Can Real Estate Professionals Take a Digital Break? Experts Say Yes

Constant connection might sound like good business, but it can undermine focus and productivity. Experts break down how to step back.
Informational and digital detox. Girl with a prohibition sign and devices. Smartphone, tablet and laptop. Refusal to use the Int

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Do you have a complicated relationship with your phone? You’re not alone. A whopping 30% of American adults report being online “almost constantly,” according to data from the Pew Research Center. Unfortunately, scientific research makes it abundantly clear that too much screen time, especially at bedtime, can lead to health issues such as poor sleep and possibly even obesity.

Stepping away from technology is especially tricky for real estate professionals. The job can feel like a 24/7 commitment. The market doesn’t sleep, and clients send questions and request viewings during off-hours. It’s easy to convince yourself that constant connection is necessary for business. But is that really true? And how exactly can someone with an erratic schedule and demanding clients take a real break?

Below, licensed professional counselor Leah Rockwell and business coach Dr. Wayne Pernell, who has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, weigh in.

Do You Need a Digital Detox?

Most people know when they’re reaching a breaking point in their physical wellness. But an overstimulated nervous system can creep up on you.

Pernell offers a few pointed questions that indicate unhealthy digital connectivity:

  1. When you get slightly anxious, do you reach for your phone?
  2. When you go out to a meal, do you look for reasons to take out your phone?
  3. When you are out, and you go to the restroom, do you sneak a quick look at your messages?

Answering yes to these questions signifies that you’ve developed an unhealthy habit of compulsive connectivity. While phone addiction is all too common these days, according to Pernell, it’s still unhealthy to think about work all the time.

“If you’re running on fumes, you’re not doing anyone else any good,” says Pernell. You’ve got to take time out before your immune system shuts down.”

Benefits of Taking Digital Breaks

Aside from better sleep and lower stress levels, setting firm boundaries with personal technology can benefit your business by keeping your head clear.

“Those in the real estate business have chosen a nonstop world,” says Pernell. “With all of those demands, scheduling breaks actually boosts productivity. Your creativity is enhanced, and your decision-making abilities are boosted.”

Practical Tips for Taking a Digital Break

It might not be possible for you to turn off your phone and laptop for an entire weekend or day. That’s OK, according to Pernell and Rockwell. Even small breaks can have a positive impact.

Turn Off Notifications

“From a nervous system regulation perspective, the ping of notifications is pretty much the worst!” says Rockwell. “Your reptilian brain interprets this sound as a literal alarm that action is needed, even when, realistically, your rational brain knows that it can take a moment.”

According to Rockwell, a chronically active nervous system turns into chronically high stress levels. That stress will harm everything from your relationships to your ability to think clearly at work.

Thus, your first step to lowering stress and preventing burning out is addressing notifications. Completely turn off notifications for nonessential activities like social, gaming and shopping apps. Next, limit interruptions by implementing “do not disturb” blocks in your day or scheduling notifications on the apps you consider essential.

Pick Your Favorite Social Platform

Do you have Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn all loaded onto your phone’s home screen? It might be time to cut the fluff.

“Choose one or two social platforms that you really care about or enjoy, and limit yourself to those,” suggests Rockwell.

For business, you might have a profile on each platform, but that doesn’t mean you have to constantly maintain and check on each platform. Which do you enjoy the most for personal use? Or do you prefer social media for business use only? Either way, choose the two you use or enjoy the most.

For business posting purposes, you could opt to outsource or automate the process. Platforms like Buffer, Sprout Social and Hootsuite make it easy to plan social posting for your business. Using this service means you can dedicate a block of time to scheduling social posts in advance rather than posting daily.

Schedule 10-Minute Breaks

“Anyone and everyone, real estate pros included, needs to block off times in which they are simply unavailable or not ‘on call,’” says Rockwell.

Pernell suggests blocking out three 10-minute breaks in your day just as you would schedule a quick meeting or phone call.

“Close your eyes or go outside and look up at the buildings or trees. Feel the fresh air,” he says. “And most important: leave your phone behind.”

In other words, use these breaks to really sink into the moment and be present in your surroundings. This is known as mindfulness, and though it’s a bit of a buzzword, there are some serious benefits to taking a few minutes a day to be distraction-free and in the moment.

The American Psychological Association reports that studies show a host of benefits to mindfulness, including reduced stress and lessoned emotional reactivity—both assets to your business and your mental health.

Set Your Availability in Advance

Clients don’t know what they don’t know. It’s up to you to set and establish boundaries with clients regarding your availability for calls, emails and even texts.

Here are a few ways to do this:

  • Add your office hours to your email signature.
  • Schedule an autoresponder during “off” hours.
  • Verbally notify clients that while they can text or email anytime, you won’t respond between noon and 1 p.m., 6 and 7 p.m., or whatever time blocks prioritize “things in your life that are, in actuality, far more valuable than work,” Rockwell says.

“The reality is, the big sale isn’t going to be missed if you’ve created working agreements with your clients, your team members and most important, yourself,” reminds Pernell.

Reconsider Your Smartwatch

Smartwatches might be the wave of the future, but Rockwell says they can also be like literal handcuffs to your work. Even Pernell fell under the spell for a while.

“My wife asked me if I had somewhere else to be because I kept checking my watch every time a notification would come through,” Pernell recalls. “I heard how ridiculous it sounded when I replied, ‘No, I’m listening; I’m just checking email.’ It was that day I stopped wearing my tech watch.”

“It’s OK to remove your watch at bedtime or to take a stroll without it. Your nervous system will thank you,” she says, adding, “If you find any of these things too difficult to do or too much of a stretch, you may want to reconsider your relationship with your personal technology.”

If you love having a smartwatch for other reasons—maybe you use it to listen to music while you exercise or have it for a specific health feature—you can also go through and turn off all notifications on it so that it becomes, in essence, just a way to tell time (albeit one able to track your heart rate).

Consider this your permission to put the phone on your desk, roll your shoulders back and leave all tech behind for 10 minutes. Make a habit of this, and your brain—and maybe even your bottom line—will thank you.