Powering Off in a Fast Forward World

I had the pleasure of listening to Arianna Huffington give a talk last month.

The founder of the Huffington Post spoke at the Mass Conference for Women and offered her personal insights about strategies for success.

As much as anything, she's a big believer in sleep.

Get your full nightly eight, she told us.

Encourage your employer to install nap rooms (!).

Don't watch TV in bed.

And above all: don't sleep with your phone.

I took to heart all of her good advice (nap rooms!).

But that last one - I've gotta be honest: I haven't figured out how to do that yet.

Sleep vs. "Sleep"

In theory, the concept makes sense. Having your smartphone by your bed keeps you from settling. It has the potential to lure you from a half-awake state of drowsing into the full awakeness of surfing. It keeps you from attaining the human state of sleep, instead luring you into the computer version which, as we all know, is really more "on" than "off;" at the ready; on alert.

But "on alert" pretty much describes most of us today. I don't know anyone whose workday takes place neatly between 9 and 5 - or, for that matter, even within the confines of a physical workspace. Smartphones and technology have completely changed our routines. They've taken employee work lives out of the office into cars, carpools, family rooms, weekends, and to some extent, even sleep. The oft-noted double-edged sword of technology is that it enables us to manage our work life on the go, and then never allows us to be away from it.

The result is that most people (myself included) are never on "shutdown; rather, in the computer sense, we're on "sleep." My brain is never "off;" it's constantly working - making mental lists, figuring out solutions to next problems. As a writer, I'm perpetually fashioning the next sentence, waking up in the middle of the night with the lead to that story that I couldn't assemble during the day. Where once I jotted notes in margins of crosswords puzzles, today I fill the notepad on my phone. Getting those thoughts out of my head is the secret to being free of them. Without a mechanism to scribble hard copy, those lists would keep recycling in my brain. Writing them down actually makes space for things like, you know, actual sleep.

Managing Today's High-Speed Culture

That it works for me runs counter to the wisdom of others, including Leslie A. Perlow who wrote on the Harvard Business Review blog last year, "Many of us don't know what [turning off] actually feels like and are not so sure we even want it but trust me, you will find it beneficial!"

But that's the thing; managing this new fast-forward flow is at least in part personal strategy. I admire people who can turn off. I have coworkers who ably disconnect on weekends and vacations. For me, the fear of what's going to greet me when I log back on - "You have 975 emails"is more off-putting than taking a moment once a day to keep up with the flow.

But I'm grateful my employer allows me to make that choice. In my company, the "Out of Office" message is sacred. No one at my workplace expects anyone to respond to emails while they're at a graduation ceremony or sipping umbrella drinks by the pool. Truth be told, my boss prefers I shut down. But she also understands why I can't. On the flipside, I couldn't manage the pace if I didn't know unequivocally that when I need to disconnect; as I did recently when I was an anxious puddle of mush preparing to say goodbye to my daughter as she left for six months in Thailand - I will be absolutely, 100 percent supported in doing so.

For employees to work their best, it's all about using the strategies that make them most efficient. And for their companies to succeed, it's about enabling them to do so.

So in the interest of my peace of mind and job performance, I'm afraid I'm going to have to forego the good advice about shutting down and keep my phone handy.

Now, about that nap room!  

Bright Horizons leads the way in helping employees successfully integrate work with life. At this year's client conference, Workforce 3.0: A High-Performance Culture in a Fast-Forward World, we will lead interactive workshops and discussions exploring actionable strategies to help your employees succeed in today's fast-forward world.  

Written by: Lisa Oppenheimer

About the Author

Lisa Oppenheimer at Bright Horizons

As Director, Brand Storytelling at Bright Horizons, Lisa writes “from the trenches” about the real life challenges of people in today’s workplaces: from the tensions of being a working mother, to working with millennials in the digital age, and everything in between. With a career ranging from freelance to full-time, Lisa brings a diverse employment background to her perspective.