Graphic by Mike Forbush

Graphic by Mike Forbush

In this age of multiple devices and push notifications, it can seem impossible to disconnect from electronic communication, even after you’ve left the office. For professionals on the Eastside, where tech is king, this is particularly problematic. We’re expected to respond 24/7 to Twitter mentions, emails, and iMessages. There seems to be no such thing as unplugging on the Eastside, especially for those working in the C-suite.

But failing to disconnect can be extremely harmful, both now and in the future. It can impede starting a family or building a foundation with friends and loved ones. It can cause early burnout. It can lead to depression or other mental illnesses. Ultimately, unplugging can help you enjoy the life you have now. And while working hard now might mean enough money for “the future,” will you really enjoy that life when the time comes?

Learning to unplug and find a work-life balance is critical. I recently made the decision to take a step back professionally and financially to strike a better work-life balance. I forced myself to completely unplug after 7 p.m. on weekdays and to not work during the weekend. The result? I’m sleeping better, eating better, and finding myself more present when I’m with friends and family, who are much less annoyed with me now than when I was constantly checking my phone during dinner on a Friday night.

Amber Osborne, CMO of Kirkland-based Meshfire, a social media startup, didn’t realize just how plugged in she was until her apartment flooded in October. She juggles potential-customer meetings with being a product manager. Osborne also handles social media content creation, webinars, speaking at conferences, and Twitter chats. “My day can go from not busy to very busy in a few minutes if I actually get a few minutes to check my inbox,” Osborne says. “I usually have to be very plugged in for my job.”

Nevertheless, Osborne — who is in her late 20s and engaged to a tech recruiter — knows the importance of disconnecting. “A lot of the planning and creative ideas come easy if I just take a step back from technology,” she says. These moments of inspiration usually strike in the evenings, the time she likes to disconnect the most. “I usually will head out to Flatstick Pub in Kirkland to catch up with friends or play trivia, which is the most brilliant way to get away from technology because you will get things thrown at you if you are on your phone during trivia.”

Osborne wasn’t always this in tune with the need to disconnect. “My event schedule a few years ago looked like someone threw a bunch of spaghetti on the wall and saw what stuck,” she says. “Being new to the area, I attended a lot of tech and networking events. In the last year, though, I’ve taken a step back from this a bit, focusing on Meshfire.”

Her apartment flood left her without Internet for several months. She says that was when she “realized that I could do my job and live a
bit more disconnected. I ended up getting out of the office and house more, and I found myself doing a lot of relationship-building, in-person meetings more than Skype calls. Outside the office, I’ve been able to catch up on movies and books that I’ve wanted to read but always got distracted by the ‘interwebs.’”

Many executives, including Osborne, find their Zen by working. That makes it hard to unplug, but leaving your phone at home can do wonders for increasing productivity at work. It can also help strike the right work-life balance. As Osborne says, “We have so many amazing, beautiful places on the Eastside and beyond that I highly recommend exploring. I live in downtown Kirkland, and within walking distance there is so much food that looks so much better without an Instagram filter.”

If you still find unbearable the idea of leaving your smartphone at home — or even turning off all those push notifications — it may be time to get rid of the device altogether. Osborne says she’s had dozens of meetings with executives who still have flip phones. She previously thought they were behind the times, but now Osborne believes they have the right approach. “I think we might have this stigma of, being in technology, you must always be connected.” The reality is, though, that the Eastside is full of active executives who love the outdoors and are disconnected as much as possible.

Turning off notifications can be hard — research has shown we can become physically addicted to those pings. However, if the idea of not instantaneously knowing when your next email arrives agitates you, it is a sign that you need to disconnect more often. Start by leaving your phone in another room when you’re at home. Then leave it in the house while you go for a walk. Your sanity will thank me later.