to discuss a one-to-one session