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Study Skills

Wolfson College Academic Skills: Digital wellbeing

Help with finding, managing and using information from the Wolfson Library Team.

What is it?

Digital wellbeing and mindfulness is not necessarily about using technology less often. Rather it is being critical about how we use technology and reflecting on our motivations to engage - are we making a positive choice or simply being pushed around by addictive platforms?

This section will not focus on mindfulness and its links to meditation but instead on reflecting how we use technology and ensuring that it is aiding productivity and wellbeing, rather than hindering it.

 

"Disconnection leads to reflection which then allows for more meaningful moments in the digital domain"

Eric Stoller (2017)

Face-to-face versus online

Academia in the 21st century requires us to engage with technology on a daily basis. It is therefore very difficult to undergo a digital detox and switch off for an extended period. Digital wellness is therefore less about the act of disconnecting (which would be hard achieve) and more about the simplicity of understanding that you are in control of your digital presence and the way you interact online (more doable). It is of course sensible to take breaks for increasing your productivity and for health reasons. They are discussed elsewhere but here we reflect on why we are so connected.

Often, what people want from being online is often what they want from their face-to-face world - connection, information, time to relax, time to learn, a sense of being seen, a way to de-stress, and a way to participate.

Technology doesn't inherently cause problems; it is how we use it.

It is difficult to disentangle personal or professional spheres of engagement or tools, as our contacts and the content we digest, produce and share are, in many case, intertwined.

Mapping digital tools and spaces

Adapted from Lanclos, D and Phipps L (2018) ‘Leadership and Social Media: Challenges and Opportunities.’ To be published in Rowell, C (2018) ‘Social Media in Higher Education’ [preprint] Available at https://drive.google.com/file/d/1sTa8P36Qft7183NZNc3eTx6wDVP3hvsO/view

This figure illustrates a way of compartmentalising digital tools into work and personal categories. Many overlap but it can be helpful in thinking about which tools you engage with a certain times of day. Also if some tools frustrate you, you can take measures to make them sit more happily into your working practices.

The interior of the triangle is where to map the tools and practices that you use as part of your work. The exterior of the triangle is for you to map tools that you use in your personal lives. Download the document below and fill it in reflecting how you engage digitally to help define how you might spend your time online.

Then add emojis to show how you feel about these tools. If they make you feel angry or sad, think about how you can mitigate these feelings?

Online identity

Think about what makes up your online identity and then click on the box below to see if you came up with any of these problems when trying to define your digital self.

 

  • Work vs personal - work is no longer confined to geographical boundaries. We have a sense that we can be 'at work' at any time of day, any day of the week, anywhere. Are you able to reimpose limits on this?
  • Public vs Private - difficult to define what is public and private and we need to take extra efforts by using settings to limit access to particular groups. You may use certain tools for different audiences, but remember that potential employers make not make the same distinctions as you do.
  • Self-reflection vs need for acknowledgment - much of our online activity is about seeking acknowledgement, wanting to know that others have read something, and liked it. However, many tools such as blogs, can be used for self-reflection, rather than relying on others to affirm our activities.
  • Passive vs active engagement - Many of use engage with social media unsociably. This 'elegant lurking' (Dave White, 2015) is about being present without speaking up. It isn't really how we engage in person. Or is it? We can read a book and learn something without writing about it. Or we can attend a lecture without asking a question. We shouldn't shy away from this but should think about our agency. Are we lurking with intent or because we are bored?
  • Human vs technology - Is your phone part of you? Or is it an exterior force asserting itself on your life? Techno-self studies look at this relationship and our reliance on technology, as we move from "functionality to interaction".
  • Quality vs quantity - engagement is often valued in number of 'likes' versus in depth responses. Which do you value most?

 

Agency

Being mindful about digital activity involves acknowledging our agency in all that we do online. When we engage, we should do so willingly and knowingly. We should make active choices to delete accounts, disengage, and unsubscribe if we aren't interested. If you are driven by a desire to accrue followers or likes, as long as doing it knowingly then you are not being pushed around by social media. However, if you find yourself pointlessly scrolling through retweets at the end of the day, you might want to take a step back and think abotu whether digital technology is enhancing your working and social practices.

It is also important to take control of your digital activity by getting organised: from files on your desktop, to your notes for readings, to Tweetdeck for Twitter. 

Why turn off?

We have been described as being in a state of “continual partial attention” (Linda Stone, 1998). A digital detox can be helpful to make us appreciate what we miss about not being online 24/7. It can also be helpful to take a structured approach to your day so that in taking time away from technology you will get more work done. 

Top ideas to turn off - use the arrows to naviage through

Screen shot of the Checky app

How much do you currently use your phone?

To assess how much you are using your phone, why not install Checky to find out how many times you check your phone in a day. It might scare you into leaving it alone.

screen shot of Offtime app

Turn it off

If you don't have the self control to do this, turn off your phone to prevent the temptation to check notifications or try apps such as (Offtime). This blocks you from certain functions but always allowing you let selected numbers contact you and you can override the function but it takes 90 seconds, which means you can't just casually check it.

Old mobile phone

Go back to basics

If this doesn't work, leave it at home or buy a basic mobile phone with pay as you go credit so that you are always contactable but don't have access to the internet.

a kitchen timer

Set a timer

Use a timer to allow yourself to look at your phone after a set time. This is known as the pomodoro method (after a tomato-shaped kitchen timer). However, it is very easy to ignore a countdown on your phone clock so instead, try Forest. While you can override the block on using your phone, you'll kill the tree that has been growing during focused time. If you are successful, your forest will grow.

plain wall with four empty frames

Keep it simple

Try to focus on the task by taking the noise out of web pages that may tempt you to click elsewhere. Many pages will let you turn to reader view (press F9). Or bookmark pages using a tool such as Pocket, to save links for you to look at later. This is a good activity to reserve for the end of the day when you are tired and need to wind down.

flowers in bloom

Change your working environment

If you find yourself easily distracted by technology, find a new place to help you work. If you need to feel peer pressure to be getting on with things, you might consider a noisy cafe or a busy library. Alternatively, work out in the gardens. You're likely to be able to get wifi still to carry out research, but maybe you don't want it and need some dedicated time to read or write.

screenshot of Trello, project management software

Prioritise your work

Trello is project management software that will help you prioritise tasks on your own or as part of a team. You can eaisly see jobs that need to be done, are in progress or that have been achieved. Add attachments and links, comments and due dates.

IFTTT logo

Automate the mundane

IFTTT (pronounced ift as in gift) is short for 'if this, then that'. It automates actions between apps to save you time. For example, you can save tweets from a particular handle to an excel spreadsheet, so that you can review them later. Automatically post images on Instagram to Twitter. Or you can save email attachments to a shared inbox so that you don't have to forward them on.

post-its

Jot down ideas as you go

You don't have to act on everything right away. Post-it notes, or an online equivalent such as Google Keep, are great for jotting down ideas to follow up later. 

Evernote logo

Keep realistic to-do lists

Make short-term, medium-term and long-term to-do lists. Note making software such as Evernote can keep them in order and means that they are accessible whichever device you are on.

hammock in the sun

Take a break

Use software such as EyeLeo to force you to take a break from time to time. It suggests simple exercises to stretch your muscles and rest your eyes, with short breaks and longer ones, once you've been working for a while.