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The Energy-Sucking Screen Game

Updated: Mar 29, 2022

Screens are everywhere, even at Hockey Games!

Meet Your Opponent

Tom Rath has researched what most energizes us and what distracts from that process in his book entitled Are You Fully Charged? “Nothing adds more value to life than close social relationships. This is why it is so important to focus on the people you are with when you are with them.

There are countless distractions around you. In some cases, these distractions can be helpful. When I’m stuck in a long line in a grocery store, my digital pacifier (smartphone) is remarkably useful. Having the Internet in my pocket turns boring and frustrating moments into an opportunity to learn something or text a friend. However, these distractions create problems when you use them while spending time with friends, colleagues, or loved ones.

In fact, a 2014 study titled ‘The iPhone Effect’ shows how the mere presence of a smartphone can ruin a conversation. In an experiment with 200 participants, researchers found that simply placing a mobile communication device on the table or having participants hold it in their hand was a detriment to their conversations. Any time the phone was visible, the quality of the conversation was rated as less fulfilling when compared with conversations that took place in the absence of mobile devices. People reported having higher levels of empathetic concern when phones were not visible.”

1) The quality of our social interactions is one of the key drivers to our overall well-being.

2) Although they can be handy when we’re alone, smartphones are toxic when we’re hanging out with other people.

“When you choose to have dedicated time with another person, such as dining, driving somewhere, or going on a walk, give that person your undivided attention. Talking on your phone, using apps, or reading a message tells others you don’t value their time as much as you could. You chose to be with them, so make it count.”

"What matters more than having 86 billion brain cells is the dynamic weaving and constant rewiring of connections among them, a lifelong process known as 'plasticity' that makes the living, electrified fabric of a unique individual and a unique mind. From birth onwards the brain constantly absorbs experience, good and bad, plastically changing both the organ’s structure and function. The 21st-century mindset is now one trapped in the immediate present, in need of constant external stimulation.

The incessant, seductive presence of screens promotes sensation at the expense of thought, the amped-up pathways competing with the maturation of circuits normally destined to support social relationships and emotional intelligence. Screen exposure in early life, then, may have serious implications." Dr. Richard Cytowic, Psychology Today

Even though my mind and heart still feel 29, I will be turning 64 this April. While playing with our grandkids recently, I chuckled as I watched our kids battle with their kids over the amount of "screen time" each was allowed. Our 21st century default is to pull the screen out of our pockets, hunch our posture over that screen, and try desperately to find something that we haven't already looked at. As I smiled about our grandkids' "screen battle," I was reminded of mine. Did I mention that I am a busy 64 years old with no plans of slowing down? Guess what my largest distraction is? My screens!

Last week I did an audit: Jenn and I both have portable computer screens, larger monitor screens, Iphone screens, a car screen, and in addition to my apple watch and Ipad screens, we have two awesome TVs and we just added two new screens to our 21' salmon fishing boat. And all of these "personal distractors" are exclusive of the screens begging our attention as we drive, fly, walk in airports, malls, and the list goes on...

It takes old hockey players a while to figure things out, but I finally realized that "screen distraction" is not just a kids/grandkids battle; it has become a 21st century ENERGY GAME.


Our 21st century distractions demand 21st century leadership. Many years ago when I was finishing my Master's Degree in Leadership/Business, my professor Don Page suggested that leadership is about change. He was, and is, correct. If nothing needs to change, we can easily manage the status-quo.

We have suggested in many of our interactions with our tribe that leadership during this century, with its demands for quickened change, is best described as Intentional Influence. Screens full of distractions are not suddenly going away, so how do we intentionally influence (lead) the desired change needed to increase, rather than decrease, our energy?

"We are kept from our goal not by obstacles, but by a clear path to lesser goals." Robert Brault

Distraction's power is delivered through its simplicity, its ease of interaction. Distracting screen candy is seductive, scintillating and very pleasing in the moment. Important goals require high focus, hard intention and are often achieved over the long haul.

Intentional Personal & Cultural Leadership focuses and refocuses people towards the greater goals, the key initiatives, the future-positive life. In other words screens are not the distraction we think they are. In fact, the amount of attention that we give our screens is a direct result of our leadership ability to be intentional with our time. How we utilize the screen in our pocket then becomes a time/focus skill that we can hold ourselves and each other accountable to.

Below are 3 solutions to help you win your energy-sucking screen game.

Intentional Energy Waves - Find your Flow

Tony Schwartz and Jim Loehr describe a potential solution this way: “making waves." This means intentionally honouring our natural “ultradian” rhythms and alternating intense bursts (sprints!) of work activity with equally intense periods of rest. Distractions come from reaction-ally turning screens ON and OFF. High Performance increases by intentionally turning screens ON and OFF.

Most of us know about K. Anders Ericsson’s classic research on the 10,000 hour rule for the achievement of elite performance. A less known fact from that data is that the best performers rested more than the sub-elite - a lot more. They slept more and they napped more—after working in intense bursts, as discussed above. (I've said it before and I'll say it again: the thing I miss most about professional hockey is the pre-game sleep!)

There is a little known fact about our 1986 Stanley Cup-winning playoff run. Our management and coaching staff became hyper-intentional about our rest and our sleep. During the mid-'80s our Montreal Canadiens Team was composed of many players who had young families. Young families mean less sleep. Management decided to have our team stay in a downtown hotel before our home-games. Most of our players complained at first, we had already been away from our families for a whole season, and now during the playoffs too? But after we won the Stanley Cup no one was complaining. Was the extra sleep generated by management's intentional rest-focus the reason that we won that year? Not sure, but it was certainly part of the reason for our team's success.

Intentionally turning off and turning on is very different from reaction-ally pulling out the "screen candy" in our pocket. Building "screen away" or "screen rest" time into our calendars becomes the key to time-blocking with intentionality. Increasing FLOW is the goal not pretending to be busy.

The Finnish educational system highlights the way students are given a 15-minute unstructured break after every 45 minutes of classroom instruction. DeskTime is a software application that meticulously tracks employees’ time use throughout the day. "When the makers of this software looked at the most productive 10 percent of their 36,000-employee user base, they made some surprising discoveries. What the most productive people have in common is an ability to take effective breaks. These elite 10 percent work for 52 minutes at a time, then take a 17-minute break before diving back into their work.

According to Julia Gifford, who works with DeskTime and wrote the report, the reason this pattern helps productivity is that the top 10 percent treat the periods of working time like a sprint. ‘They make the most of those 52 minutes by working with intense purpose, but then rest up to be ready for the next burst,’ Gifford wrote. She also noted that during the 17 minutes of break, the group was more likely to go for a walk or tune out rather than checking email or Facebook.”

This screen was in front of me yesterday as I flew to Houston.

Intentional Moments

Tom Rath goes on to share; “The actions you take throughout every single day accumulate to shape your years, decades, and overall life. However, when you think about a typical day, it’s easy to take these moments for granted.

Even brief interactions count, such as exchanging a smile or greeting while passing someone on the street. If you look at moments as three-second windows, there are 1,200 moments per hour and 19,200 in a day. That equates to roughly 500 million moments over a lifetime. The frequency of these brief experiences, within a given day, is far more important than their intensity, as research on this topic confirms.

For example, a person who has a dozen mildly positive things happen during a day will feel better than someone who has one single truly amazing thing happen. Even in a single day, it is the little things that count. Research suggests that people who reported having great interactions throughout the day were nearly four times as likely to have very high well-being.” Break down our day into "screen moments" and "people moments" in order to hold yourself accountable around which "moments" are winning.

A photo of yesterdays 4 hour flight to Houston. I heard two conversations happening during the whole flight. Screens dominated... screens won!

Intentional Conversations

In her book Reclaiming Conversations author Sherry Turkle shares this quote;

“We had enough talk,” English critic Samual Johnsen wrote in 1752, “but not enough conversation.”

Turkle's point is that we are constantly communicating, but face-to-face conversation is becoming increasingly rare. As a result, we’ve come to fear any conversation that we cannot edit and revise, and we dread the awkward silence.

Dr. John Gottman's research suggests that we need to have 5 positive interactions (moments or conversations) to 1 negative interaction to hold a positive primary relationship. Fun, powerful, face to face conversations are the key to deeper relationships and increased happiness. In the game of hockey if we want more goals we must get more shots on net. In the game of people, if we want deeper relationships/better performance, we must get in more and better conversations.

Screens, with their teams of distractors, are challenging opponents, but intentional leaders can win more frequently by prioritizing screen-rest, relationship-moments, and more frequent conversations with people, instead of being hunched-over and enslaved by the screen.

Many of our corporate clients are engaging our services to energize their teams, focus their cultural mindset, and brainstorm processes around how to maximize their team COMMUNICATION.

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