COMMENT: First few days' break are not too different to my working week, says Nick Freer

Nick Freer discusses an issue facing many of us - 'digital distraction'. PICTURE: STEWART ATTWOOD
Nick Freer discusses an issue facing many of us - 'digital distraction'. PICTURE: STEWART ATTWOOD
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As a family, we made our now regular annual pilgrimage to Aviemore last week for the October school break.

It’s a lovely time of the year in the Highlands, when Scotland’s autumnal colours are at their most vivid and you get a real sense of the changing seasons, not always possible in the city.

“Ah, sounds great Nick, it will be a great chance to relax and recharge the ­batteries”, said one of my client CEOs, as I clutched the mobile to my ear while trying to stuff an extra bag into the boot, find the desired toy for our youngest and send a couple of last minute emails.

Fast forward a couple of days and I’m not sure how relaxed I’m feeling or how much the batteries have been recharged, but there has definitely been a lot of discussion around phone chargers and how much power is left in the iPad.

By the calm waters of Loch an Eilein, a true aqua gem of the Cairngorms National Park, while trying for an arty shot of a woodland scene and selecting the best filter on Instagram, one of the kids falls over a tree stump under my watch and I get a bit of a telling off from my wife.

I’m also handling a couple of client announcements while I’m away. One ­company I advise has a clear and present communications crisis situation unfolding and having decided not to put on an out-of-office notification on my inbox, the first few days of the break end up becoming not too different to my usual working week.

On the upside, I’m spending more time with the family than I would in Edinburgh and, to top it all, there’s a hot tub in the back garden where you can sit and watch the River Spey run past in a torrent only a stone’s throw away.

When we’re leaving from a visit to an old friend and her children who live in nearby Boat of Garten, we interrupt our hugs and goodbyes and turn to see the majestic sight and sound of an enormous flock of migrating geese circle in and out of low hanging cloud in the late afternoon sky.

After being a national level middle-distance and cross-country runner as a schoolboy, I got back into running in 2015 and the ­Aviemore 10k is the fourth and last race on my 2017 ­calendar after runs over the same distance at Glasgow, Aberdeen and Inverness ­earlier this year.

I put in a strong run at Aviemore, finishing second to a much younger athlete from Inverness Harriers after placing seventh in the same race last year. My official time is a shade under 34 minutes, a season’s best and as close as I’ve come to the kind of time I could run as a youngster.

I’ve trained harder this year, eaten ­better, tried to make small changes that will translate to incremental improvements in spite of my ageing self. If anything, I’ve exceeded my expectations at the beginning of the year when I was lacking fitness and motivation.

Running has become an outlet for me from the stresses and strains of everyday life. My daily run is the one time I can get away from the inbox, mute the mobile, zone out and ­forget about work for half an hour or so.

One thing I’m trying to address in my working life at the moment is what commentators describe as “digital distraction” – too much time spent accessing mobile apps, social media, checking my inbox and getting drawn into emails that take me away from the ­priority tasks in hand.

In many ways, we’re all up against it if you believe that it’s the raison d’être of the big tech companies to make their products and ­devices as addictive as possible – and having just come off my umpteenth Twitter session of the day, it’s fair to say I’m losing this ­particular contest.

I get a nice text from a client while I’m away. Be sure to enjoy the time with the family, he says. He’s right. I ditch the mobile and we go for one last holiday walk before hitting the road for home.

Nick Freer is a founding director at the Freer Consultancy and Full Circle Partners