Episode 9: Reclaiming Focus: Wellbeing in the Digital Age with Dr Kristy Goodwin

In this episode of The Balanced Leader Podcast, I interview Dr. Kristy Goodwin, a leading expert in digital wellbeing and productivity. Kristy shares insights on how digital habits impact our wellbeing, offering practical tips for leaders and individuals to improve their digital wellbeing without resorting to digital detoxes. 

We cover topics such as the dangers of digital distraction, the importance of identifying personal productive periods, controlling notifications, and ensuring technology allows us to remain human. She emphasizes the importance of protecting our basic needs from being eroded by screen time, particularly highlighting the significance of boredom, focus, and managing our digital footprint for optimal mental health and productivity.

But, if you are worried this will be another digital expert telling us to take a digital detox, have no fear! Today’s episode is jam packed full of practical tips and solutions to help us get back some control over our digital devices and increase our digital wellbeing.


01:13 Dr. Kristy Goodwin’s Journey into Digital Wellbeing

05:21 Understanding the Digital Vortex and Its Effects

07:55 The Importance of Breaks and Restorative Practices

16:52 The Role of Leaders in Promoting Digital Wellbeing

23:11 Practical Strategies for Digital Wellbeing in the Workplace

27:21 The Impact of Distractions on Productivity

29:22 The Addictive Design of Tech Platforms

30:49 The Psychological Impact of Notifications

34:02 Strategies for Enhancing Focus and Productivity

43:50 Guiding Children Towards Healthy Digital Habits

48:54 The Future of Technology and Its Impact on Humans

Dr Kristy Goodwin. Digital Wellbeing Expert.



This is The Balanced Leader Podcast, the podcast that helps leaders elevate their wellbeing and create healthier workplaces. My name is Rob Hills and I’m your leadership and wellbeing coach. Today’s guest is Dr. Kristy Goodwin. Kristy is one of Australia’s leading digital wellbeing and productivity experts and author of the book, Dear Digital, We Need to Talk.

If you’re someone who looks at their phone as soon as they wake up. Or scrolls for hours on social media without even realizing it. Or perhaps you just stay up far too late watching just one more show on Netflix. Then this is the episode for you. But if you’re worried that Dr. Kristy is just going to tell you to take a digital detox, have no fear.

Today’s episode is actually jam packed, full of practical tips and solutions to help us get back some control over our digital devices and increase our digital wellbeing. So let’s dive into [00:01:00] today’s episode with Dr. Kristy Goodwin.

Welcome Kristy to the Balance Leader Podcast and thank you very much for being with us today. 

Thanks for having me, Rob. 

Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you became interested in how our digital habits affect our wellbeing? 

Well, whilst I would love to suggest that I had a really clearly mapped out career trajectory, the truth is I fell into this work purely by serendipitous events that happened in my life.

I began my career as a teacher and then an academic, and my research was initially around how digital technologies were impacting and intersecting with children’s brains and bodies. So I sort of looked at the combination or the intersection of neuroscience Psychology and technology, and I was really fascinated on how technology was shaping Children and adolescents.

I refer to them as screen ages, brains and bodies, um, and began speaking and researching in this [00:02:00] field, but it was often adults who were telling me That they were getting, you know, drawn into the digital vortex, feeling like they were a slave to the screen. Um, and then it was the pandemic that really thrust a spotlight upon everybody’s digital habits.

So in the last eight years, my research has expanded to also now include adults, because whether we love it or loathe it, Many of us have become immersed or saturated in a screen world. You know, I can say technology has got its tentacles into every facet of our lives professionally and personally. Um, so yes, my work expanded and I now look at the impact of technology on adults.

Um, predominantly not so much Children and teens anymore because our digital dependence has increased exponentially in recent years, um, and we’ll continue to do so with, you know, wearable technologies, AI, the metaverse all on our doorstep. There was a story in your book that I read just recently about your son, Billy.

[00:03:00] And I think it speaks to how a lot of leaders feel when they’re so distracted by so many plates spinning at one time. And I’m wondering if you can tell us a little bit about that event and how that sort of impacted your thinking and where you are in your space and digital wellbeing. Yes. So, um, and I’m completely happy to share this story.

This story is actually the, the The genuine catalyst for why I started to focus more on adults, digital technologies. Um, I had arrived home from an international speaking engagement and I had intended on triaging my bulging inbox on the taxi ride home. Um, but I fell asleep in the taxi. So I arrived home and at the time I only had two children.

I’ve since had a third child. Um, but at the time was the first time I’d been away from my son, Billy for two nights. Um, and so I had very ambitiously, naively scheduled a work call, and it was back in the day where our work calls were Skype calls. So I had a Skype meeting booked in [00:04:00] during his anticipated nap time, but because I’d been away, Billy needed some extra mummy cuddles that day, and there was no way he was having a nap.

So I opened the lid on my laptop. to just send one email to cancel the Skype call with a client and my bulging inbox had grown even more. So I’d arrived home and I started triaging that avalanche of emails in my inbox. I wasn’t watching Billy. Now Billy was about 15 months at the time. Billy had climbed onto the adjacent lounge chair where I was.

He fell off the lounge chair face first and required it. Urgent hospitalization. Um, Billy still has significant scar on his lip as a 10 year old boy today. And it’s such a tangible reminder about the perils of digital distraction. Um, his accident could have been a lot worse and just to legitimize things, he’d done the exact same accident or had the same accident two weeks prior when my husband was dutifully supervising him.

So to ease my mother’s guilt, I’m going to suggest [00:05:00] that it was simply a reopening of an existing wound. Um, but it really was really sobering moment in time where, even though I was researching and speaking at this stage, predominantly about Children and teenagers use of technology, it really hit home just how much of a prevalent influence it was having on us.

Um, what is it? I started to become infatuated with. What is it about the online world that that’s so important? Sucks us into the digital vortex. You know, why do we engage in revenge, bedtime, procrastination, watching one more Netflix episode, um, why is it that we can’t go on holidays without finding the one bar of wifi so we can triage our inboxes, I guess I became interested.

And as a, uh, a built in researcher, um, I really wanted to figure out why technology was having a profound impact on us, but more importantly, why What can we do to take back control so that we don’t feel like we’re a slave to the screen? Yeah, and it’s funny. I think I can relate [00:06:00] as a parent myself. I’ve got two young boys and I’m sure listeners will also relate because, you know, if they’ve got kids, the technology just seems to suck you in.

And I like the phrase you had there. The tentacles of the digital world seems to grab you and take your attention. And so it can be really distracting when you want your attention somewhere else. But for some reason it just keeps dragging you back in. It does. I often say there’s a new skill of the 21st century for many years.

People said, you know, our IQ was a strong predictor of our sort of lifelong and work success. And then in more recent times, people said, no, your EQ, your emotional intelligence is a strong predictor of your sort of lifelong success. I believe there’s a new super skill of the 21st century that trumps both our IQ and our EQ without a doubt, in my opinion, the skill of the 21st century is our FQ and have to be careful how I say that one, your focus, quotient, your ability to orient control and direct your focus and [00:07:00] attention.

Will be a determining skill in a world, a digital world that has been deliberately engineered to be distracting and disruptive. Um, you know, we’ve often talked about the perils and the distractions of social media and gaming, but we often overlook the fact that many of our workplace technologies today, teams, chats, slacks.

That, you know, the plethora of communication tools are also highly distracting, and this is having a huge impact on our productivity and our well being. Yeah, absolutely. And it’s, I often call it the dings and bings because there’s always something popping on your screen. And it’s funny, we often say you should have a break every 50 minutes or an hour.

And I’ve done this myself where I’m working away dutifully at my computer, And then I say, okay, I’m going to have a break now for 10 minutes to, you know, refocus and take a break and relax. And first thing I do is I pick up my digital device and I start checking on here and I’m on a different email and I’m a different social media.

And then I go back to my computer and I, I don’t think we’re getting sometimes, I don’t think we’re getting the, [00:08:00] the, the proper breaks we need and that our brain needs for our own mental health. Absolutely. And you’re not, you know, not alone. That’s a very common habit. I hear from people. Um, I often recommend that people work in roughly a 90 minute increment and it’s give or take 60 minutes might be your sweet spot.

It is sort of bespoke to the individual. But the reason I recommend usually working for roughly 90 minutes and then spending 20 minutes. It’s not necessarily lying on your yoga mat or, you know, closing your eyes for 20 minutes, but working in that cadence because we have something in our body called ultradian rhythms and ultradian rhythms mean we will naturally have a peak for roughly 90 minutes.

But we will have a trough following, or we should have a trough. And I recommend out of that 20 minutes, two to 10 minutes should be doing something restorative and unfortunately checking our phones, you know, even if it’s just checking the weather or triaging your WhatsApp chats or checking a sports report or a new site.

It’s not [00:09:00] restorative, but that has become a default mechanism. And the reason that it’s often not restorative is just a simple biological mechanism is that when our eyes converge on a small surface area, as they do on our phones or our laptops, that sheer act of just looking at a small surface area.

Triggers the stress response. And the reason is as humans, we are biologically designed to dilate our gaze. We are designed to look at things in the distance and the sheer act of, as we, many of us do spending hour upon hour with a really short, narrow gaze triggers the stress response. So unfortunately the bad news is.

That that that restorative time should be doing at least 2 to 10 minutes, something away from your screen, even something as simple as closing your eyes for 30 seconds, closing your eyes for 30 seconds gives part of your brain. It’s called your occipital lobe, and it’s responsible for processing all your visual input that we’re.

You know, really heavily reliant on on our screens. It gives that part of the brain a break just by [00:10:00] closing your eyes for 30 seconds. So there are really simple brain based protocols we can put in place that will give us that, as you said, much needed rest and recovery. That we, we, we need as a human. Yeah.

And I think it’s a really great example because a lot of people who work in offices, even working from home can probably relate. So let’s dig into this a little bit. If we’re saying every 90 minutes, give or take, what’s a couple of different things people can do if they push back from their computer? Is it about looking around, trying to widen our gaze a little bit?

Is it going for a walk, getting outside? What’s the best things people can do? Absolutely. You’ve listed off some of my favorites and what science tells us are actually really good for us. I often say as humans, we have a biological blueprint that we have to adhere to. We, we can’t outperform our biology.

And so we need to look back at what do we need at a really rudimentary, physical, psychological level. Um, and so I call those two to 10 minute breaks, I call them piccolo [00:11:00] breaks. We should have several of these interspersed throughout our days. This can be as simple as, as I said, closing your eyes, um, going for a walk or a walk and a talk.

Um, anything we know and when we move, we create, um, optic flow. So things move past our eyes that often quietens down part of the brain called the amygdala. And this is why often great ideas germinate. I don’t know about you, Rob, but I often find going for a walk. I solve a problem or come up with a, you know, a novel idea, um, to something I’ve spent ages grappling over sitting at my desk.

Um, so just going for a walk without your ear pods in, without necessarily listening to anything, just letting that, having that time for your mind to meander, um, is it doing some breathing exercises? Simple things that will regulate your stress response. Is it looking at things in the distance? Um, you know, is it something as simple as I have an Irish friend, she calls it a tea and a wee break.

Um, anything that you, you find, um, that restores you, um, is really, [00:12:00] really important. So new research is telling us that a technique that only requires 10 minutes has a huge impact on our focus, um, afterwards, and that’s something called non sleep deep rest. So it’s a 10 minute protocol where we get into a very relaxed state, not quite in a sleep like state.

However, it mimics sleep in our brain. So when we wake up, we get a good hit of dopamine of serotonin. We’re in a really alert focus state and it only requires 10 minutes of our time. Connection talking to someone, you know, going and having a good old fashioned chat when we chat with someone in person, our brain makes something called oxytocin, which is the social bonding or sometimes called the love hormone, just by having that face to face interaction.

So there are really simple things. And the reason I love piccolo breaks is they’re not convoluted. You don’t need a whole lot of equipment. There are really pragmatic, simple things that I think we’ve forgotten how to do. Because I think we’ve been tricked into thinking that always going and constantly working is, is a [00:13:00] marker of our productivity.

And the harsh reality is when we work like that, we are working against rather than with this. I call this our, our, I’m pointing to our brain here. Our brain is our human operating system, and we have to make sure that we’re finding modern ways of working that are congruent with how we are designed to function and behave as humans.

Yeah, I think I remember reading somewhere that after a certain point of time, your productivity goes, just keeps decreasing, decreasing, decreasing to the point where if you’d taken the 10 minute break, you would have been leaps and miles ahead of where you were if you didn’t actually take the break. So, um, I think that’s really good advice and people should try and remember to take those breaks and really take proper breaks and disconnect a little bit and do some of these exercises.

You just mentioned love the wee and tea break. I think that’s great. Um, And I think that’s going to help people stay productive. And it’s actually when we take those breaks, it’s remembering we’ll be more productive. Yes. [00:14:00] And, and what you’re referring to, I think the correct term they use is the law of diminishing return sort of past a certain point.

We, we all, and we all have a unique threshold. We’re not going to be any more productive. Um, and I often remind people that the neuroscience actually tells us that the part of our brain that we’re does most of our heavy lifting during a workday. If we’re particularly a knowledge worker, um, the part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex.

So it, you know, rationalizes, hypothesizes it’s our working memory. It’s our impulse control center. Our prefrontal cortex only has. A four to six hour battery life per day. Now, I’m not saying that you should only work four hours a day. Some people hear that this particular stuff and they get me in a lot of trouble and they say, look, I know there’s talk about four day work weeks, but we heard this lady called Kristy speaking, I should have a four hour work day.

That’s not what I am proposing. Please do not get me into trouble. Um, But the, the harsh biological reality is that we’re not [00:15:00] designed to sit down and keep going and going and going and doing the mentally taxing work for more than four to six hours per day. Now, we have to do some, what Cal Newport talks about as shallow work, more cognitive or less cognitively taxing, easier types of tasks.

And that’s how we can obviously. Feel our workday, but that that biological constraint means that we’re just not designed to keep going and going and going. We have to take breaks. I like to reframe breaks. I know for a lot of high performing people that outdated and non scientific interpretation is that it’s.

frivolous. It’s, you know, something for the week, you know, high performers and productive people don’t need them. So I coin the term a peak performance pit stop and just like a race car, race cars are so mechanically and technically sophisticated today that they actually don’t need to pull in to take a pit stop.

The reason, however, they still do is that they want that race car to finish the race, not crawling to the finish line, not blowing smoke and, you know, chugging to the end. [00:16:00] They want that car to finish in an optimal state. So if we want to perform at an optimal level, we have to take those pit stops. And they’re really simple things that we can do, um, that don’t need a lot of equipment or money or time, um, but we’ll, you know, have huge gains in terms of our subsequent productivity.

Yeah, and I think as leaders, we don’t want our staff getting to Friday afternoon, starting to blow smoke, chugging away, crawling to the finish line. Uh, so building in these peak performance pit stops, was it? Perfect. Yeah, great. If you build these in regularly and You know, take those proper breaks and take those, those, the opportunity to recharge.

You’re going to be finishing the crossing the finish line, sorry. In a lot better state. Absolutely. And I want to say here, we mentioned there, you know, leaders don’t want that. I think leaders have a responsibility to role model this. Um, I do a lot of work with organizations and I have, you know, really motivated employees and executives saying I want to embed a lot of these habits, [00:17:00] but I don’t see it being emulated by my leader leaders really do set the cultural tone as we know, and particularly the digital tone.

So we need leaders to actually talk openly and vulnerably about what they’re doing in terms of their recovery. Um, I think if we use the word recovery rest often has sort of those. Although not justifiable, but those connotations that it’s, you know, superfluous or frivolous. But if we use sometimes just a subtle semantic shift of recovery, um, and, and openly talking as a leader, what it is that you are doing.

Um, some organizations did this recently and they had their staff of their leaders, I should say, record videos of the things that they were doing. In their weekdays to recover and it was brilliant. It was a conversational piece that humanized them, but more importantly than both of those was that it gave permission for other people to do the same.

Yeah, absolutely. And I think when leaders say you should be doing this, but then demonstrate something different or they’re [00:18:00] like, everyone should finish it for. But I’m going to work till six or something. It doesn’t give people the permission to actually take the breaks, do the restorative practices. So I think it’s really important for leaders listening to, to think about what’s the behavior they’re actually role modeling and exampling and making sure it’s the, that they can grow it, but the two messages are the same.

Yeah. The other thing I just thought of, I would like to add is that we also need to be mindful of how, um, leadership teams are. Subtly, but very powerfully rewarding, you know, hustle and grind and burnout cultures through the people that they promote and advance. Um, you know, if we are constantly, you know, promoting or giving accolades to those people who are literally burning themselves out, who are, you know, working constantly, not resting and recovering again, a very powerful message to other people that that’s sort of an accepted operational cadence.

So just something else for our leaders. I’m not trying to shift all the responsibility to leaders, [00:19:00] but they’re really important considerations that I think we need to be making. And I think people are our most important asset when we talk about teams. So I think it should be a conversation between both parties, but I think we need to create the environment and the culture and make sure everyone knows.

It is really okay to take these breaks. It is really okay that you’re, you know, every 90 minutes you’re doing a restorative practice. Um, and I think if we can do that again, we won’t be crossing that finish line on Friday afternoon blowing smoke. We’ll be actually feeling good about ourselves. Absolutely.

And the other thing I often ask audiences when I’m speaking, I say, I want you to think back to where you were when you came up with your last creative, innovative idea. Where were you when you solved a complex problem that you may have spent months agonizing over? And I asked people to call out their responses.

Usually most people’s responses in the shower, when I was going for a walk or a swim, when I used to be on a plane with no wifi, unfortunately we often have wifi on our planes. Now, um, I have never, ever had [00:20:00] anyone say to me, In my inbox or in an Excel spreadsheet, never. And so it’s such a tangible reminder that we need that white space.

We need time for our mind to meander. Um, and the recovery is not a reward. Recovery is a responsibility. And, you know, no one’s ever going to come along or unless you’ve got a great leader, very few leaders are ever going to come along and say, it’s time for you to take a break. You know, it’s morning time.

Let’s go. Let’s go for a walk and talk. It has to be a personal responsibility. Yeah, that’s when we see huge shifts. Yeah. Uh, Kristy, as a part of your research into this area, you’ve actually written a book and I love the title, uh, Dear Digital, We Need to Talk. And I kind of say it like that because in my mind that’s how it sounds.

Um, so can you tell us a little bit about the book and why you wrote it? Yes. So I wrote this book. Um, I don’t know if you Rob have read Johan Hari’s Stolen Focus. Yes, I have. Um, I know a lot of probably your listeners have a lot of people and myself included read that book and [00:21:00] it really resonated. I think, you know, I believe, as I said before, our FQ is our most important skill.

Um, and whilst I loved Johan’s book, what I felt it was lacking from a reader’s perspective is pragmatic realistic solutions. Um, I think Johan did a great job at exemplifying the problem with a few suggestions to what we can do, but I don’t know how attainable those strategies are for people who are enmeshed in a digital world.

So I wrote the book to provide what I call a menu of micro habits. What are the small, you know, micro adjustments that we can make to our digital behaviors? So that they are congruent rather than in conflict with how we are designed to operate and function as humans. So I created the book with really practical, you know, whilst research based, but really realistic strategies and habits that people can put in place again, professionally and personally, so that we can take back.

Control of our screens, because I think many adults would acknowledge that we’re slaves to the [00:22:00] screen. You know, we get an alert or notification. We salivate like Pavlov’s dogs. You know, we can’t even imagine the thought of going on holidays and going laptop less. Um, we are constantly checking and processing information in the book.

I share a very scary figure, and that is that it is estimated that the average Australian adult will spend a whopping 70 percent of their time 17 years of their life on their phones, not laptops, just our phones alone. That’s a huge opportunity cost. Um, and so again, it’s not, it’s not a book about saying do a digital detox.

That advice I think is antiquated and irrelevant in 2024. It’s more about how can we use technology, but do so in a way that helps us rather than harms us. And you make a really good point there because I’ve just finished reading your book and I love how practical in nature it is and the advice. I think that, and as you said in Johan Hari’s book, it’s, you’re not getting that same level of detail.

So I love that. So can you perhaps tell the listeners [00:23:00] some ideas around, particularly in the workplace, more ideas they can sort of put in place so they’re giving themselves that space from the digital device and not feeling like they’re a slave to it all the time? Yeah, so I work with a number of organizations and one of the things I’ve done in recent times, and I’ve had an influx of inquiries since the right to disconnect legislation has moved through Parliament, um, and that is to work with companies to establish what I call their digital guardrails.

Now, this is not an I. T. Policy. It’s not a static document like that. This is a set of agreed upon guardrails and boundaries. They’re sort of some people call them team agreements, and this is actually working with whether it’s a team or at an organizational level, actually taking the time to articulate what are our digital norms, practices and principles that underpin these new ways of working.

You know, when do I send an email? What’s an acceptable internal. Email response, right? How do I handle as the [00:24:00] legislation now put some parameters around after hours communications? Do we have a communication escalation plan so that if there is a legitimate after hours emergency or situation, what’s the one mode of communication through which that will be disseminated?

What are our protocols or norms around virtual meetings? Cameras on or cameras off? Um, how do we, you know, signal participation in virtual or hybrid meetings? Um, so actually taking the time to articulate what I call your tech expectations, because I think we, through no one’s faults, you know, we were thrust into remote work and now hybrid work, and very few organizations have actually taken the time to say, well, how do we use these technologies that are now an integral part of our lives?

So, But do so in a way that, that helps us rather than distracts us. Um, so, you know, establishing meeting free hours is something a lot of companies are considering, and that was based on research that came out of MIT Sloan in, uh, 2022. Um, and that research actually [00:25:00] told us that companies that established to the equivalent of two internal meeting free days a week, saw a whopping 72 percent increase in productivity, 41 percent drop.

In stress. Wow. That’s incredible. A sobering, very confronting statistic. Now that may not be attainable in your organization to meeting free internal meeting. Three days may not be tenable, but what can we take from that? What is it achievable? Um, so coming up with those boundaries. So that’s something I recommended an organizational level.

Following on from that, I also think the onus sits on individuals to come up with our own personal digital guardrails. You know, when you get home, do you have, I call it a digital depot, you know, a designated spot where devices go so that you’re not tempted to constantly be checking them. Um, is it, you know, when you’re trying to get your work done, is it putting your phone somewhere where you can’t see it?

Um, researcher in the university of Austin, Texas told us that even if our phone was on. Silent and face down. If it was in our line of [00:26:00] sight, while we’re trying to get our work done, it dropped our cognitive performance by an estimated 10 percent put bluntly seeing our phone, just seeing it is a brain drain.

It makes us about 10 percent dumber. I can’t be any more direct than that. And so there are really simple things that we can do. Um, so that we’re not constantly being distracted and sort of sucked into that digital vortex that draws us all in. Yeah, that’s certainly some advice that I took from you because I used to have my phone sitting right next to my laptop and it was face up sometimes, let’s be honest, uh, and but hearing it doesn’t matter whether it’s face up or face down.

If it’s just in the line of sight, you’re going to be distracted. So I’ve since now removed it from my line of sight, um, and hoping to see that it’s going to have some impact, which I’m sure it will. But I think that’s another great example of a really easy thing leaders can do to to stop being so distracted.

Another thing that people can do, and you mentioned it just then when you said, you know, even if it’s face up, it can be distracting when we are [00:27:00] distracted, and it doesn’t matter if it’s the ping of a message, you know, your email notification dancing across your screen, it’s chatty Kathy that comes up to your desk or talkative Tom in the office, you know, kids that whiz by when you’re trying to work remotely.

Research tells us that it takes the average adult 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back. into that deep focus state. Now, it doesn’t take you 23 minutes to restart the task, but after you are distracted, there is something called the resumption lag. And so this is happening to us throughout the day. If we think of a typical knowledge workers day, you know, the ping of emails, chat notifications, phones, illuminating, um, that’s not conducive to being productive.

And it’s also really stressful, even if we don’t. Click on the notification, just seeing it, we leave something. Sophie Leroy coined this term, um, attention residue. And it’s this idea that we leave small fragments of our attention. You know, even if you just saw the subject and the sender, we’re [00:28:00] already starting to ruminate and think about what the email or the message might be.

Um, so really not working the way our brains are designed when we’re constantly having those distractions, diverting our attention. Yeah, that figure astounded me. 23 minutes and 15 seconds, because if I think about in my own personal experience, uh, there’s often dings going off when I’m working, uh, or, you know, chatty Kathy or talkative Tom comes up to me and has a little bit of a chat.

I would have thought it was a couple of minutes to regain my attention. But when I think about it, you’re right. If I’m in a deep state of work and then I have to get back into it. Oh, I thought it was just me, but it takes a while for those, you know, cogs to start wearing again. That’s for sure. Yeah.

Absolutely. Um, there’s a switch cost and, and, you know, you may not be distracted for a long period of time, but there is enough of a cognitive cost to be associated with moving your attention, um, to a different task, even for a brief period of time. And it’s interesting because these wonderful digital devices that we do [00:29:00] have are designed to get our attention.

So I don’t want listeners to feel too bad. It’s part of the system we find ourselves in, but they are designed to provide intermittent variable and randomized rewards, which is kind of like a slot machine, right? And we know how easily they are to get addicted to. So it’s no wonder we’re getting distracted and then, you know, sucked into the digital vortex.

Right. Yeah, and there are so many deliberate design techniques that tech companies, you know, we again, we’ve criticized a lot of social media platforms saying, you know, they’re designed to be addictive. You know, the infinite scroll, um, leads us into something that’s called the state of insufficiency in the online world.

We never feel done. There’s always. More information we can process. You know, we never really get to inbox zero. If we do, it’s a fleeting moment in time. It’s just that perpetual feeling that we’re never done. Um, you know, something as simple as the fact that a notification comes to you. I often say we have ancient.

Paleolithic brains. We have brains that were biologically designed to go and [00:30:00] forage, hunt, and get information. When unsolicited information comes to us, alerts, notifications, you know, those pings and dings, it tricks our brain into thinking this must be urgent and important. Um, because it triggers a stress response.

You know, the fact that our notification bubble usually by default Is red, red is associated with danger, urgency, importance. The fact that there’s a metric telling us how many unread DMS or messages we have often drives our behavior. Um, so it’s a whole lot of things that are at play that, that make us really vulnerable.

So I’m glad you pointed that out. It really isn’t our fault. Um, we are neurobiologically typical way. It’s just not serving us. And this is why I think we’ve seen a huge increase, um, in rates of stress and burnout. Yeah, and it’s funny. Those little notifications that you get on your apps on your digital device that tell you have a message or something.

I’m the kind of person who needs to see those sort of things completed or not [00:31:00] there because it feels like there’s something I need to do. So I’ve had to turn them off. Otherwise, I was constantly opening apps. Just to clear the notification wasn’t necessarily a, I don’t think it was about, you know, seeing what the message was or what the notification was.

It was, I’ve just got to clear that notification. So it was almost addictive behavior. Yeah. And that’s what we call the completion bias as humans. We are wired to, you know, see a task through to, to, to completion. So having those open loops with, you know, notifications and messages is working against us yet again.

Yeah. Well, and I’m glad to hear that it’s not just me ’cause I was starting to wonder if I had a bit of a problem, , but, uh, , like I said, I’ve changed a lot of behavior over the years. Yeah. Um, certainly after seeing the movie, was it the Social dilemma? Social dilemma, yes. Yeah. Yeah. And, and there’s, uh, a couple of other, um, Netflix specials around how these devices are, are sort of grabbing us and, and pulling us in.

So. Uh, I’m aware of my behavior because of it and I’ve had to change it. But, uh, I think there’s still probably like everyone that, you know, I still make mistakes [00:32:00] and I’ve got a long way to go. Totally. I’m with you. I’m not perfect at this either. I left a cafe the other day, um, after catching up with a friend and I was walking out of the cafe, um, and I decided to ring a friend back.

I had a moment of time as I walked to the car. I was talking to my friend on the phone and as I was talking to her, I said, Oh, I’m going to have to call you back. And she said, why? And I said, I think I’ve left my phone back in the cafe. Now, while I was speaking to her, I was doing the sort of frantic tap down of the body rummaging through the oversized handbag.

And my beautiful friend simply just said to me, just call me back when you find it. But it’s become so invisible and so pervasive, um, there’s even a condition that many adults and young people experience, and it’s called nomophobia, like a legitimate fear of not having our phones in close proximity. Yeah, another condition called phantom vibration syndrome, where people are literally having sensations that their phone or their smartwatch is vibrating, yet it’s nowhere near their physical [00:33:00] body.

So I think it’s hard to refute the idea that technology is impacting us, it’s shaping us. Um. But it’s also really hard. It’s not, you know, um, a simple solution and we are the very first generation of people who are living and working in this completely digitally saturated world. So in many regards, we’re coming up with the rules and, and, you know, the playbooks on the fly.

Yeah. And I suppose a lot of mistakes will, uh, we’ll make those mistakes. So generations in the future will not make those mistakes because they would have seen how we did it. Um, I take a lot of comfort in hearing that someone who, you know, researches and, and has written a book about this still has times when the digital vortex sucks you back in.

So I’m wondering what your digital wellbeing practice looks like. What are the things that you do that you find work the best for you to make sure you get that balance of Still being able to interact with your phone, of course, we all need them, but also making sure you’re making the time for the wellbeing and [00:34:00] not being on your device.

Yes. So one of the key things that has really helped me is identifying what time of the day I’m really alert and focused. So in the book, I talk about your chronotype and your chronotype biologically determines what window of time you tend to be most focused and alert. It also dictates biologically when you should naturally need to fall asleep or want to fall asleep.

And so, um, I figured out that I am a lion. I’m sometimes referred to as an early bird or a lock. Um, I have always fired on all cylinders early in the day. Um, and no surprises. Both my mom and my maternal grandparents were also early birds. And the reason it’s not a surprise is it’s actually determined by something called our PR three gene.

So you can’t change chronotype. It’s basically baked into your biology. It can naturally shift throughout your lifespan so it can move. But you actually, there’s very little you can do to manipulate it. So I quite like being an early [00:35:00] bird. I’ve got three sons. So the fact that I can get up and be firing on all the cylinders before they all get up, um, is great.

So the trick is to identify when are you most focused and alert. And then once you know that we’re possible, not all the time, but can you ring fence that time? Can you build a fortress around your focus during your peak performance window? So for me, it is early in the morning. So I get up before I do exercise.

And do a little bit of deep focused work. I don’t get, have any notifications. I’m not distracted by, you know, people or digital distractions at that point in time, and I can get through what I can get done in sort of 45 minutes is probably the equivalent to what I can do that takes me two hours later in the afternoon.

Um, so build a fortress around your focus, figure out when you’re most productive. The second thing I found really helpful is to control my notifications. And I have three golden rules with notifications. Turn off non essential notifications. You know, you don’t need to get the, the LinkedIn notifications, you know, the [00:36:00] humble brag of your ex colleague, um, and then new promotions.

Email notifications, unless you are in sales or customer service. I don’t believe anyone else needs email notifications. So turn off non essential notifications. Golden rule number two is bundle or batch your notifications on most platforms like Slack and teams and, you know, email providers, WhatsApp, um, social media platforms.

You can now bundle your notifications to come to you at set time or times of the day. So if you don’t want them dribbling in and distracting you, you can now Specify when they are. And the third golden rule with notifications is to create the IP lists. So when you put your device on focus mode or do not disturb mode, everybody gets blocked apart from those people on that VIP list.

Is it your partner? Is it your aging parents? Is it your children’s preschool or school? Um, is it a colleague or a client that you’re working on a. You know, an urgent project that will need to reach you. So that gives [00:37:00] you that peace of mind that you can get that focused work done without missing out on anything that could be potentially really important.

Um, and then the third one, this has been a real game changer for me in the last little while, and that is to actually, um, try not to use my phone within the first 15 minutes of waking up. Um, we know that as. 90 percent of adults reach for their phone before their partner. And when we do that, we often agitate the limbic part of our brain and it triggers off the stress response.

We only need to see one upsetting, stressful email, social media posts, upsetting news headline, and we trigger that limbic part of the brain. The other reason why we say I suggest 15 minutes should be at least screen free is because 15 minutes, um, eight to 15 minutes when we wake up is when we transition out of a theater brain state.

That’s often when ideas germinate, when something creative comes up. Um, if we wake up instead, as most of us do and pick up our phones, we [00:38:00] activate the beta or the busy brain state. And so we’re already in this hyper aroused over stimulated state on our feet. Haven’t often even hit the ground. We haven’t had our first cup of tea or coffee.

Um, instead, what I’ve been trying to do, and I wake up quite early, um, being an early bird. Um, but one of the things that we also know is getting sunlight in our eyes in that first hour of waking up if we can get and you don’t need to stare directly at the sun, of course, but getting sunlight exposure in that first hour does two things.

First thing it does is it activates our hypothalamus. So sunlight will actually put our brain in an alert focus state when we, we sort of activate that hypothalamus. So we’re really alert and focused then. But the second thing that happens absolutely magically is that 16 hours after that first sunlight exposure, our body starts to produce the sleep hormone melatonin.

So such simple things that we can do, um, you know, identify when we’re most focused and alert. Build that fortress around our focus. So we try to [00:39:00] eliminate as many distractions, control our notifications and trying to avoid our phones in that first 15 minutes are really realistic, achievable things that will have a huge impact on both our well being and our performance as well.

I love that they’re such great suggestions and I myself have a meditation practice and it’s always I will do that as the first thing when I wake up, which means I’m not touching my phone, which is great and I try and leave it as long as I can because I know the exactly how you said it before if there’s a bad notification or some something Um, a work email or something that grabs your attention, it can really take over the rest of your day.

The rest of your morning is spent worrying about how am I going to respond to this? What am I going to do? And you’re wasting such productive time, particularly if you’re a morning person, you’re wasting that time worrying about whatever you’ve just seen. Absolutely. So we talked before about leaders and potentially trying to role model what they’re doing in the workplace to show [00:40:00] their teams around them, their digital well being practices.

What else can leaders do to help their team members? If it’s not something they understand themselves or have researched or if they’ve got younger team members, for example, how can they provide some sort of assistance or guidance around digital well being? Thank you. We mentioned before establishing those digital guardrails, um, and the companies where I have worked with them to design, and we co create these, these are, you know, collectively designed agreements, um, and the guardrails, as I said, it’s not a strict policy, but the companies where I’ve gone back to where they’ve implemented these guardrails, those that have had the greatest success have been those companies where the leaders.

Have walked the talk, they’ve adopted these habits. They’ve role modeled them, you know, for many employees, they know they don’t have to reply to the, you know, 10 PM email or the 3 PM Sunday afternoon flurry of messages, but when it’s your boss messaging you, when your colleagues all start replying and you don’t want to, [00:41:00] from an optics perspective, look like the slack one, we often feel compelled to behave and reciprocate.

Um, so it’s just so imperative that. That leaders role model, both of the work practices that they’ve identified, particularly around after hours, collaboration, um, many young people, um, you know, younger generational workers are saying, I don’t want to reply, um, but I feel obligated to. So having those after hours communication, um, guardrails and embedding those, and also talking about what they do for recovery, um, and some of their productivity.

You know, I don’t particularly like the word hacks, but they’re, they’re principles or, or practices and saying this works really well for me. Um, I mentioned before that I think our, our focus is the super skill of the 21st century leaders need to be explicitly training people, not just young people. This is an issue facing every single.

We, and I believe kids and teams are like, um, but we need to actually [00:42:00] be training people on how do I optimize my focus? And there are so many, you know, brain based protocols, something as simple as, you know, listening to the same playlist. Before you start your focused work, it primes the brain to be again, alert and focused.

The playlist should only be done before focused work. It shouldn’t be sort of the playlist you listen to whilst you’re at the gym or going for a walk that can prime the brain. I’m having a cold shower first thing in the morning. Many people don’t like this micro habit, but a 30 to 60 second cold shower can potentially give you 250 to 500 percent increase in adrenaline, noradrenaline, norepinephrine.

There are no known legal substitutes that will get you feeling that high, that focused and that alert plenty of illegal substitutes that you could pretend I’m not here to talk about that on your podcast, but cold exposure. Um, your research is even telling us that. Staring at a [00:43:00] small fixed point, not too far from our eyes, be that the tip of your finger, you know, the lid on your pen across on a piece of paper when our eyes converge, it primes our brain that we need to be focused and alert.

You mentioned before mindfulness practices or meditation, you know, researchers telling us we need about 11 minutes of meditation for it to yield positive gains in terms, in terms of, of having a sustained focused attention. So there are achievable things that we can do, but this, I think we need leaders actually firstly, recognizing that this is a problem.

And second of all, putting some training, really practical training in place so that people can actually walk away with, with tangible and achievable strategies. That’s such great advice. I’m also thinking that people listening to this podcast may be parents as well. So, and I know you’ve done a lot of research here with kids.

Perhaps we can talk briefly about what are some ways that parents can help their kids form good digital habits. [00:44:00] What would you recommend in this space? Yes. So my message to parents is always this. It’s the parents have to be the pilot, not the passenger of the digital plane and to be the pilot. Now, if you’ve got teenagers, I suggest you assume the copilots role.

But to be the pilot or copilot of the plane, you’ve got to get three B’s right? The first B is that you have to establish boundaries not on but with your Children. You have to co create their digital guardrails and we need Far more nuanced conversations than what many parents are having at the moment.

Most parents only limit. Is around how much time we need far more nuanced conversations. What are they using? When are they using it? Where are they using it? With whom? How are they using it? So coming up with those family digital guardrails is really important. Um, second, we need to fiercely protect their basic needs.

We have to make sure that their screen time or time online isn’t eroding, isn’t displacing their basic physical and or psychological [00:45:00] needs. In particular, their sleep. Movement and human connection. They’re absolutely critical for optimal well being. And the third B is boredom. We have to make sure that young people still get to experience being idle with their thoughts that we don’t constantly placate them with the screen.

We don’t always allow them when they’re dealing with big emotions, disappointment, anger, frustration. Soothe them with a screen. So those three B’s, boundaries, basic needs and boredom, and you will set your young people up, um, for, you know, healthy digital habits, um, that will be, you know, a critical part of their lives moving forward.

Yeah, it’s funny with my youngest son, whenever he tells me he’s bored, I get all excited for him. It always elicits an eye roll. It’s like, dad, I’m like, no, this is great. You’re bored. Let’s harness that. Let’s go figure out what we can do. Like be bored for a while. That’s fantastic. Like I said, I get the eye rolls, but I think he’s starting to understand what’s important.

Totally great. Because as adults, we’ve lost that art of boredom. In the book, [00:46:00] I share a story or a research study about adults who are asked to sit In a room and be idle with their thoughts for 15 minutes. Now, as a mom to three sons who still come in the bathroom, the idea of sitting in a room by myself in solitude sounds like my version of utopia.

I didn’t participate in this study, but the researchers actually had to end the study prematurely because some of the participants showed signs of psychological distress. They became agitated, frustrated 15 minutes. They went back to their ethics committee and said, in iteration two, we’d like to give people the option of administering a moderate to severe electric shock in lieu of being bored.

67 percent of the male participants, 24 percent of females elected to give themselves an electric shock in lieu of being bored. I won’t reveal the gender, but there was one data outlier who gave themselves 108 electric shocks. We would rather shock ourselves than sit there and let our minds meander. And we see this all the time, you know, [00:47:00] adults order a coffee, they pull out their phone, they pull up at a red light, they pull out their phone, they get in the lift and pull out our phone.

Um, we have to be so much more cognizant about, you know, carving out that time so that we can be bored just as much as our kids do. You mentioned focus being a superpower. I’m wondering if boredom is also somehow a superpower in the future. People being able to be bored is, you know, something that’s held in high regard because so many people can’t do it.

Yeah, I did some coaching work with a, um, um, Very senior male executive and I talked to him about the science of being idle with your thoughts and I use the word boredom and he said, I’m going to give this a go, Kristy, but I’ve got an EA and there’s no way my EA can see in my calendar boredom time.

Yeah, I said, okay, so I gave him the science and we know that when we are bored, we activate something called the default mode network. So neuroscientists have identified that when our sort of minds meander, when we daydream, um, that’s what happened. They said to me, [00:48:00] look, I can’t write boredom in my calendar.

Daydreaming looks equally as unprofessional. What I am going to put in my calendar, however, to protect this time is activation of default mode network time. He put that in his calendar and he stuck to it. And he actually had a rule with his EA that if a meeting had to go on that time, that time had to move somewhere else in the calendar.

It couldn’t just be deleted. He’s fiercely protected that the ideas, the time that he has had. Dedicated to that practice has had huge gains, um, just by being, you know, really intentional and fiercely blocking that out. And it’s funny how, um, uh, again, language matters being able to use that and, and not feeling bad about taking a break or, or whatever we’re using different language, but it’s still getting a better result.

Totally. Kristy, what’s one question that I didn’t ask you today that you hoped maybe I would have, and if I had asked, how would you have answered? Um, I’m often asked what am I? What’s my hope for the future? Um, you know, am I worried [00:49:00] about these new technologies that are on the horizon? Um, and You know, there’s no denying AI is very close, if not already, on many of our workplace doorsteps, um, the metaverse, um, wearable technologies, we’re seeing rapid digital transformation.

I think that there is huge positive potential. Do I think they’re going to be the silver bullet in transforming our work practices? Perhaps, and my evidence might be tilted somewhat, um, but I don’t think we will see rapid digital transformation. Shifts, um, very quickly in terms of the technologies as they are currently existing, it will take, there’ll be a, you know, a period of adoption, a period of them being refined and upgraded.

I guess my concern is if we’re using these new technologies, have they been designed in a way that will allow us to be more human? You know, I’m worried that if we’re using, you know, a lot of workplaces have started to roll out, um, co pilot, which is the Microsoft. I tool [00:50:00] workplace. I tool on many people are using, you know, some of its functionality, which is great to synthesize meetings to create agendas in meetings to create a slide deck based on some preliminary information, perhaps from a document.

My concern is that if we then use these tools to make us more productive. Are we then going to simply find more tasks to do? Or are we going to use this as a tool to sort of remedy the burnout, stress and exhaustion that is rampant in workplaces? And so I think we need to think critically about the technologies we’re designing.

Are they going to allow us to still be humans and to function as a human? Or are we using it to simply expedite things? And it’s interesting because years ago, when digital technologies became more prevalent in the workplace, they were touted as having huge productivity and efficiency gains. But researchers actually told us we’ve got something called the productivity paradox, and that is the very technologies that was supposed to make us more efficient [00:51:00] have actually had the negative.

Impact because we’re more distracted. We’re being digitally bombarded. Um, we haven’t used them in ways that are congruent with how we’re designed as humans. Yeah, absolutely. Thank you, Kristy, so much for your time today. This has been such an interesting conversation, and I think it comes at a point, as you just mentioned, with different new technologies coming in.

That we need to have these conversations early. So we’re not on the back foot, uh, and thinking about how we can implement these safely and for the betterment of humans, uh, and not just to find more time to do more work and be distracted even more. Absolutely. I’m so pleased. for this chat. So if people want to connect more with you and find out more about what you’re doing, how can they do that?

And the irony isn’t lost on me that I’m saying, you know, curtail your digital habits, but come and check me out on social media. So, um, I do have a digital home at www.drkristygoodwin.com and I do try and share bite sized bits of information on LinkedIn and also on Instagram, um, [00:52:00] in terms of just the pragmatic, realistic things that we can do to sort of tame our tech habits.

That’s awesome. And I definitely recommend people check that out. Thank you again, Kristy, for today. Really appreciate it. 

Great to chat.