Do you sometimes get annoyed if people message you when you’re busy? If you can’t help getting distracted by your devices, it’s easy to blame technology for wasting your time, or even daydream about going on a ‘digital diet’. But not letting tech take over our lives isn’t a question of whether we use it, it’s a question of how we use it. Here are some tips to turn tech into a tool to help you be happier and healthier.
An addiction to social media isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Social media allows you to connect with people across geographies and industries, so you can easily leverage different platforms to meet great people and expand your network. After all, studies have demonstrated that you really are who you surround yourself with – experiments have shown that both happiness and healthy habits spread through social networks. Next time you read a great article on the Internet, don’t just share it with your friends – look up the authors, follow them on social media, and publish a brief shout-out to them. After that, you can send the author a personal message thanking them for the article and reiterating what you enjoyed about it.
One of the biggest breakthroughs of modern technology is the growing accessibility of self-tracking devices, which can help you optimise your health goals and keep track of your progress. The easiest ways to get valuable insights into your fitness and nutrition habits are using a device like a caliper to measure body fat percentage and going on SELF Nutrition data to track the nutritional value of the food you eat. Still can’t find the motivation to work out or resist sugary snacks? Join BodySpace to share your progress with other members and keep yourself accountable to your fitness goals. And if you need an extra boost next time you’re on a treadmill, go on Spotify and find some upbeat tracks. Listening to music while you exercise has proven benefits, such as making you less aware of physical discomfort, lifting your mood and pushing you to work out harder.
Research and technological breakthroughs around sleep can vastly improve the quality of your shut-eye. You’ve probably heard that staring at a bright screen before going to bed could be what’s keeping you awake. The explanation for that is that the light from the screen suppresses the production of melatonin, a sleep-regulating hormone. The solution? If you need to use your laptop at night, use F.lux - a great piece of software which automatically dims your display at night.
If you’re waking up groggy every morning, it may be that your alarm is waking you up just before you’ve completed a full sleep cycle. Use a wearable device such as a Fitbit to collect data about your sleep, including how much deep and REM sleep you’re getting and how long it takes you to fall asleep. The app Sleepcycle will provide similar data and wake you up at the lightest moment of sleep.
The state of flow is critical to wellbeing, and yet we can only go into flow if we’re focused. Research has shown that task-switching can reduce productivity by up to 40 per cent, and the ubiquity of real-time communication often means that distractions abound throughout the day. So how can you go into flow when it’s so hard to stay focused between onslaughts of emails and texts?
There are a few simple tricks to help you do one thing at a time. If you tend to open dozens of tabs every time you use your computer, you’re setting yourself up for distraction and time-wasting. To prevent this, use OneTab to convert all your tabs into a list. As well as reducing clutter, this extension backs up your tabs and saves up to 95 per cent of memory. Spending too much time on certain websites could also be preventing you from going into flow.
Constantly checking email has been shown to increase stress levels, so try only checking email three times a day – this habit has been shown to have significant benefits for wellbeing. Social media platforms are another source of distraction. You can use extensions such as StayFocusd or Rescue Time to block certain websites. Finally, before you start focused work, schedule several hours without meetings or calls on your calendar and put your phone on airplane mode.
Studies suggest that learning and education make us happier. If you still aren’t convinced, consider this: scientists have discovered that our brains retain a degree of plasticity well into adulthood, and learning new skills literally rewires the brain by stimulating the production of neurons. Learning a new language, for instance, increases cognitive function, and bilingual individuals have been shown to be better at avoiding distractions and exercising self-control. With technology, it’s never been easier to learn new things. You don’t need to move to a different country to reap the benefits of language learning: use Duolingo to learn new vocabulary and listen to songs in another language while you’re driving to work or making breakfast. There are also ways to stimulate your brain with tech that don’t involve learning a new language like listening to audiobooks on Audible, and reading books on any device with the Kindle app.