• Michael Bury

Three Easy Steps to a Better Relationship with your Smartphone

Whether we know it or not, our smartphones are disrupting our sleep and increasing our anxiety. “FOMO,” the fear of missing out, has become especially common in the legal profession. Lawyers are social creatures. Just spend some time in any courthouse lawyers’ lounge and listen to the conversations. Whether it be recent cases or gossip about who is switching firms, we love the constant stream of information.

In the online context, this translates into the belief that there is always something interesting happening online and the fear that you might miss out if you don’t check constantly throughout the day. We are, in effect, addicted to “busyness” and the need to look at our smartphones to reduce the feeling of not having something interesting to experience.

Again, this is fueled by the never-ending stream of information on the Internet, which at least gives us some superficially interesting information all the time.

The bottom line? We have become overly reliant on technology to keep us stimulated and withdrawal becomes almost like a drug addiction. Think about it: the first and last thing many lawyers look at when they wake up in the morning and before they go to bed is their smartphone, often much to the dismay of their families.

This “relationship” with technology has started to take its toll and many acknowledge their excessive smartphone usage as a “bad habit.” While some argue that the only way to deal with this is by going “cold turkey” and turning everything off, most of us know that this solution is at most a temporary fix.

What will work, though, is creating a more “mindful” relationship with your technology. Instead of focusing on the rules — don’t do this or that — several of my coaching clients have benefited from focusing on the outcome.

Step one: I recommend developing an evening routine prior to going to bed that does not require you to turn off your smartphone completely. Instead of turning it off, turn it back into a regular “phone” with no Internet access at a predetermined time and turn on “night mode” to reduce screen brightness. You can take it one step further and turn on “flight mode,” which will only allow you to access basic apps that do not require Internet or data access.

But let’s face it, completely stopping all communications will not work for most people, so stick to no Wi-Fi and no data. Again, it’s about creating realistic habits that will become part of your regular evening ritual. The outcome here is that you will reduce that nagging feeling of “what am I missing now?”

Step two: Similarly, in the morning, wait at least one hour before reconnecting your digital devices to the Internet. Why? Reconnecting as soon as you wake up typically ends up in a flood of distracting notifications. Getting stressed before you even get out of bed will set the tone — often not a good one — for the rest of the day.

Your mood can easily be affected by this tide of notifications and social media updates. Why let your smartphone control you as soon as you wake up? By delaying the digital start to the day, you will be more mindful and in control of what you see and do first thing in the morning instead of allowing your mood to be set by a device.

Step three: Throughout your work day, establish “do not disturb” times — how long depends on your workflow. That means no digital connectivity. It’s not as hard as it sounds. For example, do not waste time checking e-mail every few minutes. Instead, check it twice per day to reduce the anxiety associated with “what’s coming next?”

Also, build in the amount of time you will spend checking your e-mail so that you don’t fall down the rabbit hole of distractions. It’s all about creating balance in the relationship with your technology. You will find that your productivity will increase significantly during your disconnect times, as you won’t have that nagging feel when you hear a notification.

The reality is that we cannot simply get rid of smartphones. The technology has in many ways made lawyers more efficient and better able to serve their clients. But your clients will not have much use for you if your mindset and mood are constantly impacted by bad sleep habits and distractibility throughout the day. Making these three small changes in your digital routine will help you regain control, improve your productivity and still let you check your Instagram feed.

Michael Bury, executive coach at Blue Pond Coaching in Toronto, provides coaching services for lawyers and paralegal professionals.

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