For most of us, our eyes stay glued to screens from the second we wake up to the moment we fall asleep. Whether it’s email, messaging, entertainment, work, or reading, the majority of our day is lived through the digital universe. For those in the tech industry, disconnecting from the pixellated world might initially elicit anxiety and severe “Fear of Missing Out” (fun fact: FOMO is actually being considered a real psychological condition). But peeling away from the fast-moving realm of technology is necessary for stress recovery, more effective focus, better sleep, and breaking the addiction.
Yet even if you want to take a digital detox, how do you work it into your daily schedule? For busy tech entrepreneurs and startupers, mere minutes away from a cell phone can translate to missing an important sales call or responding to an email. But even the busiest, most successful folks feel that the reliance on technology every minute of the day is unhealthy, and breaking the cycle can start with just tweaks in your daily routine.
Here are ideas on how to unplug, tune out and disconnect every day:
- Buy an alarm clock. Yes, an actual alarm clock – you can find a cheap one for just a few bucks. Why? When your phone alarm wakes you up in the morning and you notice that you have 30 emails, 5 text messages, and a missed call, it’s hard not to spend the first 10 minutes of your day using your phone. An alarm clock will wake you up without the immediate stress of phone notifications.
- Get your phone away from the bed. Moving your phone more than an arm’s length from your bed will reduce all those late-night, can’t-sleep moments of desperation. Not only will you use your phone less when waking up in the middle of the night – you’ll also have less reason to check it first thing in the morning. Five points for moving it away from your bed, twenty for moving it out of the room. If someone really needs you in the middle of the night, you can set your ringer on high.
- Download an app that tracks your phone use. Apps like Moment will notice every time you turn on your phone and are actively using it. It’s pretty jarring when you realize that you’ve been using your phone for more than 3 hours every day, and that can motivate you to pick it up less when checking for phantom vibrations. You can also set up screen-free times for yourself, friends or family.
- Make mealtime mean no screen time. It’s easy to grab your laptop during lunch to read that article you’ve had pocketed for a week, or grab your phone during dinner to catch up on social media. Instead, make your meals special, whether you’re dining alone or with company. Strictly enforce a “no-screen” rule, and keep your devices turned off while you enjoy your food. Ultimately, meals will become more special, and you’ll actually be able to unwind, instead of finding yourself drifting to work emails or pitch decks.
- Cut out screens and technology the hour before bedtime. It’s hard, especially because Netflix in bed is incredibly appealing. But not only does the blue light from your laptop, phone or tablet suppress your melatonin production – it will help your mental wellness, too. Spend an hour reading, writing in a journal, cooking, baking, doing yoga – anything away from a screen. You’ll be surprised how much more relaxed you’ll feel.
- Spend a weekend off the grid. Travel somewhere remote, and leave your technology behind. Whether it’s a trip to the woods or a weekend getaway to a spa with some friends, create an away message for incoming emails, put a note on social media, and commit to two full days without devices.
- Delete your social media apps. Do you really need to check Instagram six times a day? Or go on Twitter while waiting for your friend? Most people have a nervous tic to check their phones in awkward situations or when there’s nothing else going on. By using your phone purely for messaging, email, phone calls, and other basic functionalities, you’ll cut down on the amount of times you pick up your phone for no reason at all.
- Go on a digital diet. Log out of all programs and count the number of times you log into email, social media, or open up a web browser window. Create limitations on how many times you allow yourself to open up your laptop, turn on your phone, or scroll through pages.
- Challenge your friends. Using an app like Momentum, log your time in front of screens and create incentive between your friends or coworkers to avoid technology. Perhaps the challenge is to spend less than two hours on a screen after work, including TV, laptops for Netflix and movies, iPads for reading articles, etc. Test your limits and see if your friends are willing to do the same. Ditching technology after work will be a lot easier if your friends are involved.
- Make the big switch. Get rid of your smartphone and switch to a primitive cell phone. It’s a big commitment and may not even be possible depending on your profession, but if you can make it work, your screen time will drastically decrease, and so will your urgency and sense of reliance on technology.
Fair warning: this is not an article about the on-demand economy and the independent contractor as a means of labor. This is about the dramatic shift of how start-ups are currently being built. The story of the lone entrepreneur driven by a prophetic vision of the future, mindful of every step of masterful execution, while slowly converting each and every doubter into joining his/her mission of world domination is, to put it frankly, over. (It does, still, make a killer plot line for a superhero flick.) I am not saying this dream no longer exists, I am saying that plot line may look a bit different.
Remote Collaboration: Matching Talent With Opportunity
Today’s entrepreneur lives in a much smaller, more connected world than his/her predecessors. With the increase in platforms that have revolutionized remote collaboration (like Slack and Trello), working with someone five time zones away is instant and seamless. Gone are the days when offshore working was equivalent to baby-sitting a toddler on a sugar high: frustratingly impossible. The chance for miscommunication was larger than anyone focused on quality preferred and accountability became as petty as faulting the exact diction of an email. It wasn’t worth the time or money. So one could see the opportunity that it presented to start-ups, where those two resources are used most sparingly.
Today, remote work is nearly ideal for start-ups. The ability to work with specialized talent without having the added stress of relocation and financial stability is a big deal. Imagine that you are a talent interested in joining a start-up mission, but in order to “feel it out” you have to completely commit to moving across the world. You may want the company to be more financially stable before you make a global transition. As a start-up, that talent may be pivotal for you to push the company towards stability. It’s a chicken and egg scenario. Remote working allows for both parties to meet halfway. Just like time and money, energy is a pivotal resource for start-up success. The ability to tap into fresh energy without taking large risks has reduced startups’ chances for failure.
It became quite clear that a company seriously looking to adopt remote working habits needed to make the proper investment of communication infrastructure and technology to be successful. Thanks to pioneering companies such as WordPress and 37 signals, have begun to embrace remote working cultures. Matt Mullenweg is often seen as the father of remote working. He faced constant doubt when WordPress was growing at a rapid pace. Many people thought it could not support x amount of people. When it reached 50 users, they said it would surely break after reaching 100. As this argument became more and more redundant and the number predicting when it would be unable to scale became bigger and bigger, people harped on the details instead. They argued that remote work was “industry specific”, mistakenly labeling programming as an isolated craft, where collaboration was not present or necessary. That is far from the truth. It is a myth, created to support a weak argument. It is undeniable that remote work is becoming exponentially popular in many industries and continues to assert its place in the world economy. Mullenweg says it perfectly: “ We aren’t anti-office, we are location agnostic.”
Lean and Mean: Increasing The # of Start-ups
“Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate. Something interesting is happening.”
— Tom Goodwin
Any time in history where building has become cheaper and faster, there has been a great boost in the supporting ecosystem. In the 1920’s, Henry Ford’s assembly line created a huge demand for the Model T, opening up the road for Americans. Traveling was no longer a luxury, but a lifestyle. The ecosystem responded with the creation of the open road and entrepreneurs took advantage by creating businesses to accommodate the traveler.
Creating a start-up used to be the wild west. Now with cloud-based server space and just about an API for everything, it’s the new assembly line. Conditions are ripe for start-ups. Thanks to the lean entrepreneurship movement, boot-strapping has become the rule rather than a fad. The benefits of contracting a worker versus full employment favors the entrepreneur’s wallet. (As I write this, California’s courts reached a decision to treat Uber and Lyft drivers as employees rather than as independent contractors, a decision that will have far-reaching implications for the entire business model for the shared space economy.) Freelancing has become so popular that VC’s have dubbed it the “1099 economy” marking its recent impact on the landscape. It goes back to the basic entrepreneurial principle of optimizing input while minimizing risk. In this case, entrepreneurs are optimizing talent, while minimizing the risk of full employment (which includes benefits and additional perks).
The strongest variable of all is the way society has responded to the lean movement by managing their expectations. “Beta” has become a part of everyday conversation while “iterate” is the new launch. This embrace by society has changed the way products are released and developed: quicker to market, faster to traction, and turnover rates between builds are the new ad heavy, elaborate, high budget launches. Even the biggest companies have resorted to the strategy of asking entrepreneurs directly: “What do we build?” As open source is the new proprietary IP, start-up acquisitions are the new pillars of expansion, and multiple integrations are the only means to survival.
All of the this has created the “perfect storm,” enabling startups to fail faster and cheaper. This may seem counterintuitive, but as Dan Senor and Saul Singer stated very effectively in their book Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle:
A 2006 Harvard University study shows that entrepreneurs who have failed in their previous enterprise have an almost one-in-five chance of success in their next start-up, which is a higher success rate than that for first time entrepreneurs and not far below that of entrepreneurs who have had a prior success… Israeli culture and regulations reflect a unique attitude to failure, on that it has managed to repeatedly bring failed entrepreneurs back into the system to constructively use their experience to try again, rather than leave them permanently stigmatized and marginalized
In other words, more failures equals more success. We will witness more failures today than ever before, which will in turn create the highest chance in history to succeed.
The New Work Force: Breaking Up With the System
Millennials are the newest face of the workforce and must therefore accept responsibility, just like the current administration is “responsible” for the most recent state of the country. From a nearsighted perspective, it seems like they are reluctant to pay their dues and immediately want to work on things they are passionate about. Can you blame them? It’s like being in a relationship with no trust or love. If you have one, you have a fighting chance, without love or trust, it’s pretty hopeless. The previous generation may have proven their grit by barreling through passionless work, but at least trusted that they had a job. Millennials have neither and they are not settling for that.
Since Britain’s industrial revolution, the model of the traditional work force has seen very little innovation. The 9-5 work schedule was set in the 18th century to optimize factory production and time for recreation. But as the whole world rapidly changes to create a more custom experience, why is work limited to such a finite structure? The question has been asked many times, but now people demand an answer. Pointing fingers to “laziness” rather than acknowledging the changing times is no longer sufficient. The new work force is building a new system to house their new set of values. They prefer improving a skill set over a job title, time and excitement over money and redundancy, and autonomy over hierarchy.
This has created a new lifestyle movement for independent contractors. No longer are they bound by the restraints of their employers. You want unlimited vacation? Become a digital nomad, living and working from an Asian coast. Do you prefer waking up at 8 a.m. and hustling to catch a bus before settling down for an hour commute? Or would you rather set timeframes where you are the most effective, creating a task-based mindset rather than obsessing over a ticking clock? Not only are flexible options more beneficial for workers, it creates a higher quality of work and trims fat from internal bureaucracies.
Many companies are not willing to consider giving up that initial control that is the proper foundation for this lucrative, mutually beneficial style. Some can’t let go of having complete control over their employees. I can assure these folks that as this terrain becomes more and more developed and more companies and workers adapt to reflect the change, they will have a very small talent pool to choose from, making them unable to sustain their growth and leading to their eventual demise.
The Future, Said Everyone
There are a thousand predictions one can make about the future, including extractions from Sci-Fi movies or references to how history is destined to repeat itself. I, myself, think change happens in minuscule degrees, over time, like a child’s slow growth. One day you look at your 10 year-old daughter and wonder how your little baby has suddenly turned into a preteen. The trick is not to wait until history reveals the verdict. By then, it’s too late and you have missed the boat.
Simply take a look around – a real look. We are living in a society where the future generation is being taught to constantly question social constructs. Twitter accounts are infamously revealing more facts than our own trusted media publications, and group messages are becoming more of a symposium than our very own classrooms. Truth can no longer be hidden behind physical boundaries or be the products of manufactured intentions.
How long will it be before an outright rebellion against an outdated working structure breaks out? More importantly, what will it take for companies to begin investing in this inevitable future? Has it already started?
Once upon a time there were two girls. The first girl always aced her exams, including an important exam she sat at eleven to decide which high school she could attend. Everyone told her that she was smart, and she came to believe that this smartness was a thing that she had inside her (what psychologists calls innate or “fixed”). Then, when she started her new, smart school with lots of very smart children, and very hard exams – so hard she failed a few – she decided that she mustn’t be so smart after all. After a while, she stopped studying completely. What’s the point of working at all if you don’t have smartness?
The second girl was more average in her academic attainments. She envied the first girl’s smartness and wished that she had it too. Then, one day, her teacher told her that the mind was like a muscle, and the more she worked on it, the stronger it would become. In other words, she was told that her intelligence was what psychologists call incremental or “growth” orientated in nature. The second girl then decided that she would work her hardest, and she started to do better in tests, which made her work even harder. What’s the worry in failing the odd time if smartness is a thing you can grow?
The Growth Mindset: Learning As The Primary Motivation
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Like most, I’m a bit of both these girls combined, only I didn’t know it, until I read Mindset by Carol Dweck. It’s no exaggeration to say that her ideas changed my life. There are only a handful of books that could do so, and this is one of them. I’m pretty fussy when it comes to what I read. I often feel like I read enough books at university to do me for the rest of my life. So any book I read now has to grip me from the start, like all the best detective novels I love.
The prime suspects in Dweck’s book are educators, teachers, parents and ultimately ourselves, as we reinforce one of most the negative messages of our early learning years: which is, that our skills and capabilities, and by implication, our intelligence and very personality, are all fixed at birth. Dweck proposes the opposite, that all of these can be developed, stretched and grown throughout life.
The ‘fixed mindset’ encourages a belief that exams are the best, or possibly only, indicators of capability. This might explain our Western fascination with testing and qualifications, at least in the UK. Our current situation is one where university graduates are formally qualified, at least in some disciplines, but employers frequently complain that their skills are not transferable, and that they are not ready for the workplace. There is little encouragement or guidance on how to develop those skills – grow them – in a new environment.
In contrast, Dweck’s ‘growth mindset’ is the idea that your intelligence and personal traits, skills and character, are abilities that can be cultivated through your own efforts, especially by hard work, a love of learning, and sheer determination. Those who promote this mindset don’t care about looking smart or attaining a set, and recognized, level of smartness. Rather, this radical position fosters an enthusiasm for learning as the primary motivating force. And once established, neither age, nor situation, nor adult responsibilities can diminish it.
One characteristic of the ‘fixed mindset’ people we encounter is that they tend to refuse to take even small risks to overcome their difficulties. They are paralyzed by a fear of failure as well as a faulty belief that their destiny is fixed no matter what effort they put forth. For them, one failure is interpreted by them as permanent, personal and even pervasive. Therefore further effort (so they reason) is pointless; you either have success or you don’t, and they didn’t, so why bother trying again? Dweck cleverly conflates risk and effort; one without the other would be either dangerous (persistent risk-taking) or exhausting (endless effort).
In the business world, it is the companies and entrepreneurs that take risks who prosper. For example, they might introduce an innovative idea or product to the marketplace, thereby inviting praise or censure. That does not mean they are immediately successful. But it does mean that by both bounce back and learn from short-term failure. They use it as a learning stage in a positive cycle of growth. They combine risk with effort and innovation, by redesigning that idea or product and re-launching it. This is the spirit of Edison, who said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
This is illustrated by my own experience of launching two business networks that subsequently “failed” by low attendance and disproportionate effort for small results. The results of our risk-taking initially appeared embarrassing and many gave space for negative voices – internal and external – to make themselves heard. We almost immediately ceased all efforts. Then I realized that a growth mindset allowed me to embrace challenges, persist in the face of setbacks, learn from criticism, and find lessons to apply to future ventures.
Subsequent success with another business network resulted in introducing another related idea to the marketplace. Risk paid off over time when combined with consistent effort and a willingness to adapt. Naysayers this time caused less pain. Our growth mindset was growing! We learned that failure is never final. We took further risks by responding positively and objectively to criticisms, inviting suggestions, and tweaking the service rather than folding under the pressure. Further innovation in our business has caused less stress due to the inevitable, expected road bumps. We’ve grown, stretched and taken risks combined with effort. And, so, we are prepared to do so again.
One person in my life displays the fixed mindset so well. He insists on perfect conditions before travelling even the smallest distance. He plans every journey out, to the extent that there will be no possibility of any drama, attempting to reduce all risk to zero. But if it rains heavily, as is likely in our country and climate, he will cancel the trip rather face the possibility of failure. Such people fear learning, and facing new challenges. They fear their skills and personality – which to them are fixed and set in stone – are not suited to cope with rapidly changing or less-then-optimal circumstances.
In contrast to this, another person I know either prefers not to bother with a map at all, or uses it only when completely lost. And the map, when needed, is invariably sitting at home or in a dusty drawer in the caravan. With such people, there is an inherent understand that life will include regular risks, and that every challenge offer an opportunity to learn and grow. Combined with this is an acceptance that life will include effort, something that is welcomed. Such people will learn, always, and love it. They might not like all the new things, but they will have confidence in their proven capability to deal with new experiences.
There are some detractors to Carol Dweck’s views on mindset. My husband is one of them! His review of the book Mindset is rated as the most helpful one on Amazon. But his complaint is not with Dweck’s idea, so much as with her explanation of it. He dislikes Dweck’s heavy use of anecdotes and stories in book in the book, whereas I love them. He would have preferred some hard, how-to type information on the best practical ways to develop a growth mindset.
My secret suspicion is that that might just be exactly what Dweck intended. If I was to take her out for an Earl Grey and a Fifteen (exclusive Northern Ireland tray-bake), I’d bet the bill on the fact that Dweck intended for us to take her idea and grow our own minds and skills, not depend on her (or other educators) to do it for us. The growth mindset will seek out its own opportunities for learning. We grow it by applying it to our own differing learning situations. If Dweck had provided a model or manual or list of instructions, then that would have become a ‘fixed’ way to develop a growth mindset – hardly consistent with the main idea!
Our minds need to be open to developing a growth mindset. We must reject the fear that comes with new experiences, people and places. Let’s embrace instead the lifelong opportunities for growth and learning. Take risks. Work hard. Explore. Learn. Grow. I’ll let Dweck herself have the last word, as quoted form her book, to take us back to those two girls at the start.
The Growth Mindset: Learning As The Primary Motivation
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“Parents think they can hand children permanent confidence – like a gift – by praising their brains and talent. It doesn’t work, and in fact has the opposite effect. It makes children doubt themselves as soon as anything is hard or anything goes wrong. If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning. That way, their children don’t have to be slaves of praise. They will have a lifelong way to build and repair their own confidence… Praise should deal, not with the child’s personality attributes, but with his efforts and achievements.”
And what is true for children is true for adults too. As I have found out, it’s never too late to start growing your growth mindset!