No matter who you are today, whether you are a student, teacher, parent, employee, or employer - most of your days are tied to a device. How much time would you estimate your device usage has increased from just a year ago? I think for most of us, it would be more than a 50% increase. My nine year old son spends his whole day on a Chromebook with his teacher and class. There are built in breaks, but guess what his first choice for that break time is? YouTube. Now, I can’t fault him - I find myself sitting in front of my laptop far more than I ever had before, and I am currently on leave from my job to help my children while their school does fully remote learning. So I am not working, and I am still drawn to my devices. SIDE NOTE: I drag him off the computer as often as I can, but it isn’t easy.
I was reminded recently of an experiment I ran three years ago with my student leaders to monitor their phone usage, after noticing an increase in their phone usage. One thing I remember that had a big impact on my phone usage was changing my phone background to black and white. Surprisingly, it reduced my screen time, but I couldn’t sustain it (I missed the colors for some silly game). I am curious: With all this additional screen time, are we attending to our self care needs?
I know I am not doing my best, are you?
Why is it so hard to work on ourselves with this change in our medium of work? I am going into a little crossover with my chemistry background here (you’ll still be able to follow - I promise). The draw of our screen requires far less activation energy than putting on our sneakers and going for a walk.
I used to find a friend and colleague to go for a 20 min walk every day. The conversations during those walks provided me with so much - an opportunity to move my body, a new environment, a chance to share ideas and challenges with a trusted friend, and time to see the challenges from a different perspective. In hindsight, I consider those walks the highlight of my work day, and the best way to collaborate. It was often hard to think I had 20 minutes to go for the walk, because my “to-do list” was so long. It was easy to feel the tug of that list, but the time I lost in that walk resulted in a monumental gain in my energy and motivation. If I didn’t go for a walk, I would have done 20 minutes of work, and would likely have regretted not going for the walk and having time to chat. The “activation energy” required to get me from behind my desk strengthened my ability to get more done.
I miss that opportunity, but I am writing this to remind you of the importance of a few things; you need to get out from behind the screen, you need to connect with others, you need to move your body.
These three things are incredibly important to our physical and mental health. I am not sure I see this trend going away - we are spending more time behind screens, so we must actively remind ourselves to attend to our self care. All leaders must care for others: teammates, students, children, and employees - they all equally depend on the leaders in their lives, and I am confident you likely fall into one or more of these roles, either as a leader or part of the team. You need to be strong in order to help your team thrive.
There are a lot of other self care activities we can talk about, but this one is so important, I wanted to just take a minute to share how just this one change can impact so much of your self care. Modeling this behavior for our students, children, and teammates helps others make the same positive choices in their own self care.
Go for a walk!