The Downsides of Digital Efficiency

Don’t let your inbox take you over the edge.

One of my favorite feelings is what I will call a “productivity rush.” During the week, it can come in waves, like the number of unread emails that rise and fall in my inbox. A productivity rush feels great—it’s “gettin’ it done,” juggling notifications on multiple devices and soaring on top of to-do lists.

I get my productivity rushes in the late morning, after a good night’s rest, a rigorous morning workout, and a decent dose of dark roast. I’ll be sitting at my computer, trying to keep my fingers typing fast enough to match the cadence of my mind. It’s a great feeling to be efficient and productive—flying forward at the pace of all the emails, texts, phone calls, and voicemails. I mark down deadlines and religiously fill out my iCal; I contact sources and send invoices, pitch articles and complete projects.

As a freelance writer and business owner, I choose my workload, which has its enormous benefits and its undeniable drawbacks. Yes, I get to create my own schedule, but what that can mean for me is filling it to the brim every hour, every day. I am still learning when to say “no” to work, as I never like to put a lid on my capacity.

Yet that high capacity I fight to maintain—which many of us can pull off because of modern-day efficiencies (thank you smartphone and email)—is replacing the molehill-sized stacks of work on my plate with mountains of overwhelming stress. It’s the game of catch-up that no one really ever wins.

Sure, when you’re firing with all cylinders and mostly on top of everything, it all plays out OK. Stuff gets gone, paychecks are cut, and bills are paid. There’s even time for friends and happy hours. But when you actually step away from your computer, phone, desk, or office and into an unplugged space, does everything fall to pieces? It can become a finicky balancing act to create a schedule that has space in it, while still smartly maximizing your creative, interpersonal, and professional output.

We have the ability to be more efficient and available than ever—yet spreading out in a frenzy, rather than choosing each action with intention, creates holes in the richness of life. That moment when you do step off the gas, what happens? Does everything fall through a gaping crack?

This is the opposite of wholeness.

Jess Davis, “chief rebel” for Folk Rebellion, agrees: “Technology that was meant to simplify our lives has led us astray and away from the real world … into a virtual one.” In a booklet she handed out at Wanderlust Aspen-Snowmass this past July, these words struck me sharply: “The first thing 85 percent of Americans see when they wake up is their phone. Not the ceiling, not their lover, not the sun.” Folk Rebellion reminds us to stay connected to ourselves and others on a tangible—not technological—level.

So stop, look up from your phone, take a breath, and measure your presence in your role in this moment. Is your path one of mindful wholeness, or full of mindless holes? Remember, more efficiency in work and communication does not always equal quality output. Try to stay balanced amidst a busy week or a rush of productivity. Keep your commitments and your Facebook time to a minimum that will allow for enrichment and sustainability.

Here are 10 ways to keep your interpersonal and professional journey balanced and whole:

  1. Don’t sleep next to your phone—get a real alarm clock.
  2. Create rules and boundaries for using digital devices.
  3. Get outside every day.
  4. Move your body, unplugged.
  5. Read more books and periodicals on pages, not screens.
  6. Keep a calendar, but leave space in your schedule.
  7. Say “no” before you over-commit.
  8. Don’t email on evenings or weekends, unless you expect others to do the same to you.
  9. Batch your social media time to only a few moments per day.
  10. Replace long-winded text conversations with in-person coffee dates.

Now go forth, use efficiencies—but be balanced and connected to a life outside technology—practice mindful wholeness.

Photo by Molly Hull

sizedkim-fullerKim Fuller grew up in the Colorado mountains and has always found beauty and inspiration through nature and movement. She is currently a freelance journalist and yoga teacher based in Vail. Her writing and photo work has focused on health, wellness, recreation, food, and travel since 2007, and Kim began her yoga practice in Boulder, followed by her first teacher training with Real Evolution Yoga at Peace Retreat Costa Rica in November of 2012.