Friday 15 December 2017

Take five with... UnPlug founder Chris Flack - and take control of your tech

Chris Flack, founder of Unplug.ie Photo: Martin Maher
Chris Flack, founder of Unplug.ie Photo: Martin Maher
Ellie Donnelly

Ellie Donnelly

What was the idea behind Unplug?

“It really came from my own background working in tech. I spent 15 years working with big tech companies and during that time I was probably the first person in the office to adopt smart technology, probably the first person to be online 24/7 and I thought that was the best way of working.

I think I was probably perceived as a high performer but it just wasn’t sustainable. As a result my productivity and my well-being suffered.”

“I then changed sector and went working for not-for-profits in developing countries and this gave me time to reflect on my own tech use and to develop an interest in how it might help others. I became interested in the behavioural science of how we can change habits.

If we make some small changes in how we use technology, there are some really exciting opportunities in improving our focus, improving our productivity, and our well-being.

“That was really the seed for Unplug, and now two years on we have a team and we deliver programmes primarily into the corporate. We have a psychologist who leads the team, we do workshops and individual coaching. The outcomes are about high performance and focus in a distracted world. So the two key thinks we are working with are improving focus and reducing distractions.”

“We also do one day a month in schools and we work very closely with the Digital Youth Council to make sure that we understand how they are using technology and also helping them.”

Do you think we are now addicted to technology?

“The word addiction is quite a strong word, we would say it is more of a compulsive relationship.

For the majority of us we would have quite a strong compulsive relationship with technology

Addiction really comes when it starts to impact our sleep, relationships, and work in quite a sever way. But how you create a compulsive relationship is if you feel it is quite difficult to not do something, say if you can’t sleep without your smart phone in the room or if you can’t leave the house without your smart phone, then you have a compulsive relationship.”

“For the majority of the time technology is great and it gives us huge opportunities, the issue comes when it starts to impact key pillars of our well-being or key pillars of our productivity, sleep is the big one with well-being, while with work it’s all about productivity. There are so many surveys coming up now saying that within the top number of distractions in the workplace it is all technology related and it is how to manage that so that people can work effectively but minimise the noise.”

“From a science point of view, this is very different to anything we have ever had, technology is very interactive and persuasive, it becomes a lot easier to develop a relationship with it.

Neurology is now showing that we can only do one thing well at any one time so the whole concept of multi-tasking, we can do it, but if we want to do something well and have focus we can only have one thing and I think technology encourages us to do lots of things and that’s why we feel drained, we feel strained and tired after using technology. We need to look at how we can use technology differently, there is a lovely quote, “we are stone age bodies in a space age world” I think that really resonates with the fact that yes we need to adopt to working with the space age technology but we also need to just be aware that our bodies weren’t designed for this and we need to be kind to them.”

Are there tips you could give for people to switch off?

“If you think if any habit change you make a plan, an as is, so for us the first stage is awareness, some of us check our phones up to one hundred and fifty times a day but until we are actually aware of this it is very unlikely we will make a change. Now once you are aware you become more mindful of how you use technology.”

“We are more about working effectively with technology so we recommend apps to do that, there are two really good ones; Rescue Time, and Moments, they track your tech use. The thing to note is that not all screen time is the same, some of it is really good. It’s like how you look at the food pyramid, greens are really good, most fats and sugars aren’t good and you need to find out how you can categorise your tech use in the same way. Now typically the more entertaining, shiny types of technology are closer to the fats and sugars, whereas the more educational are more nourishing. So it’s finding what are the more nourishing ways to spend your time using technology, that’s where the balance comes into play.”

What’s been the most challenging and rewarding part of setting up Unplug?

“We are a start up in a sector that is very new and that people are very unaware of and for us the education piece is key.

Technology is very persuasive at making us think it is all positive, people find it hard to realise there are some challenges there.

But it is happening, some of the biggest companies in the world have invited us into their senior leadership team which is proof of there being a need for what we do and also that our service is working.”

What social media channels do you use?

“We typically use twitter, especially initially. But more now from a business development point of view we use LinkedIn, that would be pushing out content, so posts, and building our network. Very little of what we do is consumer related, it’s more corporate so B2C.”

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