Step away from the gadgets and nobody will get hurt

Smartphones and tablets tap into the vast information superhighway, and the lure to always be doing that is very powerful.

Image: CNET

The scene: any restaurant in any town. Two or more folks are sitting at a table, not saying a word. They all have a smartphone in hand, tapping or swiping on the screen, totally ignoring one another.

You've almost certainly seen this more than once, maybe even today. Odds are you've been in that group staring at the phone, instead of interacting with those around you.

The lure of always being connected to work, the web, and acquaintances other than the ones you happen to be with, is great. There's a vast amount of information out there and the thought of being disconnected from it, even for a short while, makes you uncomfortable. So, you always have a tablet or phone in hand, even when you should be relaxing.

It does little good to leave the office for a lunch break and to spend the entire time handling work stuff on the gadget at hand.

This is common, and it's eroding the ability that many have to disengage from work. Whether the gadget at hand is supplied by the employer, one in a BYOD program, or a purely personal device, it's constantly connecting the user to the job.

I'll bet most folks are actively handling work tasks more hours than ever before. Maybe it's to read and respond to an email from a coworker, return a text message, or look at the latest financial spreadsheet. Whatever the activity, it is causing thoughts to shift back to work instead of focussing on the leisure activity at hand.

It's common sense that it's wise to take frequent breaks from work during the day. It lets the body, and more importantly the mind, recharge by standing down from the pressures of work. Just a few minutes away from the problems and stress of work-related activities can go a long way to allowing both the body and mind to relax and escape.

In addition to work breaks, it's more important to step away from the tablet or phone during off hours. It does little good to leave the office for a lunch break and to spend the entire time handling work stuff on the gadget at hand.

The lunch break should be spent relaxing and getting away from the job, not continuing to work.

After work hours it's crucial to do the same, put the phone down when out with family and friends. Talk to them about anything but work. Escape from the rat race when provided an opportunity to do so. No email, texts, nor surfing the web. Take advantage of the down time to give your mind a good recharge. This will pay bigger dividends in the long run than any benefits gotten through working all of those extra hours.

The following rules can go a long way to helping relax instead of working:

  • No phone or tablet in hand when out with others. No exceptions.

  • When dining alone, no working on a phone or tablet. Reading novels is fine, but that's it.

  • Ignore notifications for incoming email, social media updates, and text messages when dining or taking a break.

Following these guidelines can help anyone get much needed down time. It won't be easy to break old habits, it may take a strong effort to disengage from work and the web. The only sure way to do it is to step away from the gadgets and enjoy life regularly.

As ZDNet's Jason Perlow says , keeping one's attention on a gadget can steal moments that will be lost forever. That's very true, and just as importantly it prevents giving the mind a much needed rest.

Don't just take a vacation break once a year, take little breaks whenever possible. And keep the gadget out of your hand when you do.

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