Always on? No thank you. Here’s how you can disconnect

Like many, I suffer from information overload but I plan my life so I am awake enough to deal with it

David Rigby
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What does ‘always on’ mean to you? One view is: ‘always accessible to customers,’ ‘constantly available,’ and ‘alert at all times.’ But should ‘always on’ mean ‘always at work?’

When I was a child (a very long time ago) there was no internet, no mobile phones and at my parents’ house, not even a land line. Did it matter? No – your friends and relatives were nearby – you walked round to their houses to see if they were in, and you sent letters. In emergencies there were always telegrams – which usually contained information of someone’s death. Did my parents need to know exactly where I was? No. When my parents left work did they talk to other people about work – no.


In everyday life, I am mindful when it comes to communications. I set aside specific times of day to check messages on Email, Facebook, Whatsapp, Linked In, Twitter, Kik, Tango, Viber, Skype and several other specific apps such as news. I may glance at a message alarm because it tells me which of the above I need to look at later. If the phone rings then I will see who it is, provided that I am on my own. However if I am with a clients, colleagues or friends that is a different story. I focus exclusively on who I am with. If someone asks ‘I am important person why didn’t you answer my calls?’ My response is ‘If I was with an important person such as you, how would you feel if disrupted our meeting and spoke on the phone?’ Most things can wait an hour or two.

Right now, I am in Kuwait focusing on the one thing I am there to do which is training. I am especially focused because I have no access to the internet nor phone while on the client site. And my portable Wi-Fi doesn’t work because I am in a different country. So therefore for large periods of the day I am ‘always off’. Has it made a difference? I have no idea.

When I eventually make it back to my hotel room, I get the internet. I can then spend hours just running around each of the media about to see if there are messages. UK mobile still has no phone reception. UAE text messages are hours late. Using my sphere of influence techniques I realize I can do nothing except invest in two Kuwaiti sim cards which frankly isn’t worth it for five days.

So how am I spending my time? Working on the least possible interactions with the outside world unless they are really urgent (according to me not them). Some of these are personal, some are business – all is blurred these days. Learning how to convert email content into WhatsApp messages to deal with the communication challenges. But principally dealing with the opportunities afforded by being with this particular client at a particular time.

I am building face to face relationships with the people I am training, and the organizers of the training. I am taking advantage of the bus journeys from hotel to client to build face to face relationships with my fellow trainers who are from all over the world and delivering very different topics. And also sitting by the sea, chewing the fat with these new colleagues. And with all of these activities I am not tempted to be distracted by the phones and laptops because they are all tucked in bed in my hotel room.

These are opportunities which will not be available next week.

I have business colleagues in England who close their offices for the weekend and it means they are refreshed when Monday morning starts up. I respect that, and while I have prearranged client meetings over the UAE weekends I believe it is important to have my personal time too.

Here are some quotes from professionals and business owners about being ‘always on’.

• “[Always on means] being able to communicate with people, make the decisions, get the information, at any hour of the day”
• “From my perspective, if you need to get something done – regardless of time, or whether you’re in the office or not – it has to get done”
• “The second I wake up I check my emails. Then I go downstairs and make the children’s breakfast. Then I check them again before I leave [for work].”
• “I try not to check my emails until at least half an hour after I’ve started working”
• “I normally check my emails when I wake up. But I think my most productive days are those where I don’t check my emails until later in the day.”
• “Some people are getting more mindful of stepping away from that culture and actually turning their phones off at night.”

Like many, I suffer from information overload but I plan my life so I am awake enough to deal with it, and also recognize that some people will always ‘want it right now,’ totally disregarding there may be other people in my life. As far as I am concerned I am more effective when I am mindful and so they can have their response when I am ready. If these people are so demanding then they can demand from other people, and also instant response give the impression you are their only client.

I have a life to lead so I choose not to be ‘always on’- and so can you.

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