In our constantly switched on world, how do you manage your digital wellbeing?

That’s a question Laura Willis, from Shine Offline (and also my sister-in-law!), has been asking for the last 5 years. 

After having her daughter, she found she was constantly pulled to her phone instead of being present with her. Since then she has made it her mission to not only improve her own digital wellbeing, but help others do the same so they can find better balance, connection and mental health.

I caught up with her to talk about her work and find out her top tips.

Why did you start your business Shine Offline?

“I was always really interested in human behaviour. And I was also somebody who had a very dysfunctional relationship with my email. So I suffered from quite severe digital overload historically and had high anxiety and stress as a result. 

And then when I became a mum, I was self employed and I was so overwhelmed that I couldn’t function anymore. When my daughter was born, the pull to the inbox specifically on my smartphone was very, very strong. I sensed that I needed to be, and wanted to be with her, but I wasn’t in control of my own attention, so I had a period of poor mental health and went on a journey of recovery. 

What I found on the way inspired me to launch the business because I realized that I could adjust my behaviour around my technology. And also when I talked to other people in my life, I realized that lots of people were struggling. We need this technology in our world, but a lot of people don’t feel in control of it. So that was about five years ago. And we’ve been working with businesses ever since which is super.”

What was your lightbulb moment?

“I had been commuting up and down to King’s cross from Twickenham which I hadn’t done in a long time. And I’d been going through this adjustment to my own digital behaviour. So I was using the commute as an opportunity to either just look out the window or do some meditation or whatever. And I sat down beside a girl who was about my age, and I watched her. And you know you’re not meant to watch people on their phones, but I watched what she was doing. And she was jumping in between her Apps pointlessly. From WhatsApp to photos, to Facebook, to a calendar, to news, and it was making me feel really agitated. 

And on the way home, I sat down on the train beside a guy who was watching Sherlock Holmes on the BBC on his iPad, and playing Solitaire on his phone at the same time. And I just had a bit of a moment. I realised people aren’t in control of their own attention. And it’s not just me and my friends and family. This is the thing. Look at the world around us, everybody’s on their devices all of the time. And do people really want to be? Yeah, that was definitely one of my light bulb moments, I would say.”

How do you think tech has changed and how is it affecting our health?

“Research has found that we are touching their phones two and a half thousand times a day. A lot of us have our notifications going off constantly and it’s not just phones, it’s our emails on our laptops and everything. So there’s this overstimulation of the mind and then this raising of cortisol as well, which is resulting in people just feeling really overwhelmed, really stressed out. It’s having a negative impact on our ability to sleep. A lot of people use their phone as their alarm clock. 

The reality is what we look at is often quite negative. News, social media, email, work email, it can be stress-inducing stuff. And work life balance is a massive problem for people these days as well because the mobility of technology. Great for a flexible approach to work, but the flip side of this is an inability to actually get away from the office.”

How do we know if we’ve got a problem with our tech?

“I think if you take a moment to think about your behaviour and whether it is affecting the relationships with the people that you’re with, do you feel really present with people or do you feel sometimes that you’re not connecting because you’re all maybe in your own digital bubble? 

Do you think your sleep might be affected because you are maybe looking at stuff before you go to sleep and maybe in the middle of the night? Do you feel like if you’re looking at a lot of news, is that actually doing you any good? So the short answer is I think most people have a bit of a problem. We all need to improve our digital wellbeing.”

What are your top five tips for improving our digital wellbeing?

“There are lots of ways of making small improvements, but here are my top 5;

  1. Get an alarm clock; 80% of people use their phone as their alarm clock, which means that a lot of people look at it before they go to sleep. One and three of us according to Deloitte, look at it in the middle of the night and a lot of us look at it before we’ve even got out of bed. And then we start the day by looking at news and Donald Trump said something ridiculous or somebody sends you a horrible email and you haven’t even put your toe on the carpets. So remove the temptation by getting an alarm clock. 
  2. Get a separate work phone – we really advise people to have two separate phones. One phone for your personal time and one phone for your professional world. Because I realized that having one phone meant that it was impossible to put boundaries on myself in place for myself. So I got the two devices which meant that I could enjoy my personal time without work near me. 
  3. Start using tech to help you. There are screen-time features on the iPhone and digital wellbeing on Android, which is functionality that helps you to understand your behaviour. So you can go in and you can see how long you’ve been on the device. You can put a limit on certain Apps or pages that you feel like you’re spending too much time on. Also there are helpful Apps like Offtime and Forest that allow you to disable the device for a set amount of time to avoid those distractions.
  4. Work OFFLINE – if you’re somebody who normally spends all day on all your email and you’re struggling with it, try working offline for maybe the first 15 minutes of one of an hour. For me, that’s a game changer.
  5. Focus your attention – the simplest way to do this is through mindfulness or meditation. Just 10 minutes of breath meditation every day will change the structure of your brain and improve your mental health. Increased focus as well as lowering your stress, increasing your self compassion are many of the benefits. Or do yoga. Or gardening. Or cooking. What is that thing you could do for 20 minutes every day that would exercise the attention in your mind and lower your stress at the same time as well?”

Some great tips there to improve your digital wellbeing! If you’d like more information or more resources, check out the Shine Offline blog page.

And if you need help with your hormone issues, do contact us for a free Discovery Call.

You can listen to the podcast episode too.