Tim Ebner is communications director and press secretary at the American Forest & Paper Association in Washington, DC. He is a member of ASAE’s Communication Professionals Advisory Council and a former Associations Now senior editor.
Many association executives battle a common ailment: an unhealthy inability to unplug. Digital wellness depends on using technology tools with moderation and intentional purpose.
Many association executives suffer from a common ailment, says Pete Dunlap, a leadership coach and founder of a corporate digital wellness firm called Digital Detangler. “They’re device-addicted by the very nature of the job,” he says, whether the device they can’t put down is a laptop, tablet, e-reader, or smartphone.
“The time you spend looking at devices plays a role in your mental health and personal well-being,” says Dunlap, who works with CEOs to reduce their dependency on screen time and multitasking. “Technology can also put barriers between people and create a workplace culture of burnout.”
He advocates for using technology in moderation and with intentional purpose. “It starts with being cognizant about how and when you email someone,” he says. “Leaders should set boundaries around when it is and isn’t acceptable to email. With the blurring of work and personal lives, your staff will appreciate it if there are clear boundaries set for responding to emails.”
Dunlap also teaches executives and staff teams how to untether from smartphones during the workday. He frequently cites a 2016 Kaspersky Lab study that found workplace performance increased by 26 percent when employees’ smartphones were out of reach.
With the blurring of work and personal lives, your staff will appreciate it if there are clear boundaries set for responding to emails.
— Pete Dunlap, Digital Detangler
“You are less intelligent and less trustful if there is a phone in your hands,” he says. “If you think about it, your phone is basically a one-way media and information consumption device, but it’s not very good for doing strategic work.”
Tools like productivity apps and browser filters can help limit distraction, Dunlap says, along with digital wellness features that tech companies are beginning to develop.
“I encourage people to use the do-not-disturb mode on their phones,” he says. “Many smartphones also have screen-time trackers to show you where your time is being put to good use or being wasted.”
And while you might like chat tools like Slack, HipChat, and Microsoft Teams for easing office collaboration and increasing productivity, Dunlap says the constant pinging and notifications add yet another distraction.
Digital wellness also means making time for in-person interaction. Dunlap recommends taking at least one lap around the office each day to engage in face-to-face conversation. “Even something as simple as picking up the phone to call someone can help build relationship strength and trust,” he says. “You’re building interpersonal skills too.”
He acknowledges that such device-free interactions can be a challenge for on-the-go CEOs. So, “find small ways to make a connection,” he says. For instance, instead of using email to thank someone for a job well done, pick up a pen and write an old-fashioned thank-you note.