Is addiction to digital media destroying your brain?

Amantha Imber


written on October 11, 2017

It took a detox to make me realise that I need to scale back on the obtrusive communications that were affecting my work and home life.

A few weeks ago I decided to take a digital detox. I put my laptop in the cupboard, flew to Byron Bay, and spent four days at a health retreat –  no emails, social media or TV. To be sure I wouldn’t cheat, I deleted all the apps on my phone to avoid temptation.

Prior to leaving, I felt a constant low-level hum of stress, mostly due to a particularly busy time at work. Within the first few hours of my arrival, I literally felt as if a switch was flicked and the stress just melted away.

Because I love a good list, here are the three biggest things I learned after unplugging from my digital life:

Email is stressing me out

You might have heard that Inventium bans emails one day per month. This idea, came from my simultaneous addiction to and hatred of emails. When I use email first thing in the morning, it often ends up dominating the rest of the day,  making me highly reactive and falsely productive. While it feels good to read and respond to lots of emails, I’m certainly not making meaningful progress on any key projects by operating in this way. After staying off email for a few consecutive days, the longest period I have avoided it since starting my company 10 years ago, I felt calmer and more relaxed than I have in years.

As a result of feeling these benefits, I’m working on making permanent changes to my behaviour. I’m now experimenting with switching off my email when I leave the office until I return the next morning, and logging off from Friday evening to Monday morning. While this might seem like a small change, it feels like a big one. And so far, it’s been blissful not spending weekends and weeknights reacting to whatever hits my inbox.

I spend far too much time doing “shallow” work

Like many people, my day is dominated by meetings, phone calls, and emails. The time I spend creating new things or thinking deeply about problems usually has to revolve around all those commitments. But when I read Deep Work by Cal Newport, my perspective completely changed. Newport discusses how people spend far too much time doing “shallow work” – tasks that don’t require much brain power or can be automated, including email communications. Instead, Newport says we need to prioritise deep work and make the shallow work fit around it.

I am trialling different approaches to make this a reality. Experiment number one involves scheduling a full day per week that is dedicated to deep work where all digital distractions are switched off.

Reading is good for you

My digital detox and respite from work freed up a lot of time. Aside from engaging in the typical health retreat activities like yoga, bushwalking and eating kale, I spent the majority of this spare time reading. And after coming back from the retreat, I kept on reading – I’ve managed to read around 10 (nonfiction) books in the past few weeks. Most people say they don’t have time to read, but I think they are likely not prioritising the time to do so. After all, no one says “I just don’t have time to watch great shows on Netflix or check my Facebook feed”.

My recent reading binge reminded me of the immense value that comes from reading. If you think about the amount of time that goes into researching and writing a good quality non-fiction book, and that you get to consume all this knowledge in a matter of hours, is that not the best use of time ever?

Amantha Imber is the founder and CEO of Inventium.

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