This post by Jan Bruce, CEO and co-founder of meQuilibrium, first appeared on Forbes.com.
At the outset of a hectic week of business travel I lost my cell phone (ok, truth be told I left it on the seat on my first flight). When I realized this, I had a decision to make: board my next flight and hope someone from the airlines would help get it to me, or go back for it and miss an important dinner.
I went to the dinner and it was the right call. And while I ultimately got a new phone (the other one, as far as I know, is a memory), living without one for 48 hours gave me the benefit of checking out and going partially off the grid for a few days. Not unlike checking into a retreat: I emerged calmer and clearer, with new insight into what is important and well, what can wait. Here are seven things I learned from this experience, each well worth the cost of doing without a phone for a few days:
1. When you’re without a cellphone, time expands. It’s incredible how much time is wasted looking for the possibilities of engagement on our phones. By day two I felt that involuntary itch to check my texts subside. My thumbs begin to relax. I discovered that I had time to simply think and observe my thoughts and my surroundings – oh and my thoughts about my surroundings. Had I been missing what was going on around me while staring at my phone every 60 seconds? (Note: this is a rhetorical question.)
2. You have less email to contend with. It’s weird, but it’s true. When you stop checking your email constantly, you stop half-replying to stuff, and that means fewer emails being batted back to you, and fewer emails all around. This actually helps streamline communication, because you address a thing head on instead of bandying half-formed ideas about without resolution. How quaint: You actually think about what you are going to say and when you’re available, you respond! How cutting edge: You start wishing everyone would lose their phones or at least vow not to answer until they have considered their response.
3. You’re not unreachable. There was a time when we found each other without phones. Even when you’re off your mobile tether, people who want to find you will find a way to get in touch with you. That anxiety we feel when we don’t have immediate access to people feels real, but it quickly abates when you realize that you do not vanish when your phone does.
4. You hyper manage the drudge out of your life. Our lives are a hybrid of drudge and fulfillment; balance comes with apportioning the required with the good stuff. Where does my phone fit into this? I used to think it helped me manage down the drudge but what it actually does is perpetuate my focus on the drudge, because I’m constantly checking and refining schedules and plans: I can make dinner reservations for next Saturday while I am waiting for my meeting to begin; I can see what yoga classes I could take when I’m in Williamsburg, NY, next week while I’m on hold with a client.
Seems like smart multitasking, but having all of that at my fingertips throughout the day actually detracts from what is important and fulfilling. Without my phone I had to quickly and efficiently decide how to manage all the planning, arrangements, decision-making about how to get from point A to Point B today and tomorrow once and for all, rather than all day long.
5. You’re not lost. I live and die by Google maps, even in my own city. We all do. So what happens when you can’t take a digital bird’s-eye view of your geolocation on the spot every minute? I had to do something I also hadn’t done in a while: Ask for directions. You know, rely on and interact with another person to get where I’m going, which I have to remind myself, I did every day pre-Google. Not to mention, that allowed me to listen to the radio and just drive.
6. You check your thoughts instead of your phone. Because I wasn’t scanning for emails and texts, I could actually scan my own thoughts and tune in to how I was doing, which, admittedly, I hadn’t done for a while. How did I sleep last night? What is the weather? Did I get sufficient exercise yesterday? Gee, I actually know this without looking at my phone. But instead of looking at that stuff (as well as learning what a former colleague thinks of a new restaurant she just ate in), I can focus on how am I feeling instead, and ask, What am I looking forward to today? What is holding me back and is it real or imagined?
7. Empathy is a boomerang. It comes back and rewards you in spades. Empathy is a key characteristic of resilience, and encouraging your employees to be empathetic will not only make them happier and more engaged, it will make your customers more satisfied.
After I lost my phone, I asked six Delta employees for help, and only two—two!— exhibited any sign of empathy or actually thought for a moment about how to solve my problem. The other two-thirds essentially said, Move along, Are you boarding or not?, or started rattling off some company-speak about their Lost and Found (which by the way, has a stated Method of Operation best described as ‘Don’t call us we’ll call you’). In contrast, almost any small hotel, salon, health club, you’ll find that 9 out of 10 employees know how to find a way to help you when you lose a phone, need to send a message, left something in your room. They can find a way to get you your phone inside of a day, because they’re there to serve you. Not so with the airlines.
But here’s the kicker: The two employees who showed empathy and tried to help me best they could actually seemed far happier than those who did not (the four who did not offer help were grumpy and stressed). This confirmed for me what I know about the empathy effect: You get back what you give, and it lifts the mood almost immediately.The value of empathy is that is not only helps your customers, it helps you and your employees with engagement and success.
In the meantime, I have come to terms that I will never see that phone again. The good thing? They’re 100% replaceable. But the impact and tremendous value of human connection is not. That’s a lesson worth learning.