We invite you and your entire organization to join the Canadian National Day of Unplugging, March 5-6, 2021.
Unplug for 24 hours from 6pm EST Friday night March 5 until 6pm EST March 6, Saturday night. We begin with an opening Launch Event at 5pm. Register here (it’s free).
One idea for unplugging is to rent an off the grid, winterized bunkie, cabin or AirBnB. The cabin pictured is near Lake Louise, Canada.
I first learned about bunkies when I met David Fraser, Founder of Bunkie Life. David makes backyard and cottage bunkies in Canada.
Bunkies create extra space for meaningful connection. Bunkie Life’s purpose resonates with my work helping innovative organizations harness attention. This is because bunkies are a device free space enabling rest and renewal. A bunkie experience enables us to get out of our tech and back into the body.
Below is an excerpt from David’s 2020 GoodNewsOnly.ca show. This episode is about technology and distraction in a pandemic. David interviewed me on this topic a few months ago.
Dave: We have all shifted from our normal routines into something different. I thought you’d be the perfect person to bring on the show to give us practical ideas on just how we can avoid getting distracted all day and focus on what’s really important. Tell us a little bit about your background.
Michelle: I’m a new Canadian. Canada is my fourth country of long term residence. I grew up in the US, and in Germany. Then I spent 15 years in Moscow, Russia. I moved from Moscow to Canada, when I fell in love with a Canadian-Indian who’s been living here for 35 years. That’s what brought me to Canada. Professionally. I worked for 28 years in technology driven organizational change. I did that as an equity partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Dave: How did you get into this really interesting space?
Michelle: I got into this current work in attention from the experience of leading technology and innovation teams for a period of 25 years. I witnessed a really slow erosion of our attention as we implemented more digital tools to solve workforce productivity.
In the last five years I’ve been working primarily with Canadian technology companies, and I’ve really seen productivity go down, not only because of digital distraction, but because of distraction in open office spaces. It is as if a distraction monster has appeared in our personal lives and in our work lives, everywhere.
So that’s how that’s how I got into this area of work.
Dave: The distraction monster is an interesting avatar to think about.
I was born in 1984, and I was one of the last resistors of the cell phone. I had a cell phone free childhood. At some point in university the world flipped. Everybody got a cell phone, except me. I was the only guy in university and even after university, that didn’t have a cell phone. I was a weird elf! When I started dating my wife, she convinced me to get a cell phone. It’s been attached to my hip ever since.
Michelle: I was raised similar to you without a cell phone. Instead, I was taught that multitasking is a talent. So I grew up multitasking like crazy. Then I entered the consulting world and multitasking was even more rewarded. Now we know that multitasking is not even possible.
Dave: Tell me more about that. I believe that to be true as well. What’s the research behind that?
Michelle: We know from several studies in brain science that our brains can’t do two activities at the same time with sufficient focus. Our brain will “task switch” constantly between the two different demands fighting for its attention. And it doesn’t switch all that well.
So even though you believe that you’re multitasking and it might feel that you’re multitasking, you are in an illusion of multitasking.
In my case, I really struggle with this illusion on a daily basis because I have been doing it for 15 years. I enjoy having multiple screens open at the same time, on two monitors, for example.
That constant task switching, often now caused by notifications from a cell phone, or any other distraction, is eroding our effectiveness. After a distraction, it takes you 23 minutes to get back to the task you were doing. So if you’re interrupted an average of 80 times per day, you can calculate how many times you lose 23 minutes.
Dave: That’s awful. So to summarize what you’re saying, you can’t text and drive.
Dave: That’s incredibly insightful. The schedule has changed in COVID. So what are you doing personally to keep focused?
Michelle: What I do personally is block between two and four hours a day in my calendar for undisturbed time. That’s the time when I also close those browser windows so that I don’t have email notifications. I put my telephone in a different room. These days working from home I’m managing a maximum two hours of deep work per day because there are so many zoom calls.
Dave: I manage my days differently. I have what I call a “focus day” where I will try to get 80% of that full deep focused work done. I don’t do administrative tasks on that day. The other day is a “performance day”. Since I’m a musician this day is for creating content or talking to people about music. The third day is a buffer day. It is the catch all day. At times it’s really hard for me to always be in the moment. That’s always been a struggle of mine.
Michelle: That is a normal struggle of being human.
Dave: Yes, that is a struggle. Do you have any specific advice that you would add?
Michelle: Yes. I don’t know how much this coronavirus situation causes anxiety in you, but I’ve been talking to a lot of friends and colleagues who are not sleeping very well. They wake up worried or there’s someone in the house who has a cough, so there’s a bit of a panic feeling in the belly and a feeling of anxiety.
When anxiety is present….and it is normal for all of us to have anxiety right now… this decreases our ability to focus. We become tense. When we’re tense we can’t think very well.
So we now have to be more kind with ourselves. During this time we can consider not setting our productivity goals so high. The world is an uncertain place right now and it is what it is. I would say, let’s acknowledge that we’re human beings with these fears. Right now we can just acknowledge that we are being human. I don’t think it’s lowering the standard. We just have to be with what is. Part of being present is accepting what is and just letting it be, and not reacting to things we can’t change. We personally can’t change what this virus is doing around us, other than self isolating.
Dave: So why is that car crash so alluring as you drive by? Why is bad news so distracting?
Michelle: Well, the brain has a survival instinct. The reptilian mind engages for protection. Bad news is a dopamine hit. Notifications are a dopamine hit. So our negative news diet can spiral us into hours and hours of dopamine hits before we even realize how we are spending our time.
What’s important is to have active rest. There’s a difference between active rest and passive rest. Active rest is when we take out a coloring book and draw with our kids or engage in cooking without distractions.
Active rest helps our productivity and reduces anxiety. It enables us to be present. I think it is important to get enough rest, and of course getting enough sleep as part of that. I find it really interesting, this difference between active and passive rest. Active rest is watching a film with intention. As soon as we just are resting passively by binge watching Netflix, we are not watching with intention. Active rest is also taking a walk in nature. During any type of device free fitness we have active rest. For example, when we’re concentrating on our weightlifting practice or on yoga.
I will add that playfulness is also important to cultivate in this time of crisis. I think a quality of playfulness and comedy and humor can really help us a lot.
Dave: So, in closing, what is something uplifting, positive or encouraging that you would like to share?
Michelle: I believe in every situation we have the opportunity to learn a lot about ourselves. We’re going to learn a lot about the planet. We’re going to learn a lot about health. And that is a positive thing.
Related to attention and distraction, I believe that we can embrace technology. It’s only going to increase. We can continue to embrace technology, but we can do this in an intentional way.
Right now technology is a bit of a dictator. I fully believe we have the capability to become the masters of our tools again, if we put some intention to it. We don’t need to succumb to these beliefs that I hear people around me saying,
“oh well technology overwhelm is here to stay. We can’t do anything about it. That’s not really possible and we have to be, you know, ON – 24 hours a day.”
I don’t believe those statements. I believe we can continue to be productive, happy, human beings, and use technology at the same time.
Dave: Yes, we need boundaries. Let’s respect other people’s Sunday afternoons. Awesome. Michelle, thanks so much for your time. Thanks for being on the show.