Why You Need to Think About Self-Care at Work

The intense focus on productivity and our reliance on technology to achieve it are hallmarks of today’s workplaces and our digitally ruled world. It is now commonplace to observe shared offices where individuals sit side by side staring into sometimes multiple computer screens and devices. Technology means that we can access everyone anytime – and they of course can access us. And of course checking social media while talking, walking, working or doing anything is increasingly the norm - giving rise to concerns about the impacts of media multitasking and our addiction to technology.  

According to the recent New Philosopher magazine technology statistics – the average American adult spends some 11 hour per day or 70 % of waking hours with electronic media – this includes computers, smartphones, television, videos, games and the radio. Given the increasing work hour and high technology adoption rates in Australia similar figures here are not unlikely. A recent study shows that the more time spent multitasking between different types of media is also associated with greater impulsivity and a poorer working memory in adolescents, said Amy S Finn of the University of Toronto.  Others contend that such multitasking is compromising our attention and undermining our ability to focus and concentrate – by distracting and fragmenting our cognition. Monotasking is the preferred approach for regaining focused attention and better outcomes. 

Our desire to be continually connected and accessible at all times in this way can create dependencies as American Physicist Alan Lightman, Professor of Humanities at MIT discovered: ‘from the instant he opened his eyes in the morning until he turned out the light at night, he was ‘on project’ – working on his laptop, answering letters, checking telephone messages – his day sub-divided into small and small units of efficient time’.  Many of us identify with this type of work behaviour and aspire to this level of efficiency. When we allow ourselves to be ‘on project’ in this way we place a disproportionate emphasis on our professional life overriding the other dimensions of our lives - producing an imbalance that creates stress and impacts our wellbeing. 

We can quickly experience feelings of anxiety, exhaustion, frustration or simply being over-whelmed while to our colleagues we can appear to be uncaring, abrupt, disinterested or rude. To emotions there is no difference between home and work, it’s all the same body regardless of where it is. While individuals have different resilience levels and some may be able to sustain this work style longer - everyone will be impacted at some point. Each of us needs to recognise that it is up to us to consciously monitor our own work practices and to make sure that they are sustainable keeping a deliberate and tenacious focus on self-care. 

Insights often come to us when we take the opportunity to reflect on our actions, thoughts or practice. As Lightman says ‘without silence, space and time for reflection, the inner self – the part of us that imagines, dreams, explores and questions – is dulled, tuned out” so controlling our exposure to technologies through self-care strategies like reflection is essential for sustainable productivity, personal growth and professional development.

susan whillas