Skip to main content
power points

We live in both digital and analog worlds. We use digital for our online work and play, from e-mail, chat and Zoom through to Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. Analog is the physical world in which we interact with people and other tangible aspects of life.

Eating alone in a restaurant, productivity consultant Chris Bailey noticed the people around him, many with their heads down, looking at their phones, opting for digital over analog. His head was down, too, and he wondered, “Why can’t people disconnect from the internet? How did we become addicted to our devices? Are smartphones the new cigarettes?

“In an appropriate bit of irony,” he said, my thoughts were interrupted by an alert from my own phone: I had reached my two-hour daily device limit. I sheepishly tapped the ‘Ignore Limit for Today’ message, and continued with the never-ending scroll.”

The digital tends to come under attack because of how it pulls us away from personal interaction and continually disrupts our attention, becoming addictive. Mr. Bailey tried a digital detox by deleting all unessential apps and digital services for a month, but at the end he found there weren’t many apps he wanted out of his life permanently and even fewer that he wanted to use less. The advantages of the digital world can be “awesome,” he notes. But living in the analog world is also important, and so we need to find a balance as we see-saw between them.

As he reflected on his own digital-analog balance, he began conducting experiments beyond his initial detox efforts. He has been learning to play piano the conventional – or analog – way with a teacher, as well as through an app. He also limited his smartphone use to 30 minutes a day for a month. “I missed it, though found remarkable benefits in slowing down and stimulating my mind less,” he reports in LinkedIn. And he plans to attend a few nature retreats when things open up – and try forest bathing, the practice of immersed himself in the sights, sounds and smells of the forest – in order to temporarily step far away from the digital world.

“Finding a balance between these two worlds doesn’t require becoming a Luddite or quitting social media – but it does demand more than downloading a few apps that promise to streamline your life. The trick is to build our analog and digital worlds into one another; intentionally, thoughtfully, and in a way that doesn’t compromise our well-being,” he writes.

Tips for your first leadership role: Be patient and ready to learn

How to fix the five worst ideas in management

He suggests starting by acknowledging the tasks that can be done in either your digital or analog worlds, such as reading, shopping, banking, checking the weather, and catching up on news. “Here’s a rule I’ve started living by: if you need to do a task efficiently, do it in the digital world. If you want a task to be more meaningful, do it in the analog world. This is why I read hard-copy books, subscribe to a physical newspaper, and play mostly analog (board) games. For me, managing money, wrangling travel plans, and writing articles and books are best done in the digital world,” he says.

When entering the digital world, reflect on the reason for doing so, particularly, whether you are driven by a purpose or just trying to escape from the analog world? “Instead of pulling out your phone during an elevator ride, live with that discomfort! I promise it’s not as bad as you think,” he writes.

He urges you to give up guilt about time spent on the Internet, but also to curtail your digital impulses, given many online services are designed to be addictive. Savour the special moments in your analog world. “Like it or not, we all occupy two worlds. Now it’s about tweaking how we use those spaces in order to get as much out of each as we possibly can,” he concludes.

Quick hits

  • How quickly do you need to respond to e-mails? Behavioural economist Dan Ariely ran a test asking people to send him messages. He was surprised that 20 per cent were in the “no response necessary” category and only about 2 per cent were “drop everything and answer me now.” He suggests asking everyone in your company to add something to urgent e-mails (such as !!!) and perhaps a signal (such as ***) for “no response needed.”
  • Consultant Kevin Eikenberry reminds you that other people listen for their reasons, care for their reasons, are interested for their reasons, and change for their reasons. You need to connect to their self-interest to have them connect with your ideas.
  • If you feel underappreciated, undervalued, or taken for granted at work, you may not feel as effective as you can be and thus worry it’s burnout. Executive coaches Kandi Wiens and Peter Loper suggest asking your boss for more challenging or meaningful work, more independence, and feedback that shows they care about your development.
  • Even if you’re not a CEO, entrepreneur Seth Godin says there are decisions before you, perhaps that you are delaying, that can change the arc of your career. He asks: What are the five big decisions on your desk right now? Would others in your position have a different list? How much of your day is spent learning what you need to know to make those decisions? And can you make them all in three days’ time?
  • Other questions, as we enter the new year, from consultant Denise Lee Yohn: How do I want to be different on Dec. 31 of next year from now? What kind of impact do I want to leave in the coming year? Who do I need to connect and collaborate with to fulfill my purpose?

Stay ahead in your career. We have a weekly Careers newsletter to give you guidance and tips on career management, leadership, business education and more. Sign up today.