Devices and Happiness

5 Ways to Unplug and Increase Productivity

Marshall McLuhan wrote, “We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.” The esteemed Canadian cultural critic was writing on this topic way back in the 1960’s – long before the internet and smartphones were a part of our everyday lives. However, clinical studies are proving McLuhan’s assertion to be not only thought-provoking, but also physiologically true. Researchers at Korea University[1] in 2017 found that cell phone usage actually alters the chemistry of the brain.

While we understand the power of mobile to influence positive outcomes in our lives, there’s growing research to prove that all that time spent on our digital devices may not be shaping us in an entirely positive manner.

Your Brain on Digital

Canada has one of the highest mobile usage rates in the world, with more than 30 million[2] mobile subscribers. Canada’s leading smartphone app and social media site is Facebook. Canadians spend an average of 7 hours per month on the platform, sharing nearly 1.5 billion pieces of content[3]! While it’s clear that we enjoy engaging on social media, we also need to be aware of how our time on Facebook is affecting our wellbeing.

Research from Denmark in 2015[4] compared a treatment group of users who took a break from Facebook, with a control group of users who continued their usual usage patterns. The results revealed that taking a break from Facebook increases our life satisfaction, and enhances positive emotions. Another study conducted using longitudinal data collected in Germany[5] found that internet use “for personal purposes” negatively impacts our life satisfaction, regardless of which social media platform we’re on.

When we consider how our digital usage affects our professional productivity, the data is equally bleak: Results from two experiments in 2017[6] showed that even when we successfully avoid the temptation to check our phones, the “mere presence” of our device nearby hinders our cognitive ability, distracting us from our work.

Unplug Unhappiness

Whether you’re admittedly embroiled in an unhealthy relationship with your tech gadgets, or simply looking to add some more happiness into your daily life, there are several easy ways to introduce better habits into your routine. Today we’re going to share five of our favourites:

1) Delete and Declutter
How many apps do you have on your phone? How many do you actually use? Do yourself a favour and delete anything that isn’t used regularly. In removing the visual clutter you’ll free up some mental space, as well as some storage.

2) Don’t Notify
How often does your phone alert you to a message, an update, or a comment? Those frequent pings can add unnecessary distraction to your day, pulling you away from more important tasks at hand. Open the settings on your phone and turn off notifications for anything that isn’t absolutely imperative (cough cough, facebook notifications are not critical).

3) Set Boundaries
What time of day is sacred to you? For some of us, it may be the time spent around the dinner table with our family. For others, it’s those first moments in the morning spent sipping a hot cup of coffee. Whatever time it is, set a boundary that you don’t check your phone during those times, and you’ll open your mind to enjoy the present moment.

4) Separate Work from Play
For those of us with a more entrenched habit, it may be worth investing in a separate smartphone or device for work and play. Leave the “play” phone/device in a drawer for times that you allocate specifically for digital leisure, and monitor how that separation influences your productivity at work.

5) Try a Detox
Computer Science professor and author Cal Newport suggests taking a 30-day digital detox to retool your relationship with technology. By walking away from all your optional devices and digital usage patterns for 30 days, you step outside your regular habits and routines and gain a clearer view of what does and does not serve you in your daily life. When the detox is over, Newport recommends re-introducing only those devices and digital habits that add value.

Cultivating Mindful Digital Habits

If you’re feeling frazzled and unproductive, or often find yourself falling into the trap of social media comparison, you may benefit from reconsidering the ways in which you interact with technology on a daily basis. Technology helps us in countless ways, and as such, abstinence isn’t the answer. The key to a healthy digital routine lies in being mindful of your habits and consciously choosing the behaviours that benefit your wellbeing.

At SIGMA, we have decades of experience assisting organizations in developing mindful habits within the workplace. Our measurement-driven approach was designed to quantify and develop people potential and increase organizational effectiveness. For more information on how we can help your team become happier, healthier, and more productive, contact us today.

[1] EurekAlert, “Smartphone Addiction Creates Imbalance in Brain”,

[2] Statista, “Mobile Usage in Canada- Statistics and Facts”,

[3] Algonquin College, “Facebook Stats”,

[4] Mary Ann Liebert, “The Facebook Experiment: Quitting Facebook Leads to Higher Levels of Wellbeing”,

[5] Springer, “Leisure Activities and Life Satisfaction: An Analysis with German Panel Data”,

[6] The University of Chicago Press Journals, “Brain Drain: The Mere Presence of One’s Own Smartphone Reduces Available Cognitive Capacity”,

About the Author

Sharon Van Duynhoven

Office Manager

Sharon brings our tests and assessments from the development stage to marketable product. She ensures quality control at every step of a project, edits technical documents and manuals, and artistically enhances reports and resources. She also manages contracts with clients across the globe and answers technical questions.