You've probably felt the nagging urge to reach into your pocket to check your texts, emails and social media updates, even during times when you should be unplugged: weekends, weddings, vacations, and even funerals.
Mobile technology provides an array of benefits, but the need to feel connected at all times can be so overpowering that you harm your mental health.
While you may know this from personal experience, a growing body of scientific research shows that spending time offline is not only good for you, but is essential to helping you solve problems and complete tasks.
According to Daniel J. Levitin, a professor and researcher at McGill University, human brains alternate between two modes of consciousness: (1) the task-positive network, which helps you get things done, and (2) the task-negative network, which functions when you daydream or let your mind wander.
Balancing between the two is essential to completing tasks and coming up with creative solutions to complex life problems. When you're constantly toggling between Facebook, email and texts, however, your brain has to divide its limited resources. This can ruin your attention span and your ability to make distinctions between what is important and what isn't. In short, you don't spend enough time in either mode for your brain to be effective.
What to do? Levitin's piece in the New York Times has a suggestion:
[T]he science dictates that you should partition your day into project periods. Your social networking should be done during a designated time, not as constant interruptions to your day.
Email, too, should be done at designated times. An email that you know is sitting there, unread, may sap attentional resources as your brain keeps thinking about it, distracting you from what you’re doing. What might be in it? Who’s it from? Is it good news or bad news? It’s better to leave your email program off than to hear that constant ping and know that you’re ignoring messages.
Increasing creativity will happen naturally as we tame the multitasking and immerse ourselves in a single task for sustained periods of, say, 30 to 50 minutes. Several studies have shown that a walk in nature or listening to music can trigger the mind-wandering mode. This acts as a neural reset button, and provides much needed perspective on what you’re doing.
Easier said than done, huh? Still, it's an important reminder that, though the siren song of the iPhone may call you, it's usually better to resist and sit through the best man's agonizing speech, or really take in that ocean view!
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