One of the great things about the digital lifestyle is that you’re always connected. One of the terrible things about the digital lifestyle is also that you’re always connected. When you’re committed to your work, there’s no getting away, sometimes even when you’re away, unless you make a concerted effort to unplug. Work-life balance? Ha, nonexistent, in spite of the growing realization that being available 24/7 isn’t healthy no matter how much pressure you’re under to keep all of your plates in the air and spinning.
In France, a new law gives workers a new right to disconnect. Companies with more than 50 employees are now legally obligated to draw up a plan that specifies these off-limits times. France is the second country to make such a move, following up on Germany’s 2014 edict that managers may not email or call employees after hours.
Without a legal remedy, it’s up to the individual to simply insist on some digital detox time for themselves and, if they’re savvy managers, for their staffs as well. Vogue recently spoke to three successful people who’ve made staying healthy and sane a priority.
Arianna Huffington, founder of Huffington Post, realized the importance of protecting herself from burnout after she collapsed due to exhaustion in 2007. “We’ve reached a point where technology has outpaced our capacity to manage the speed at which we’re progressing,” she tells Vogue. Since that crisis, she’s been immersed in the discovery and creation of tools to establish healthier, happier boundaries. She recently launched a website, Thrive Global, that’s mission is to redefine success to include wellness.
A crucial element to attaining wellness is what Huffington calls “sacred time” away from her phone. She says these pauses in the action ultimately lead to better decision-making, better relationships, and better health. Huffington keeps the phone out of her line of sight when she’s with loved ones or working on something, and her device goes to bed a half hour before she does. “We’ve learned that your day starts the night before — meaning getting enough sleep is essential to how we start our day.”
Singer is Vogue.com’s creative director, and her method involves unplugging in small ways throughout her day. For one thing, she engages in certain regular activities, like biking to and from work, that provide excuses to be off the grid. She puts her devices and earbuds away and just concentrates on what she’s doing at that moment. She tells Vogue, “I think you have to make spaces in your life where you just can’t be reached.” At home she has no WiFi, which keeps the digital noise to a minimum. “I have my phone, but if I need to download a video or read a document at length, I have to go to the lobby of my building or to the café on the corner. What that means is, I’m not watching television in my house and my children can’t stream anything. That gives your mind a break from input.”
Khajak Keledjian, the founder of Intermix, has a profoundly simple idea at the heart of his digital detox regimen: be present. “When you do something, you might as well do it 100 percent. If you’re eating, eat 100 percent. Eat well, digest it well, do it mindfully. I ask myself, Am I doing this meaningfully or just for the hell of it?” This simple commitment to the moment has helped him and has had a positive effect on his employees because, as he tells Vogue, “wellness trickles down from the top.” Keledjian considers his solution so powerful that he’s launched a Manhattan meditation studio and app called Inscape. (Escape inward, get it?)
Of course, you’re not the only one who has to guard against burnout — your employees are at risk too. Why not consider establishing “unplug” times, as other companies including Volkswagen have done? Talk to your staff about what you can do to keep them healthy and happy. German carmaker Daimler even gives employees the option of simply deleting all emails that arrive while they’re on vacation instead of sending out an away message in order to reduce the jolt of returning to work.
And, of course, you can lead by example too. Just make sure everyone knows that they’re welcome to follow yours.