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Georgie Powell: The Power of Self-Reflection in Uncertain Times

A digital wellness entrepreneur on the importance of connecting to ourselves – and our communities – in times of crisis

In the second of our Attention Experts interviews, we talk to Georgie Powell, a former Google executive who co-founded one of the original screen time apps after growing concerned over her own tech habits.

She has since gone on to start Sentient Digital, a Responsible Technology and Digital Wellbeing Consultancy that helps organizations to build strategies and products which encourage a better relationship between humans and technology, making a positive impact on their teams and the world.

As a recognized expert in Digital Wellbeing, we were interested to know her thoughts on the rapidly changing digital world due to recent events, and her own tips on maintaining calm and focus at this time.

What changes, if any, have you made to your environment during this time?

The pandemic has been terribly unequal in its impact on people around the world. I am conscious and appreciative every day, for how lucky I am to have a healthy family, a garden, and a job that I love.  It’s forced me to live a lot more in the present, rather than dreaming of a different life, and that has been incredibly positive.  

As more lives have been pushed online, we’re witnessing a worldwide experiment of a life built on tech – and digital wellbeing has never been more important.  Many people are becoming more conscious of how they are connected.  As an expert in this field, it is a fascinating time and I am excited by how much we are all learning.  

When do you find it most difficult to focus? How do you overcome this?

I have young children and juggling the ‘balance’ (whatever that may be!), alongside often broken sleep can be exhausting. When I’m tired I struggle to focus. I have learned that if my brain is not firing, the best thing to do is step away, do something outdoors or with the kids, or have a 20-minute nap, and then try again.  If I have a deadline and just have to push through, I’m afraid the caffeine and chocolate come calling!

I’ve become more aware of the natural waves of productivity we experience day-to-day. Sometimes my brain is foggy with uncertainty, and other days it is laser-sharp.

How do you deal with the emotional aspects of productivity? For example, lack of motivation, feeling stressed or overwhelmed, feeling unsafe, etc?

As the days are all so similar right now, I’ve become more aware of the natural waves of productivity we experience day-to-day. Sometimes my brain is foggy with uncertainty, and other days it is laser-sharp. When I recognize that I’m in the frame of mind to be super-efficient I really go for it, often working late, accepting that the following few days will likely be less productive.  I keep low-intensity tasks – like filing or admin –  for down days. I also think these slower days are important for consolidating thoughts so that the sparks can fly again.

Have you made any changes to your digital habits during this time? Why or why not?

I was already quite strict with my own digital habits, and if anything, this time has reenforced them further still. My work stays in my study (which I am lucky enough to have), and I make sure that when I am with the kids, I rarely use my phone. I know this is easier for me, as I am my own boss and don’t have to be on call. But I also know that having clear boundaries in my days makes it easier to do each job (parenting, working, being a wife, a friend, relaxing). It’s too much to try and be all of these things all of the time.

It is rare to have the space for self-reflection. It can be disarming, but it’s a powerful gift.  

What is one piece of advice you would give to someone who is really struggling to find focus or motivation during this time?

Perhaps one thing to do is to think about what you are learning at this time. I don’t mean a new language or instrument (I mean we all have enough on our plate), but rather, what are you learning about yourself? Why is this time hard (because for all of us it has been at some point or another)? Why can’t you focus? What is it that you are missing? Are you taking care of yourself? It is rare to have the space for self-reflection. It can be disarming, but it’s a powerful gift.  

What are the rules or boundaries you have put in place for yourself regarding news consumption, social media, or both?

Early on in the pandemic, I was checking the news quite a bit but found it hugely unsatisfying. It was then I realized that while there’s unlimited information, none of it has the answer to the question we all want to know: “when will this be over?”.  From then on, I’ve really cut back on how often I check online news and have switched to a weekly newspaper, which is more in-depth and provides a ‘treat’ at the end of the week to make the days seem different.  And yes, the food section always gets read first!

kitchen sink
Image by Harry Grout on Unsplash

What tools or resources have you found most useful during this time?

I don’t use social media, with the exception of Facebook and LinkedIn. I waste too much time on LinkedIn and am consciously trying to cut back. It rarely makes me feel good, although I do sometimes find content which is useful.  Facebook has actually been a blessing these past few months – I only really use it for buy/swap/sell and our local community group, which has come alive, with neighbors swapping gardening equipment, plants, flour, toys, books, across our suburb. I have loved feeling more connected to my local community because of this.

Georgie Powell

Learn more about Georgie’s Responsible Tech Consulting at Sentient Digital and find out about phone/life balance at SPACE. You can also find her trying not to spend too much time on LinkedIn!