Smartphones are an important aspect of modern life, especially for professionals. According to the Pew Research Center, 81% of adults — and 91% of U.S. adults who have a college degree — own smartphones.1 Recently, I had a conversation with a friend and discovered that between various social media networks, email, and traditional phone call and text messaging, I could privately contact them through 14 different ways — just from my smartphone.
Information has never been more accessible and the ability to instantly connect with another person has its benefits. However, the constant barrage of alerts and notifications that ease of connectivity entails brings with it inevitable digital distractions. A changing digital landscape has meant that discussions are shifting to social media platforms. Social media has completely changed the way information is disseminated. Now, texts, emails, and social media notifications follow many radiologists home, and these alerts affect neural networks that regulate attention.1 This leads to a constant state of alertness, awaiting the next notification or ping. This heightened level of alertness is not sustainable forever, and it can lead to what has been described as “techno-brain burnout.” In fact, a recent survey by the ACR Commission on Human Resources found that 77 percent of radiology practice leaders report burnout as a “very significant” or “significant” workplace problem. Requirements for emailing for work and, more recently, social media have contributed to burnout.
Our connection to digital media has crept into off-hours as well. According to a recent study, Americans check their phones on average 80 times per day while on vacation.
Between balancing work requirements with personal priorities such as family, friends, exercise, and personal time, what is a busy professional to do? Here are a few specific steps individuals can take:
- Realize you have control. Radiologists want more control over their time, and modern smartphones allow the user to have a fair degree of it. Notifications and alerts for specific apps and programs can be turned off, as can, if needed, the entire smartphone. These settings are present, and users should take some time familiarizing themselves with and making use of those settings.
- Exercise email discipline. A recent study found that limiting how often you check email to three times a day leads to decreased overall stress. Turn off or limit new email notifications and alerts and set aside specific intervals during the day to check it as opposed to checking every time you get a new email. During those five to ten minutes of emailing, take an action with each new email: delete, save, or archive; respond in two or three sentences; or flag when it warrants a more detailed response and more time is available.
- Be judicious with notifications. When an app requests to send notifications and alerts, I almost always decline. I am an avid social media user, and yet I do not have Twitter or Facebook notifications or alerts enabled on my devices.
- Create digital-free time. Set aside time every day to disconnect completely from email and social media to focus on friends and family. If possible, attempt to occasionally have extended time logged off completely from digital life — perhaps except for voicemail or emergencies.
- Respect others’ off-time. If writing work emails during the weekend, consider pre-scheduling them or saving them as drafts to be sent on Monday morning.
One of the greatest assets of a smartphone is the ability to connect with family, friends, and colleagues. However, the pressure to stay perpetually up to date can have insidious consequences for radiologists attempting to balance the never-ending stream of technological advancements, their daily work, and their personal well-being. While we may have more resources vying for our attention, we still only have a limited number of hours in the day — this places a premium on our ability to discern what is really worth knowing. In the digital age, we think our most important sources of knowledge are our smartphones or access to the internet. In fact, what we need now more than ever are connections with our mentors and professional role models, relationships with our families and friends, and time to ourselves.