This tech CEO is on a permanent digital detox, and thinks you should be too

Colm Dolan Publift founder

Publift founder Colm Dolan.

One thing the COVID-19 pandemic has blessed many people with is the time to stop and reflect personally and professionally.

For me, much valuable and introspective time has been spent reevaluating and repositioning the business for its next stage of growth.

However, in addition to company plans, there’s been a bubbling internal conflict I’ve been wrestling with, that sees the very industry I have become entrenched in for the last 14 years at severe odds with some of my personal beliefs.

Despite running an adtech business solely focused on increasing online revenues, and improving digital experiences, I am actively trying to disconnect from the online world in my personal life. 

I have kicked Facebook and Twitter to the curb and have no email access on my phone. I will never look at work on the weekends (and tell my team not to either) and have all mobile app notifications turned off to ensure I am in control when I look for messages, rather than having my phone controlling me.

Feelings about my own internet usage and its impact on my mental health and wellbeing, and the corresponding impact on my family, started to creep in a few years ago, as I began to notice how much of my time was spent online, be it work, news, browsing products or watching sport.

The reasons to step back are aplenty.

Elements of the news brought a lot of fear into my life which was unnecessary and out of my control, and I started to feel guilty about not being there in the moment to experience the finer things in life.

In addition, I’d get lethargic from looking at the phone. This constant addiction meant I didn’t go for a walk, spend quality time with my wife or do some exercise. 

Having two young boys was also a key driver, as I want and need to spend more time with them.

Last year, I saw stats from We Are Social and Hootsuite that revealed we spend on average six hours and 42 minutes online each day, This was an eye-opener. Before I knew it, more controls were set up on my phone with app time limits and locks. 

If it wasn’t for the efficiency of phone payments via my mobile I’d seriously be in the market for a Nokia 3310 right now.

The downside is that these moves come with a somewhat guilty feeling that I have about my profession.

How can I be so against time spent online when I founded a business that focuses on harnessing user attention for more than 200 digital publishers in the online world?

Ultimately, the more user viewing hours, the more money we generate for our clients, so naturally, I see threads of a contradiction here. 

In addition, shouldn’t I be supporting all online ecosystems and connecting more and not doing my utmost to pursue a life of digital detox?

Am I a hypocrite?

And in addition, am I an out-of-touch CEO who selfishly values his own time more than being available on messages and emails at any time of the day?

These are feelings I have grappled with for some time.

However, something kept pushing me further to continue down my path of disconnecting, despite the huge business versus personal elements of conflict. 

That something was the gift of life, which for me, trumps guilt.

Living life to its greatest potential, being the best father and husband I can be, and embracing the joys of living and being. 

This brings me to my next point of why we are spending so much time online.

The reasons are never-ending, but again, as the six hours and 42 minutes each day flash up in my mind, I am sure we can all agree that we ‘could’ spend less time online.

Since the arrival of COVID-19, when people need to be more connected than ever, this has not seen me waiver or sneakily switch back on notifications, instead it hits home the importance of my decisions and validates the choices I have made.

Phone and video calls remain a priority, as does time away from my phone and computer to ensure time is spent more so with the family.

I’ve also come to realise that despite past feelings of guilt that I should be supporting the online ecosystem more, and should be that all-connected easy to reach CEO, that is not me and I am OK with that.

I am now comfortable in my choices and can benefit from them guilt-free.

I am no doubt a better CEO for it too.

I have a clearer head to make better decisions. After all, in this role, I need to be the calmest, most relaxed person in the room.

I also have to help our people flourish in an emotional and physiological way, so by taking a step back away from the online world I’d like to think I am more approachable, vulnerable and down to earth.

A major benefit from spending less time absorbed online revolves around activating my intuition and creativity. For me, this is done by deep concentration, which I can only reach through non-distraction.

Without a doubt, my best strategic ideas arise when in this state, and the most impact I’ve had on the business is always through this way of working.

I also take inspiration from the ‘jobs to be done’ philosophy which is based on focusing on the job to be completed rather than the specific product.

It can be hard to detach yourself from your own product and embed yourself in a customer mindset, so again, deep concentration and creative thinking are vital. 

Lastly, I have definitely improved decision-making skills, ensuring I make decisions based on facts instead of emotion or previous encounters. 

By no means do I have this nailed.

Yes, you will find me on LinkedIn from time to time, and to be clear, this is my own journey, and I am still dabbling in various experiments around pulling back.

In light of the global pandemic and correlating changing work and personal behaviours, however, I felt it was time I owned and shared my journey to digital detox and would encourage those of you that may feel the same to give it a go.

It’s also about baby steps. 

One small ‘notification off’ step could be one giant step for you, your mind, your business and your family. 

NOW READ: “Take the foot off the pedal”: How these Melbourne startups are putting employee mental health first

NOW READ: “A wake-up call”: My team and I were pushed to the breaking point, and I only realised it afterwards


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