Unplug for a Day

Photo: Xjono

Let’s Unplug

There is a growing movement to support each other in taking a technology break.  Why?

  • 79% of people admit technology distracts them from connecting with each other. – Lasting app, 2018
  • 98% can’t seem to get through the day without at least being interrupted a few times. – RescueTime 2018
  • 99% of people still use their phones as an alarm clock. – Bagby, 2018

These numbers represent only a tiny snapshot of the alarming statistics emerging from research reports across the world.  The main point is, the unintended consequences of technology overuse result in addiction, eroding human connection and brain damage.

We can change this!  A baby step includes joining a National Day of Unplugging.  If you are in Canada, join the Canadian National Day of Unplugging on March 5-6, 2021, from 6pm March 5 to 6pm March 6.  MindEQuity has partnered with the Unplugged Collaborative to spread awareness and increase wellbeing for all participants.

If you are in the Greater Toronto Area, the first 120 people to sign up receive a free cell phone sleeping bag, designed by Jessica Tully.

Days of Unplugging

The first National Day of Unplugging launched in the United States in 2009.  Reboot, a Jewish arts and culture non-profit joined another community group who was gathering for tech-free Shabbat dinners.  They inspired thousands of community partners to create local unplugged events.  

For 24 hours, August 1-2, 2020, there was even a Global Day of Unplugging.  People from all over the world connected via a global sign off through a candle lighting ceremony. 

Yesterday, I spoke with Kim Cavallo who is now leading the Unplugged Collaborative.  She shared with me that the movement continues to grow.  So far, over 200,000 have participated in events which are organized through local hosts. Local organizers include non-profits, schools, religious institutions and businesses. 

Help Your Phones Sleep, Help You Sleep

When you put your phones in a cell phone sleeping bag, outside of your bedroom, you are taking a step to improve your sleep and long-term wellbeing.  A Harvard study* revealed that that there are six main reasons to get your phone out of the bedroom:

  1. It will take you longer to fall asleep
  2. It will mess with and delay your circadian clock rhythm
  3. It will suppress your melatonin secretion when you need it most
  4. It will decrease your REM sleep
  5. It will make you more alert when you want to wind down
  6.  You will feel more tired and less alert when you wake up

“Evening use of light-emitting eReaders negatively affects sleep, circadian timing, and next morning alertness.” Anne-Marie Chang, Daniel Aeschbach, Jeanne F. Duffy, and Charles A. Czeisler

Choose Effectiveness Over Efficiency

Photo: Nick Fewings

“Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things.” 

– Peter Drucker, management guru

In November, I posted an article about why you can focus better when you are aligned with your purpose. Today’s article is related, diving into the difference between effectiveness and efficiency.

Your level of effectiveness depends largely on how inspired you are. If you are already clear about your higher purpose, you have inspiration to draw from. Also, if the leader of your team or organization is inspiring, the road to effectiveness is clear.

When we are able to focus, we are also effective.

Effective vs. Efficient
Are you a human being or a human doing? In today’s fast-paced world of immediate response and digital noise, we may find ourselves acting more like machines or “human doings”.
How do you wish to be as a human being, effective or efficient? You may answer that you would like to be both but I challenge you to consider putting more energy into effectiveness.
Why? Effective is a quality of being and often relates to people. (Of course a COVID vaccine can also be effective, something we are all hoping for these days.)
As leaders, we manage things as well as people. This is where the nuance arises. We strive to manage things efficiently but it is important to manage or lead people effectively. This is because,

“People, like nails, lose their effectiveness when they lose direction and begin to bend.”

-Walter Savage Landor, British poet

Effective means producing a decided, decisive, or desired effect. An effect is impressive or striking. (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

Effective is the ability to be successful and produce the intended results; the quality of being successful in achieving what is wanted. (Cambridge Dictionary)

Efficient means being capable of producing desired results with little or no waste, in terms of time or materials. (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

Efficient means working or operating quickly and in an organized way; using resources such as time, materials, or energy well without wasting any. (Cambridge Dictionary)

Inspiration and Effectiveness

In his book, The Spark, the Flame and the Torch, Dr. Lance Secretan teaches us that inspiration is the source of exceptional effectiveness. He defines effective as,

“Achieving desired outcomes successfully – to reach the goals we have set for ourselves, whether on the spiritual, mental or physical levels.”

When we are inspired, being effective requires almost no effort. When we are inspired, we operate in a state of flow which happens to be a state of extreme focus.

In summary, know your purpose, be inspired and inspiring to others. Effectiveness will naturally result, without sacrificing wellbeing.

Organizations Can Create Conditions for Productivity with Wellbeing


Photo: Andreas Klassen

A recent article in The New Yorker Magazine reveals new ideas on how to improve knowledge worker productivity. I agree that a more organization-driven approach is needed, without constraining the benefits of autonomy gained in remote work.

We need to move away from our flawed commitment to personal productivity….We must acknowledge the futility of trying to tame our frenzied work lives all on our own and instead, ask, collectively, whether there’s a better way to get things done.”

Cal Newport, Professor of Computer Science, Georgetown University


Productivity and Work

Productivity is very much an inhuman term, equating a person to a machine.  It is referred to as an “output per unit of labor” or the “rate at which goods are produced.”  In the industrial age, most work was manual, performed alongside machines in factories.  At the end of the 19th century, employers looked at the physical movements of workers to find time and cost reductions. They viewed employees as the extension of machines that could be optimized.

In the 1950s there was a shift from manual labor to more cognitive work.  In 1999, Peter Drucker, famous for studying the operations of General Motors, noted that knowledge workers in North America outnumber manual workers by about four to one.

Email Arrives

The 1990s brought a flood of emails into work.  At first, email seemed to be a wonderful tool for productivity.  However, it caused us to engage in new behaviors we never signed up for.  All of a sudden we were allowed to bother our co-workers and bosses at any time.  We accepted the constant barrage of tasks, questions, and invitations from our bosses and co-workers as well.  This behavior is still with us today!

A new, unwritten definition of productivity became: number of emails written and responded to.  We felt getting to an inbox of zero was a great achievement.  Soon we realized that email was also a great source of stress.  Maybe it was not as productive as we thought.

As a result, the personal productivity movement was created by David Allen, author of the popular book, Getting Things Done, in 2003.  Merlin Mann, author of the famous 2004 blog, 43 folders, championed Getting things Done.  Mann also created the InboxZero method, made famous after his talk on the subject was posted on YouTube.

From Productivity to Creative Work

A few years later, around 2007, Mr. Mann lost his enthusiasm for personal productivity.  Instead, he became interested in “finding the time and attention to do your best creative work.”  It is our best creative work that creates value and allows us to fulfill our purpose.

In 2016, Cal Newport’s important book, Deep Work, sheds light on how knowledge workers can create value in the 21st century.  In his view, they must be able to “work creatively with intelligent machines as well as be a star in their field”.  To do that, they need the ability to “quickly master hard things” AND “produce at an elite level, in terms of both quality and speed.

Newport states that these two abilities depend on a knowledge worker’s capacity to perform Deep Work which he defines as,

“Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push cognitive capabilities to the limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.“


Responsibility for Productivity is Organizational

So, is the knowledge worker personally responsible for his/her productivity?  To an extent, yes, personal habits are in the individual’s control, especially if we work mostly alone.  

However, if we are part of a team or larger organization, we cannot control the levels of unstructured communication coming at us. This flood of unprioritized information causes stress, cognitive overload, and overwhelming, especially if we are “always on and connected.”So, back to Cal Newport’s New Yorker article from November 2020.  Below I summarize a list of action steps, supported by quotes from the article on the main points related to the organization’s responsibility for productivity.


    1. Stop Haphazard Work Organization.The fundamental problem is the insidiously haphazard way work unfolds at the organizational level.”
    2. Accept that Productivity is Collective.Productivity can never be entirely personal.  It must be connected to a system that we can study, analyze and improve.”
    3. New Tech is Not the Solution.Many organizations claim to be interested in productivity, but they almost always pursue it by introducing new technology tools – in a piecemeal fashion.”
    4. Leaders Can Seek Holistic Change. “The idea of large-scale interventions that might replace the mess of unstructured messaging with a more structured set of procedures is rarely considered.”
    5. Don’t Micromanage. Do Make Clear Rules. “If I am a computer programmer, I might not want my manager telling me how to solve a coding problem, but I would welcome clear-cut rules that limit the ability of other divisions to rope me into endless meetings or demand responses to never-ending urgent messages.”
    6. Structure the Day for Creative Skilled Work.Introduce processes that minimize the time required to talk about work or fight off random tasks flung our way by equally harried co-workers, and instead let us organize our days around a small number of discrete objectives.”
    7. Apply Management Intervention.  “Ask hard questions about how work is getting done. Make it easier to figure out who is working on what, and how it’s going.

Productivity in COVID

In this pandemic, the problems outlined above got worse and became even more obvious.  It is not morally correct for employers to allow the inadvertent extortion of hard-working employees. Now there is pandemic induced anxiety and uncertainty that is only increasing. Work and home life are blurred. Childcare and school are often in our home offices too.  We are all Zoomed out and forever connected to our screens.

It is not possible to manage productivity on an individual level.  Collective efforts are needed.  Management and organizational support is a must.

Protect and Harness Attention

I say thank you to Cal Newport for making such a clear case that organizations have an opportunity and the responsibility to protect and harness organizational attention.

“The benefits of top-down interventions designed to protect both attention and autonomy could be significant,” writes Newport.

Digital Wellness in the Time of COVID


Photo Dimitri Karastelev

 “CoronaVirus ended the screen time debate. Screens won,” Nellie Bowles, New York Times.

In Lockdown Again

It is the end of November 2020 and many of us just started another stretch of isolation as lockdown rules were newly imposed.  On top of that, winter is beginning in Canada. Sitting or eating outside is a bit chilly.  Believe me, I tried having a birthday breakfast with a friend and we lasted about 30 minutes, despite blankets and coffee!

This means we are back to our indoor, home offices with screens looming and Zoom meetings beckoning.  Some researchers are reporting that screen addiction has become the third-largest epidemic in the past 50 years, following closely behind sugar and smoking addiction. But just because a New York Times article said that screens are winning over humans, does not mean this has to be true.  

We can do something about this and become the masters of our tools again.  Welcome to the world of digital wellbeing and digital wellness.  There is a wide array of new products and services available and new developments are growing.

What is Digital Wellbeing or Digital Wellness?

Six years after the launch of the first iPhone, the term digital detox appeared in the Cambridge dictionary.  Their definition is,

a period of time during which you do not use mobile phones, computers, etc., because you usually use these devices too much.”

Digital wellbeing does not appear to be in a dictionary….. yet.  It is a Google program, an Android app, and a TikTok feature. 

Dr. Paul Marsden, psychologist at the University of the Arts London, UK, defined it as

a state of personal wellbeing experienced through the healthy use of digital technology.”

Digital wellness is defined in various ways:

“Digital wellness is all about keeping a balance between your online life and your real life. You have to maintain both online and offline connections to satisfy all your psycho-social needs.” – Jason M. Kingdon, Boldfish

“Digital wellness refers to the state of one’s physical and mental health in the Digital Age. More specifically, digital wellness refers to preventative measures aimed at regulating and improving the healthy use of technology.  Reducing one’s activity on Facebook or monitoring time spent on a smartphone are just two examples of improving one’s digital wellness.” – Novel Co-working

Digital wellness is emerging as a new industry. This is evidenced by new organizations and initiatives including

  • The National Institute for Digital Health and Wellness
  • The Digital Wellness Institute 
  • The Global Wellness Institute’s Digital Wellness Initiative
  • BBC Digital Wellbeing Initiative

“We aim to develop a framework to understand how core human values, underpinned by psychological drivers and innate needs, are prioritised by people across different stages of their lives. In doing so, we hope to help the BBC create experiences that are relevant to audiences across these changing situations and contexts.” – BBC

The 2020 Digital Wellness Report

Bagby.co, a U.S. based digital wellness company, creates products that increase human connection by reducing screen time.  These include phone sleeping bags, non-digital alarm clocks, phone parking lots, and more.

Bagby launched a Digital Wellness Collaborative Report in 2019.  The 2020 report was recently released and includes 37 digital wellness experts from diverse professional backgrounds and 12 nationalities. MindEQuity is pleased to be a contributor, the only one from Canada, on page 20.


The report summarizes the perspectives of the pioneering leaders of this new industry.  Each contributor serves specific audiences and areas of expertise, giving rise to some interesting digital wellness industry trends:

Digital Wellness for Specific Audiences

  1. 33% primarily serve families (including teens, children, and couples).  
  2. 28% primarily serve corporations or entrepreneurs
  3. 20% primarily serve policymakers, universities, or schools
  4. 12% primarily serve professionals, individuals, or women
  5. 7% primarily serve knowledge workers, technology professionals, or other

Digital Wellness Areas of Expertise

  1. 24% help solve productivity challenges
  2. 23% contribute to mental health improvement
  3. 15% offer digital detox events or retreats
  4. 15% support parents and their kids with digital wellness solutions
  5. 14% create humane technology or support digital citizenship
  6. 10% help solve sleep issues

Improve Your Digital Wellness Today

What is the state of your digital wellness?

You can begin noticing the quality of your relationship with technology today.  If you have only a short amount of time,  please checkout previous MindEQuity insights which give you quick, practical tips to implement today.

If you have more time, download the Bagby Digital Wellness Collaborative Report where you will find 37 useful tips to help you get through this lockdown.