Disconnect from your phone! A New Year’s Resolution Every Asian Should Take to Heart

Happy New Year everyone!I hope you all had a restful holiday.

I for one am ready to get going in 2015 and have my resolution picked out. I know some people–especially at my age–think resolutions are lame and antiquated, but I beg to differ. Resolutions are a great way to get energized and motivate oneself for healthy life changes.

My resolution this year, as it has been every single year since college, is to be more awesome. And so far, I have never failed—except in 2005, the year of eternal darkness. 2005 was the year of the monkey, who is a great enemy to pigs, my animal spirit (I was born in 1984). Anyways, I don’t talk about 2005 anymore; I turned 21 that year…

In order to achieve greater awesomeness, I have specifically resolved to disconnect my work email from my smartphone. I know what you’re thinking, “OMG. O.M.F.G. How can a man who works at a non-profit afford a smartphone?” Relax y’alls. It’s a Windows Phone.

Now-a-days, everyone talks about how kids are always on their phones. What adults don’t realize is that we’re exactly the same way! But instead of using our phones to Snapchat, Tweet or play Candy Crush, we use them to work. As if I don’t get enough of work at work.

There’s been a lot of talk in America about a dangerous trend toward overworking, especially in regards to white-collar workers and exempt staff who don’t punch cards to track their hours. Many conversations I’ve had with my Asian peers anecdotally confirm this trend. “I just got scheduled to another meeting this evening.” “My boss keeps emailing me at 2 am.” “My inbox has over a thousand emails!”

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I too have felt the constant need to work from my phone. Though it’s hard to pinpoint exactly how or why, I believe it is a product of cultural norms and external expectations. Things like having to be the highest achieving student later translated into being the highest achieving worker. Others might say that Asians have a culture of obedience, which frankly, I don’t really buy. We Asians can be very vocal and opinionated when we want to be. Besides, everyone is working more! Not just Asians.

Motherjones.com provided an excellent summary on this topic. Here’s some pretty alarming data.

  • 60% of smartphone-using professionals kept in touch with work for a full 13.5 hours per day, and then spent another 5 hours juggling work email each weekend. That’s 72 hours a week of job-related contact.
  • 68% checked work email before 8 a.m., 50% checked it while in bed, and 38% “routinely” did so at the dinner table.
  • People who make more than $75,000 per year are more likely to fret that their phone makes it impossible for them to stop thinking about work.

Unfortunately, the result isn’t increased productivity—just the illusion of it. The reality is we’re inundated with more distractions and stress than ever. In my own work, I’m finding it harder to focus on tasks and projects when a new email is interrupting my workflow every minute. Most of them aren’t even important. Most of them are useless bulk cc’s from other people and annoying mailing lists.

I’m learning that a smartphone, while amazing, is also draining my energy. A smartphone has increased my volume of work, but not necessarily the quality. It has allowed me to extend my work day up to 24 hours, and even send  emoticons too, like 🙂 and :p. So not only did others see me working more, but they also thought I was happier doing it. That’s a recipe for burnout. Technology has made our work increasingly flexible and mobile; yet this same technology has also increased our overall workload. Because we’re now able to literally carry work in our pockets 24/7, we have also felt compelled to work 24/7.

I admit, I didn’t mind the constant connection at first. I love what I do and am grateful to have the opportunity. In fact, a good day work actually gives me energy. But overtime, I have come to realize that it’s not the only thing I love doing. Spending time with my friends and family, playing sports, camping…all of these activities give me energy too, as well as wonderful memories.

I fully admit that work, for some people, has evolved beyond the traditional 9-5. Some people are most productive at night, others in the mornings. And that’s great. I personally prefer the 10-6 schedule. But again, this doesn’t mean we have to work every single waking hour or minute just because the phone is in our pockets. There are more important things we can put in our pockets…like quarters, chewing gums, hands and puppies.

While I may have made a conscious decision to disconnect in my own life, all around me I have colleagues, peers and partners who haven’t. So there’s still that external expectation and pressure to immediately reply emails. This needs to move beyond an individual decision. As employers, we also need to recalibrate our standards and expectations in order to create a new norm for all of our staff.

The bottom line is: you should disconnect anytime you’re not at work.

***

It’s been two weeks since I have disconnected my work email from the phone and it’s felt like walking on sunshine. I’ve danced with bartenders in pubs, enjoyed fireside chats by the ocean, and received a $50 Olive Garden gift card from my mom. Who knew disconnecting from work could bring so much happiness? To be fair, it was the just holidays and many folks were out, so only time will tell. But I’m feeling pretty confident that my work and personal life won’t fall into ruins because of being disconnected.

OR…

Maybe I’m wrong and shit will hit the fan tomorrow. If this happens, then I will quickly reconnect my work email to my phone, sincerely apologize to all I have hurt by my actions, and promise to make better life decisions moving forward.

How about everyone else out there? How do you achieve separation from work?

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