Digital Detoxing London
20 May 2015 - Impact Hub

Digital Detoxing London

Guest blog from Martin Talks, founder of Digital Detoxing

Digital communications have no doubt enabled some amazing innovations in the workplace. We live in a time of instant communications where you can reach people and be reached instantly, all the time, wherever and whenever, at any time of day: evenings, weekends, holidays…. On the one hand this sounds great for productivity, but in reality how productive are we if we are constantly interrupted and when there is no down-time? Like many great advances in society, there are upsides and downsides. In this Meetup we focused on ways in which we can maximise the productivity, health and happiness of work.
As usual in these meetups, we shared the issues we have experienced and crowd sourced ideas for solutions.

  1. Email

We asked people to introduce themselves to others in the form of an email. It soon became clear that these introductions left much open to interpretation and perhaps sounded impersonal. How often have you found your emails misinterpreted or indeed read into other people’s emails the wrong implications? Rather than walk over to speak to someone or pick up the phone, the reliance on email at work can cause problems as well as solve them.
Managing the quantity of email seems an increasing challenge, distracting us from tasks and spilling into evenings, weekends and holidays. Suggestions included:

  • No email mornings at work – or at least starts to the day – to allow focus to be given to key tasks;
  • Saving looking at emails to times of the day when creative energy is lower – often in a post-lunch lull.

Holidays are a particular challenge with a panic to clear inboxes before leaving and fear of full inboxes on returning. Ideas included:

  • Planning a holiday strategy being clear that email will not be read on holiday and allocating another person for emergencies
  • A bold idea was thanking people for their emails but saying the emails would be deleted due to holidays and suggesting the sender resends the email if the matter still needs attention after the return date.

It was noted that in France there are laws against work emails after a work shift. I haven’t seen that in any Election Manifesto for the upcoming General Election.

  1. Mobile

We asked everyone to put their phones in the centre of the table and not to reach for them during the meetup. This ‘phone stack’ approach has proved effective at family meals and in pubs, with anyone breaking the rules having to complete a forfeit such as clearing the meal or buying the next round. It was interesting to observe how uncomfortable some people felt being parted from their smartphones.
Ever being snubbed by someone at work while they checked their phone or took a call. ‘Phubbing’ – snubbing people with a phone – has become almost accepted as part of workplace culture in meetings, conferences and even conversations. It leads to low recall of information, apart from being rude. We all resolved to have less tolerance of workplace phubbers.
It was observed that deleting social media apps off phones leads to a dramatically different relationship with those platforms. We are tempted to fill every moment of downtime with aimless flicking through social media from Facebook to LinkedIn. This prevents moments of reflection; a chance for our subconscious to work on tricky problems. So next time you visit the loo, stand in line for a coffee or a bus, leave the phone in your pocket and just focus on the world around and the simple relaxing exercise of breathing.

  1. Stand up

At this point we all stood up.
Technology promises us the freedom to communicate whenever and wherever, but actually has increasingly tied us to our chairs, whether looking at our computers or watching TV. But sitting is really bad for us, being a major contributor to high levels of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, back ache, depression…And sweating in the gym for an hour in a day makes no difference if you sit the rest of the time. In fact it has been said sitting is more dangerous than smoking. Yet British people sit for an average of 8.9 hours a day.
Breaking the constant sitting habit is not easy. But we considered introducing little habits to break the bad habits. Standing up when you take a phone call, walking to talk to colleagues instead of phoning them and going for a drink of water on every hour.
We wandered around the Impact Hub office to make observations about the physical work environment. With its big irregularly spaced desks, high ceilings with big windows, many plants and informal meeting areas, this office is better than many that we work or have worked in.
As it was due to be On Your Feet Britain Day the following day on 24th April, we all resolved to find small ways to change our sitting habits.

  1. Lunchtime

Finally we discussed lunchtimes. Do you eat your lunch at your desk in front of your computer? Most working people in the UK do. Apart from the temptation just to grab some unhealthy food snack and gobble it down, desks and keyboards in particular are not the most healthy places. But most of all, there is the missed opportunity of interaction with colleagues. The opportunity to give your mind a break and nourish it with food and conversation.
At the Impact Hub they have a ‘Sexy Salad’ day every Thursday, when people bring in salad and share it. Making and eating lunch together is a tremendously positive thing to do at work. Why not try setting a lunch club up at work or, if your workplace doesn’t have the facilities, ask your employer to introduce them.
Our next Digital Detoxing Meet-up on Thursday 21st May at the Impact Hub, Islington, London. If you can make it, do sign up at
Martin Talks
Digital Detoxing