Turning Off My Phone, Email, Browser, Slack, and Notifications at Work

When are you unreachable?

May 8, 2019

I just did five things that I never do at work:

1. Closed Outlook

2. Turned off my iPhone

3. Closed Chrome

4. Turned off Slack

5. Set my computer notifications to do not disturb

My trigger for turning off all digital communications channels is a free hour.

Mostly I write at home, usually at night.  Today, I’d like to write a bit at work.

Writing at work, however,  is hard. Meetings are abundant.  Folks walk through the door.

Mostly, writing at work is hard because of a fault in my brain. Given a hard task - such as writing - I’ll often default to the easier task of checking for messages.

The worst is e-mail.

I know that good e-mail hygiene requires reading and responding to messages at only certain specified times. We are supposed to restrict the hours we read and write e-mails.  All the life hacking people tell us to break the expectation that we will instantly respond to messages.

And yet, we can’t help ourselves. Our e-mail response time feels like a marker of our commitment to our jobs.  Fast response at work is expected. Rapid response at night and on weekends is a badge of honor.

I’d hypothesize that academic staff are even more tied to our digital communications channels than faculty.  This is a generalization.  A statement about “on average.”  Professors feel enormous pressure to respond quickly to student e-mail queries and LMS pokes.  Protected faculty time away from digital distractions is scarce, and growing scarcer.

Still, at least some of the professors I know manage to turn off their e-mail, avoid Slack, and spend a few hours of concentrated thinking and writing time.  You?

Academic staff seem to be constantly reachable.

If anyone is researching the faculty/staff divide in distraction and attention, I’d like to know about that work.

Part of the challenge in turning off digital communication tools is that much of the work of academic staff takes place inside those environments.  Reading and writing e-mails and updating Slack is - at least in part - the work.

It feels weird to be digitally unreachable as I write these words.

When was the last time you turned everything off to work?

How often do you get 30 minutes or 1 hour of totally uninterrupted thinking and writing time at work?

I’m betting that most people will say never and never.

When are you unreachable at work?

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Joshua Kim

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