Humans have always leveraged the technology available to us to work and produce more, often at the expense of fun and even sleep. Centuries ago, enterprising entrepreneurs would keep their oil lamp lit well into the evening -- they would “burn the midnight oil” -- to extend the day’s available working hours.
But today, perhaps more than ever, this drive also puts your productivity, happiness and even your health at risk. Instead of burning oil, you keep your smartphone at your bedside, ready to act on any buzz, beep or vibration during the night.
In one sense, you’re living in a better time than ever to be an entrepreneur -- you can get more done, in more places, with more portable tools and technologies than were available to any civilization before you. You can text a client while you’re standing in line for coffee. You can sign and fax a contract from the sidelines of your kid’s soccer game. And you can jump on a videoconference from your smartphone even while you’re on vacation. But are these technological advancements without risk?
Cary Cooper, a Lancaster University professor of organizational psychology and health, told the Associated Press that businesses’ HR departments today worry about losing good employees “to companies with better work/life balance, where they don't have to work 19-hour days.”
"But those are employees," you might be thinking. "I’m an entrepreneur -- wired to work long hours and to think about my business day and night."
Valid point. A 2013 small to medium business survey taken by cloud-services provider j2 Global found that entrepreneurs are working everywhere, all the time, and apparently okay with doing so. A third of respondents said they use five to 10 mobile apps every day to run their businesses. And a third claimed they’re most productive while commuting -- in the car or on the train.
But mounting evidence suggests that working always and everywhere could be disruptive to your productivity and health.
The National Sleep Foundation, for example, has found 60 percent of Americans don’t get enough sleep -- and one key reason given is that they’re working on their smartphones. Consider what a lack of sleep can mean -- depressed mood, irritability, lack of focus, stress and other health problems -- and you can see why it pays to unplug at night.
A recent Michigan State University study found people who monitored their mobile devices for business after 9 p.m. were more tired and less productive the following day.
And a Kansas State University study found overworking can lead to reduced well-being as measured by such factors as skipping meals and self-reported depression levels.
So how do you pull back from work, and be happy about it?
Take time to decompress. Ever notice that sometimes while reading a book or article, you’ll stop on an interesting idea, look up from the page and spend a few moments processing it? It’s in between your stints of reading that you truly absorb the valuable information.
Give yourself regular breaks throughout the day -- even just a few minutes. You’ll improve your overall well-being, and you’ll also often find in the quiet that new ideas are able to break through.
Let technology do some heavy lifting. If that smartphone is going to ding, beep and buzz at you all day with tasks and reminders, let it also take on some of the work. Subscribe to a virtual phone solution, and let a virtual assistant professionally answer and route your calls -- so you can truly unplug knowing your clients are still receiving great service.
Find some flow! Unplugging from work does not mean watching television. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of the book Flow, has found that a key to happiness is finding activities that fully engage us, have clear rules and provide immediate feedback -- playing chess, rock climbing, playing the piano, learning a new language -- what he calls “flow” activities.
When you unplug from work, don’t plop yourself in front of the TV. Find non-work activities that engage you as much as your business does. The benefits to your health and happiness can be significant.