Disconnect, Do Less, Get More Done: How Strategically Disconnecting Can Actually Make You More Productive

Unplugging every once in a while is necessary. Image courtesy of Huffington Post


In today’s technology-focused culture, being connected 24/7 is the expectation. Answering emails from your bed first thing in the morning, mindlessly scrolling through Facebook for hours every day, and getting pulled out of the moment to answer a text message—whether you’re working on an important project, spending time with your family, or pursuing a personal hobby—is the norm.


This all-technology-all-the-time approach to work and life might make you feel like you’re getting more done, but the truth is, being glued to screens all day—and jumping back and forth between email, texts, and social media—can actually deliver a huge blow to your productivity. If you want to actually get more done, the best thing you can do for yourself?




It might sound counterintuitive, but carving out the time to (strategically) disconnect from devices, social media, and work can actually boost productivity and help you get more done in less time—freeing up that time to focus on the things that are important to you, whether that’s spending more time with your kids or squeezing in an extra hour at the gym.


But why is 24/7 connectivity such a productivity killer? How is all this time connected negatively affecting your work (and your life)? And how can you strategically disconnect to get more done?


How the 24/7 connected culture is sinking productivity


Before we dive into how disconnecting can help you get more done, let’s first talk about how being connected all the time can stop you from getting things done.


Multitasking: the enemy of productivity


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Email notifications.


Text messages.


Social media alerts.


When you’re connected 24/7, there’s always something competing for your attention—and all those competing demands are a complete barrier to getting things done. Productivity needs focus and attention to flourish—and if you’re spending your time bouncing from answering emails to responding to text messages to scrolling through your Instagram feed, you’ll never have the focus or attention you need to actually get things done.


There are scientific reasons behind why trying to do too many things at once—also known as multitasking—is such a productivity killer. First, you’re much more likely to make mistakes when you’re multitasking instead of focusing your attention on a single task. Your brain was built to focus on one thing at a time—you’re the most efficient when both sides of the prefrontal cortex (the area of the brain responsible for focus and attention) work together to accomplish a task. When you add more than one task into the mix—so, for example, when you’re working on a project but stop to answer an email—it forces the two sides of the brain to work independently and greatly increases the likelihood of mistakes (and the more tasks you introduce, the more at risk you are for mistakes—a recent study from Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale (INSERM) found that participants made three times as many errors when asked to perform three tasks simultaneously than when attempting two tasks). The more mistakes you make, the more time it takes you to get things done—and the less productive you’ll be.


Not only does multitasking make it more likely that you’ll make a mistake, it also makes you less efficient overall. When you move from task to task, your brain has to switch gears and acclimate to each new task. And that gear switching takes time—a lot of it, in fact. A study from UC Irvine found that it takes the average office worker a whopping 25 minutes to return to the original task after an interruption—which means that every time you break from a project to answer an email or check Facebook, it takes almost a half hour to get back to your level of productivity. Factor in that, thanks to our 24/7 connected culture, most workers get interrupted every 11 minutes, and you can see why multitasking is a major detriment to efficiency—and, as a result, productivity.


Social media: draining your time and energy


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One of the biggest hindrances to productivity that comes from the 24/7 connectivity lifestyle? Social media.


While social media used to be a fun way to interact with friends and family, it’s now become this generation’s biggest time suck and productivity killer. The average amount of time spent on social media has skyrocketed in recent years; in 2017, the average amount of time users spent scrolling and posting on social media hit 135 minutes a day. That’s over 2 hours—or a quarter of the average workday in the US.


And all that time on social media isn’t doing good things for you. Social media can have a seriously negative impact on your mental health, increasing your risk for anxiety, depression, and feelings of isolation—not exactly a formula for getting things done.


Too much screen time = not enough sleep


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Not only does too much connected time affect your mental health—it affects your physical health, too. Too much time spent in front of screens, especially in the hours before bed (like checking your email one last time before your head hits the pillow), can wreak havoc on your sleep patterns.


Your phone (or laptop, or tablet, or computer) screen emits blue light, and that blue light inhibits the production of melatonin, the sleep-inducing hormone, making it harder to fall and stay asleep. Studies show the more time you spend in front of a screen, the less sleep you get. And the less sleep you get, the harder it is to focus the next day—and the harder it will be to get things done as a result.


Clearly, this expectation to be connected 24/7 is doing a lot more to hurt productivity than help it. So what’s the solution?


Why disconnecting is the key to getting more done


Being connected 24/7 is having a seriously negative impact on productivity. So how do you battle the connectivity monster and get more done?


By disconnecting, of course.


Your brain needs downtime to rest and recover in order to perform at its highest level and do things like form new memories, process experiences, and come up with solutions to problems. But all the time you’re spending staring at a screen is depriving your brain of that much-needed downtime—and making you less productive as a result.


If you want to get more done, you actually need to disconnect more. While it might feel like you’re being unproductive when you turn off your cell phone, that time spent away from a screen and away from trying to keep up with the demands of the 24/7 connectivity culture will give your brain the rest the downtime it needs to get things done quickly, efficiently, and creatively.


Tips for strategically disconnecting and boosting productivity


So, when it comes to disconnecting, you’re probably thinking “easier said than done.” And you’re right—if you’re accustomed to the 24/7 connectivity lifestyle, strategically disconnecting is going to take a bit of getting used to. But once you’re in the swing of things—and once you see the effect disconnecting has on your work, your life, and your productivity—you’re going to be wondering why you ever felt the need to be so connected in the first place.


Here are some of our top tips for strategically disconnecting to boost productivity and get more done—and feel better than you ever thought possible in the process:


No screen time before 9…


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The way you start your day is the way you move through your day—so if you start off your day connected, you’re going to spend the rest of your day connected, too.


Make it a rule to ban any screens—including phones, laptops, and tablets—before 9am (or whatever time in the morning you typically start your workday). Instead of spending those precious morning hours responding to emails or checking social media, spend that time giving your brain a rest from all that screen time and engaging in the activities that are most meaningful to you (whether that’s reading a new book, cooking breakfast for your family, or going for a run).


(For more on why you shouldn’t spend your morning hours staring at a screen—and how it can completely tank your productivity—check out this article, which features insights from Google’s former Design Ethicist, Tristan Harris).


…or after 9


Image via MyFitnessPal


Setting a cut-off time for being connected in the evening can help you stay away from blue-light emitting screens, which will help you sleep better—and be more productive the next day as a result. And taking time in the evening to disconnect from the digital world—and work, in particular—can also help you feel less stressed out and more relaxed. As Michael Woodward, PhD, organizational psychologist and author of “The YOU Plan,” says in this article, “The last thing you need is to be lying in bed thinking about an email you just read from that overzealous boss who spends all their waking hours coming up with random requests driven by little more than a momentary impulse.”


Turn off notifications


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When you’re at work, you have to be connected—at least to a certain degree. But if you want to spend your workday actually getting things done—instead of reacting to all the emails/text messages/other demands on your time—you need to find a way to minimize distractions.


And the way to do that? Turn off your notifications (when asked to share his #1 productivity tip, AppSumo founder Noah Kagan said “Turn off all notifications for your apps.”)


It’s hard to get things done when your phone is buzzing every three minutes with a new text message or you get a new email notification on your computer. By turning off those notifications (and only responding to texts, emails, and social media messages at predetermined times) you can devote your time, energy, and focus to the projects that really matter—and get a heck of a lot more done in the process.


Take a break and get outside


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If you’re struggling to get things done during the day, take a break, leave the screens behind, and get outside. Studies show that getting outside can help enhance creativity—and that boost to creativity can be exactly what you need to look at your work with a fresh set of eyes, find creative solutions, and get more done during the day.


When he loses focus, Productivity Giant (and USA Memory Champion) Nelson Dellis makes it a point to get up and get outside—the fresh air and change of scenery helps him regain his focus (and get back on the path to productivity).


Try “No Screen Saturdays”



Scheduling small periods of disconnection throughout the day is effective—but if you want to take it up a notch, try scheduling a large chunk of time away from technology. “No Screen Saturdays” (or Sundays, or Fridays, or whatever day works best for you), a favorite of the uber-productive Tim Ferriss, gives your brain a full 24 hours to disconnect, rest, and recharge—and when you do jump back into the world of connection the next day, you’ll feel refreshed, rejuvenated, and ready to tackle any challenges work (and life!) throws your way.


It might sound counterintuitive, but the key to boosting productivity and getting more done in less time isn’t being connected 24/7—it’s strategically disconnecting to give yourself the time and space you need to perform at your highest level. So what are you waiting for? Put down your phone, walk away from your computer, and get out there and disconnect!