Distraction is an unfortunate fact of professional life in 2019. With a smartphone in the pocket of every colleague, subordinate and senior manager in your organisation, expansive email threads and the constant pinging of group chat notifications, there’s a myriad of potential diversions that will steal your attention and break your focus, while adding to your stress.
Last week, in partnership with global insurance corporation Cigna, we looked at some tell-tale signs you’re feeling stressed. Check out the Cigna 360° Well-being Survey for more local and international insights on stress. The second instalment of the four-part series will examine the always-on work culture, its ramifications and what we can do about it.
Tech is a tool, not a cause of stress:
Some experts believe that it’s not technology that’s to blame, but a workplace’s culture. “It’s technology in the hands of a workplace culture that doesn’t respect people’s time, and doesn’t appreciate the fact that we can’t do our best work by focusing only on what’s urgent – we also need time to focus on what’s important,” explains Nir Eyal, behavioural scientist and author of the books Hooked and Indistractable.
Eyal, who has consulted the likes of the New York Times and Microsoft to help them build more habit-forming, engaging products, adds, “When we have these office environments where people have a high amount of expectation on their output and yet they can’t control the outcome because their time is being managed constantly by the pings and dings of distraction or employees stopping by their desk or anything that takes them off-track… that’s very caustic and leads to burnout, depression and anxiety.”
Dr Saliha Afridi, Clinical Psychologist and Managing Director at The Lighthouse Centre for Wellbeing in Dubai, agrees. “By being on all the time we are not allowing the mind and body to do what it is meant to do, which is why we have the highest rates ever of people with anxiety, depression and burnout around the world.”
Working effectively in a fast-paced culture:
Meanwhile, Jerome Droesch, CEO of Cigna Middle East and North Africa, believes that most people have accepted being always online as a fact of life in a highly digitised, connected world – and that it’s even a badge of honour for many. “In a demanding, fast-paced business environment, this drive to be ever-present is not unfounded. In fact, it can easily be a symptom of growth and success, which begs the question – do companies really benefit from the trade-off between work and personal time?”
Eyal recommends some steps for getting back your focus – in and out of the workplace – and reducing the stress of distraction:
Master the internal triggers: “It’s not just external triggers, such as pings on your smartphone, that distract us from something. It’s because we feel bored but don’t know how to handle our boredom in a healthy manner. We have to understand why we’re uncomfortable, what we’re looking to escape from and then we can make time for traction.”
Prevent distractions with pacts: Instead of looking at your phone or chatting with colleagues whenever you get a group message or someone stops by your desk, set aside a fixed time in your day to respond to these distractions.
Hack back external triggers: “This is about removing the external triggers that don’t serve us.” One simple measure is banning smartphones from your bedroom. If it’s not right by your bedside, you’re less likely to burn precious time on it before falling asleep or as soon as you wake up. Sleep is crucial for mental health and well-being. At work, this could be as simple as silencing your smartphone or, if you work in an open office, putting a do not disturb sign on your monitor (Eyal actually provides a folded one with each copy of Indistactable, but you can download and print one out from here).
Make time for traction: One of the ways in which you can make yourself productive again is by using tech as a tool, not a distraction. Eyal recommends an app called Forest, available on iOS and Android. It’s pretty simple. When you’re ready to begin a round of focused work away from your phone, launch the app and tap to plant a virtual sapling. Over the period you’ve set, which can range from 10 to 120 minutes, the seedling will flourish into a tree. If you pick up your device and switch apps during this period, the tree dies. Over time, you’ll be able to survey an entire forest.
Cigna’s Stress Care initiative was launched to help raise awareness about the long-term impact of stress, and help reduce its prevalence in the UAE. Visitors to the Mall of the Emirates were able to see their live stress readings visualized in stunning colours through a Stress Portrait, thanks to Cigna’s collaboration with digital artist Sean Sullivan.
Passersby had their brain waves, heart rate and skin response measured to produce the portraits. After that, they were invited to develop their own Stress PLAN – identifying a Period of time to unwind, a Location that is stress-reducing, an Activity to enjoy and the Name of a person they can talk to.