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  • Writer's pictureSarah Cleaver MA CPsychol AFBPsS


My first job was in 1983 (in a department store, in ladies' underwear!) but my first "proper" professional job was in 1992. The company I worked for, Philips, at the time made PCs, as well as TVs, irons and lots of other "consumer electronics". But there wasn't a PC on my desk. There were only two in the whole HR department, both belonging to the secretaries (yes, that job title was a thing then.) My main job was to manage the changeover from an IBM mainframe bespoke HR database, to... another system. An AS/400 midi system, or a PC based, more user-friendly system?...

Anyway. If we wanted to communicate, I learned, the thing to do was write a memo. On paper. And give it to my manager's secretary, for her to type and print out. Then it went in to the internal mail tray. Twice a day, the mail man collected it, took it to his room to sort, and it would be delivered to the recipients (usually upstairs) the following day. And that's how we rolled!

Fast forward to 2020 and ... well. Email. The Internet! Smart phones! Social Media! Video Conferencing! Oh wow, it's all so fantastic, so efficient, and think of the trees we've saved.

And yet... at the Health and Wellbeing Conference I heard the very lovely (and very learned) Dr Roxane Gervais speaking about the effects of technology on sleep and fatigue. Among many excellent points, she said: "The first thing we do when we wake up in the morning is check our phones! Why? Is it really that urgent?"

We've got into some bad habits - and I'm as guilty as anyone here. Rather than overload our working memory, we "just do it now". It's easier to do that, than to try to remember to do it later.

What's more, when we send a message, we have an expectation of an instant response, more or less. When we do reply to things, we sometimes say "Sorry for delayed reply" even if it's just been a few hours. When did that expectation change? Do they need that reply as urgently as that? Well, sometimes they might. But every time?

As I've been typing this, I've been interrupted multiple times - emails, texts, and oh yes, the teenager is hungry again! And each time I've ignored that interruption and focused on this post. Only kidding - I've fragmented my attention and dipped in and out.

Dr Gervais' advice? Turn off notifications, unless something really is urgent. Have defined limits - stop work and then don't check your work emails until you are next on duty. Manage expectations.

Daytime naps? No longer than 30 minutes. Caffeinated drinks - not after 2pm. Have a relaxing bed time routine and leave your technology elsewhere.

I know I should. But can I, actually? Do you?

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