Randi Zuckerberg Reveals 5 Ways to Unplug From Technology (and Work)

5 Ways to Unplug Illo - H 2014
Illustrations by: Tomi Um

5 Ways to Unplug Illo - H 2014

The 32-year-old founder and CEO of Zuckerberg Media and former Facebook marketing director (and, yes, Mark's sister) shares the tips that helped propel her to best-selling authordom — and Broadway

This story first appeared in the 2014 Women in Entertainment issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

"I feel like I'm treading water," I told my husband the other evening. "I work all day long, I barely sleep, yet I feel like I'm not getting anywhere. Every day, it's just a struggle to stay afloat." In this instance, I was referring to life at home with our 6-week-old newborn baby. But if that sentiment feels familiar to you, it's probably because I could have been referring to any of our lives, balancing work, family and other commitments in between.

Whereas we used to be a culture that placed a premium on creativity and thoughtfulness, we now place it on speed. We're reachable across dozens of channels -- email, phone, texts, social media -- and not only that, we're expected to respond instantaneously, no matter what time of the day. Take longer than a few hours to get back to someone, and they'll "follow up" with you on another mode of communication. It's a full-time job just maintaining the status quo, let alone thinking about accomplishing new things! Who has time to be creative when you're buried under mountains of emails? Or to dedicate hours to one task without interruption? Ha, that's a funny one.

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And even if we wanted to avoid those emails? Well, sorry, it's really hard to. Because our brains are wired to be "addicted" to receiving those little bursts of online communication. Every time you receive a text message, an email or a Facebook friend request, your brain releases a burst of dopamine and you become addicted to the pleasure you get with every incoming "hit." That's why you see stats like 70 percent of adults text and drive. We know better, but we're so jonesing for that message to come in, we will actually risk our lives and the lives around us to read it. We're all addicts, and our inboxes are our drug.

But it doesn't have to be this way. We can be proactive, rather than reactive; 2015 can be the year that we make progress toward our goals, professional and personal, and dedicate time to moving forward rather than treading water. If technology is not making you happier and more productive, there are simple fixes you can make:

1. Don't check your email first thing in the morning

It's tempting. Your phone is right there -- research shows that 90 percent of people sleep with our phones right next to our beds -- but resist the urge. Those first few moments of the day are so important to get in the right frame of mind and make a plan for what you want to accomplish. Opening your email will just get you sucked right into the weeds. Instead, spend those minutes visualizing the few big things you really want to accomplish.

2. Have one day a week where you take no meetings

At Facebook, we used to have something called no-meeting-Wednesday. It was one of my favorite days of the week, with limited distractions where we could block off several hours in a row on our calendar to focus on a big problem, tackle something strategic and important. When you're running to and from meetings and answering emails in every spare minute in between, you miss out on that important creative block.

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3. Set some personal boundaries

You teach other people how to treat you. If you constantly respond to emails at 2 a.m., other people will come to expect that of you. But if you start drawing boundaries, such as not responding after a certain time of night, or unplugging completely for a block of time on the weekends, your colleagues will learn to work around that. Nobody else is going to create these boundaries for you. If you respect your time, others will also.

4. Take your vacation

Fewer Americans are taking the vacation time we're entitled to. While you might feel like working every day of the year earns you a gold star, you're doing yourself and your employer a disservice. One Silicon Valley company instituted a rule where if you don't take at least one week of vacation by September, you have to leave work for a week, unpaid.

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And when you're on your vacation, UNPLUG. Seriously, the world is not going to end if you take a few days to sit on a beach, drink margaritas and focus on yourself and your family. You might feel like everything is going to fall apart if you're unreachable, but unless you are an ER doctor ON CALL, put up an out-of-office message and step away from the phone. Studies show that employees who truly unplug on their vacation come back much more productive. So much, in fact, that a company in Denver started giving $1,000 bonuses to employees who go on vacation and do not bring their phones with them.

5. Banish inbox zero from your to-do list

Emptying your email inbox is one of those mythical unicorns like cleaning out the garage or fitting into your high school jeans. It's virtually unattainable and will drive you crazy. Instead, switch to an app or email system that helps you prioritize and file away your inbox. I highly doubt any employer wants their employee's main focus to be sorting, filtering and responding to emails day in and day out. Learn to be OK with inbox 500, 3,500, or whatever you have.

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When I finally started following these rules, I was amazed at how quickly I went from simply trying to "conquer my inbox" to writing my book Dot Complicated, launching a radio show on SiriusXM 111 and co-starring on Broadway in Rock of Ages. Instead of responding to every single distraction, make it your goal to break free from the 24/7 bounds of technology and invest in yourself this coming year.