Discover how to promote healthy digital habits for you and your team. Learn about some effective strategies to create a productive positive working environment.
Hands up, I developed some bad digital habits.
Before I’ve even had coffee, I’ve answered a question on Slack, checked my emails and looked at my social media. My life from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to bed is dominated by apps, systems and software.
I feel like a cyborg, programmed to respond to different pings and notifications sounds. My heart now jumps when I realise I can’t find my phone, or I flinch when I hear a ping. As an early adopter I hate to admit that instead of freeing me up, my digital connectedness has slowed me down and enslaved me.
But these bad digital habits are ones that I’ve allowed to happen but ones I am slowly trying to change.
I think it’s safe to say that collectively we’ve gotten a bit carried away with tech – no one was there to put the breaks on, and so now we are in a stage where everyone is always ON.
Read on to discover ways in which you can promote productivity, and encourage creativity and deep work for you and your teams.
How bad digital habits affect us
The buzz buzz buzz of push notifications, endless feeds, new feature alerts, a million tabs always open, never getting closed affects us all. The boundaries between online and offline are completely blurred, and I think to the detriment of our creativity, empathy and mental wellbeing.
I’m not denying that there aren’t positives, however. All this digital functionality does give you more flexibility. You are more accessible to clients and work across time zones with international clients and teams far more easily.
BUT, there are serious downsides to our online digital culture and they have led to some worrying digital habits.
Endless scrolling through the doom-laden headlines can make us sucked into a world of negativity. The recent pandemic caused many of us to, while sitting at home with little to do, consume high quantities of negative news.
Our fear coupled with the need to get answers propelled our constant scrolling, hoping for a glimmer of good news. Coupled with the algorithms built into all digital products and social media in particular, which lead to receiving more and more of the same content that made you click the first time, it becomes a self-perpetuating spiral. But we didn’t realise the psychological effect it was having on our sleep and mental wellbeing – which in turn has drastic effects on our productivity, energy levels and performance.
What happened to 9 to 5? Now it’s 24/7, especially for remote or hybrid employees. Replying to emails out of hours, answering messages at the dinner table, and responding to Slack messages during other tasks all take a toll on our family life and well-being. Work never stops, and quite often we don’t actively put in the breaks and boundaries to recharge.
These constant interruptions also affect your workflow. When you always exist somewhere with a green dot next to your face, there is no true work/ life balance, because work has the chance to pop up in every aspect of your life.
Mentally we are fragmented, interrupted and stressed with the constant flow of requests and demands.
I used to be proud that I was classed as a multi-tasker. People thought you had a special skill. In actual fact, a Stanford researcher discovered that multitaskers were actually “terrible at every aspect of multitasking.”
It may be heralded as a badge of honour to be seen as a multitasker, you may actually feel super-efficient when multitasking, but in reality, the human brain is not equipped to multitask. Your multiple open tabs are doing more harm than good.
Multitasking increases stress, and affects your memory and ability to learn! It can even damage your creativity and ability to innovate.
When it comes to more complex tasks and focusing, we multitaskers now find it hard to focus.
FOMO Social Media checking
We are all digitally addicted to social media. In the workplace, constantly checking in with social media or responding to notifications breaks concentration and affects productivity.
The algorithms that govern what we see, feed us what we like, but keep us in a bubble of content blinkered to what else is going on and to alternative perspectives.
Creating healthy digital habits needs to be done in both our working and personal lives.
How can companies support healthy digital habits?
As a leader, Head of Product, or CTO of a company helping to encourage good digital habits in your employees and team starts with modelling that good behaviour yourself.
But beyond the direct impact on your teams, you can also look at incorporating healthy digital habits into the design of your products too.
Consider digital well-being in your design
As well as putting the human at the centre of your design, think about how your product can encourage digital well-being.
Are there notification options that allow users to reduce visual noise or are you spamming users with reminders and updates? Is the information clear and succinct or frustrating and confusing? Is the layout clear and the navigation intuitive?
Are you still measuring dwell time as the biggest KPI, but not looking at which value users are actually getting from spending that time?
Is your product built to encourage more of the same, or do you show alternative options, or other content outside of the same bubble too?
In short, consider how you can build your products so they deliver value to your users without getting them sucked in.
Conduct Employee Journey Mapping
After two years of the pandemic, many employees are re-assessing their work and realising they want more. More meaning, more balance, more benefits.
Employee Journey Mapping (EJM) uses classic User Experience and Design Thinking methods to map out your employee’s journey and plot all the touchpoints from on-boarding to off-boarding.
EJM can give you a better perspective of how employees interact with your business and brand and where there are pain points and gain points.
We look at hiring, onboarding, training, development, feedback mechanisms, events and even exit strategies. Once you have this mapped out, it becomes much easier to know where to optimize and focus your energy in order to build high-performing teams.
Encourage employees to take breaks
No one is going to tell you to take a break. No one is going to tell you to go for lunch. Only you can actually do that. If you are hot-desking, working from home or are a hybrid worker, you may have lost those signals of when to take a break. Without people around you, or your regular co-workers you can easily drop out of sync and just work through breaks or forget to have lunch.
As an employer or leader, make an example of going for a break or getting lunch. And even in a remote work environment, ensure that your whole team schedules those breaks – and makes them transparent in their calendars.
Transparency is key here – it’s much easier to collaborate when you are aware of where others are in their days, even if it means sharing a doctor’s appointment in your calendar.
You’re there when you’re online and out when your calendar states that – instead of trying to do everything, even when you’re out on the playground with your kids, focus on what needs to be done, not on how much time you spend looking like you’re working.
Set an example by logging off at the end of the day
As leaders, having that green Slack light turn off at set times of the day sets a precedence and signal to the rest of your teams that it’s ok to be offline. Don’t be afraid to check on why other employees are still online and enquire why they are working long hours.
Of course things need to get done sometimes. You may have to work in the evening because you’ve taken time out during the day. This is part of the flexibility that remote and hybrid work allow us. However, 24/7 is simply not a sustainable working rhythm, especially with burnout on the rise.
Try setting an example by logging off. Demonstrate a healthy digital habit by not always being on!
Check in with employees about their workload
For start-ups, in particular, rapid growth and hiring can leave employee well-being issues behind.
Be sure to set up performance management systems.
Set up weekly or monthly sessions where team leads check-in with their teams.
Discuss what tasks they are currently doing, and try to help them prioritise, delegate or hire temporary workers to take away the more menial tasks.
Try and identify problems before multitasking and stress set in.
By checking in with employees regularly about workload, team leads can help set the promote healthy digital habits.
Use collaborative digital tools
The key to working well together remotely (aside from meeting in person every now and then) is to create a workflow and use tools that facilitate asynchronous collaboration. Tools like Miro, Notion, Figma (for designers), Teams or Google Docs/Sheets all allow your teams to comment, edit and work in the same shared workspace.
Through shared ownership of a document, work automatically becomes more collaborative and less waterfall, because you’re not waiting for someone to be done to then pick up a piece of information. Instead, your team can be both co-creating in real-time, or allow everyone the space to contribute in their own time.
Magic – when you’ve got the team agreements and workflow set up so everyone knows what to expect and what is expected of them when collaborating.
Want to know how to use Miro more effectively? Check out this post.
How can you improve your own healthy digital habits?
Reflect on what it means to be human
While this might sound very “mindful” – try taking a much more active and reflective stance in your online vs offline lives. I highly recommend trying the Digital Habit Lab, a card deck which has short experiments you can do to try and change your digital life.
These are practical bite-sized techniques you can use, like giving your tech a home or not using tech in the early morning. The cards are designed to help you make small adjustments to your digital habits – instead of being too drastic or unrealistic with a complete digital detox.
Set boundaries for your digital usage
These can be physical and digital boundaries. So not having your phone by your bed at night. Or turning off notifications during working hours or complex tasks. Start compiling your to-do list at the end of the day so you can completely switch off in the evening and not worry about forgetting something.
Use technology and don’t let technology use you.
Do you remember when Instagram, WhatsApp and Facebook went down?
The world spiralled out of control for about six hours. It revealed how many of us are reliant on these digital apps to manage and run our lives.
Mind Over Tech suggests using a “Dumb” phone, with limited functionality save making calls. Using this type of phone over the weekend would help reduce the stress of not being available while limiting access to apps.
Try pen and paper
With a pen in your hand, and digital media off, your mind is much freer and more focused on the task. Writing with a pen can also help your creativity. The action of writing calms your brain and blocks out the external noises and internal worries to just focus on your handwriting and what is being written on the page.
Try using pen and paper first for brainstorming, mind mapping, or process mapping. You’ll be surprised by what you can achieve.
It also helps learning and retaining information better, so even though I transfer all salient points back to digital, I always take meeting notes on paper, for two reasons:
- It allows me to fully listen, while still taking notes
- When I then transfer my notes it’s another chance to focus on what’s really important
Tech is exciting, it feels liberating but can slowly but surely encroach on our downtime. By being always on and always connected we can easily lose all balance in our lives – because life becomes work and work becomes life.! Don’t be afraid to switch off, and encourage others to do so too. It’s about setting a balance, being strict about the boundaries you set for yourself and your mental health. By creating healthy digital habits we can have time to recharge.
As leaders, we can help our employees be more productive, less stressed and more creative by redressing the multitasking culture. It’s no longer about finding a good “work/life balance” but finding a better real-life/digital balance.
I’d love to know about how you balance your online and offline self and if you’ve tried to set boundaries or have a bit of digital detox. Or what healthy digital habits you’ve set for yourself. Let me know in the comments.
About UX, my dear
If you are looking to boost the productivity of your teams, run better (cross-company) workshops or perhaps spark innovation for the next product, I can help run your workshop or lead a Lego Serious Play Session. I also help design teams work more efficiently, streamline design workflows and provide interim leadership support. Book a free 30-minute consultation with me and let’s get your team re-energised.