Editor’s Note: On Mondays, we like to take time to reflect on our work and life, to find avenues of self-improvement, and to motivate ourselves for the week ahead. This week for our Monday Motivation, Lindsey All, Senior Manager of Marketing, Programs and Business Development here at WBENC, shares her story and practical tips on how she changed the way she incorporates technology into her day.
Checkbook, camera, virtual workspace, networking and social platform, audio and visual entertainment, Bible, meditation book holder, timer, alarm, clock, remote control for multiple devices, weather man, news source… and the list goes on. These are just some of the many reasons I use – scratch that - depend on my cell phone. Oh, and I even forgot to mention, MAKING CALLS!
As an “old millennial” (I resent that term, by the way), working professional, mother and wife, I have adapted to view my phone as an amazing resource that helps maintain efficiency and control in my life. And when I happen to misplace it (if it can actually get that far from me!) or hear of someone who has lost or broken their phone, I am guilty of exclaiming, “That can’t happen! My phone has my life in it!” or some variation thereof. But therein lies the problem – if my phone is my life, at what point does it actually start controlling me as opposed to serving as the tool it is meant to be?
This wasn’t always a problem for me. Before my four-year-old daughter was born, although I was an avid technology user, I refused to allow technology to dictate my decisions. I believe in making actual calls over texting and meeting face-to-face when possible -- you know, the kind of stuff that terrifies the typical college student. Based on research on screen-time affecting children, I didn’t let my daughter watch any television for the first two years of her life, and I set strict boundaries for myself on checking texts or emails during the few hours I had to spend with her after daycare every evening. Yet slowly but surely, as time went on and I allowed my daughter more tech time, I gave myself the same opportunity.
It became clear I cannot multitask my attention for my family with my phone. My phone wins. Because there is always an important message to send, email to check, topic to look up, or Pinterest board to check out. When I am doing those things, my conversations become short, my attention span strained, my stress level up, and my family feels like I don’t listen to them – I wonder why!
In my professional life, I at first thought it wouldn’t negatively affect me as much because using technology is part of my job. But I asked myself: how many times do I put tasks on hold because there was another notification email? How often is my mind going in a thousand directions because of the 30 windows I have open? Fear of missing out or not reading something or not acting on something in time starts to control my actions and I become less and less effective, creative and efficient at my actual goals. Something had to change!
I could see all of these things, but didn’t relate them to my cellphone use until it was pointed out to me recently when going over this with a friend. My friend recommended the book Bored and Brilliant – How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Productive and Creative Self by Manoush Zomorodi. I was ready! I didn’t believe much would change, but in reading the book and implementing the “challenges” over the past two weeks, I can plainly see the emphatic results and immediately knew I needed to share the strategy with anyone who is willing to listen.
Here are 7 challenges from the Bored and Brilliant book which changed my outlook on how I incorporate my phone use into my life and how each has impacted me so far:
1. Observe Yourself
The first challenge was to monitor your phone time (every pick up, unlock, picture like, etc.). The author suggests using an app (ahh, the irony) to track your true phone usage without changing anything. I am not going to share my results here, but let’s just say that even with the awareness of trying to cut back, the numbers were still … high.
2. Keep Your Device Out of Reach While in Motion
Easy, right? NO! Motion means not only driving (which would be hard enough by itself), but also while walking. Uh-oh. I had no idea how much mental energy this took until I tried it. The author’s statement that really hit home for me: “There wasn’t a single waking moment in my life that I didn’t find a way to fill – and my main accomplice was my phone.”
3. Photo-Free Day
But how can I not take every adorable picture of my daughter to save these precious memories? This is what really got me – it is by actually being in the moment as opposed to photographing it. I have successfully now limited my picture taking for an amazing week to only the absolutely necessary and/or about one picture per day, and my engagement has seen abundant results. Plus, what I didn’t realize while trying to capture all these memories is that it is actually harming my memory more than helping it. Manoush cites research that says, “When you take a photo of something, you are counting on the camera to remember for you.”
4. Delete THAT App
Which app? Your app. The one that takes up your free time. For me it was Facebook and I thought I might as well nix Twitter too. Don’t get me wrong, I kept my accounts. Not going for total darkness here (at least not yet). But anything that needs to be done on Facebook can be done by either manually signing in or logging on to a computer. I don’t need an app with a notification every time a friend posts something to distract me from engaging in life. Maybe it’s a game for you or browsing the web or shopping. We all have our app. Delete it, mourn the loss, then feel the freedom!
5. Take a Fakecation
A fakecation, a.k.a. blocking out time on my schedule for no tech, no interruptions, just my thoughts and the productivity they bring. Ahhh. The silence was kind of nice. Knocking items off my to-do list was even better and feeling the sense of being completely clear headed was an added benefit.
6. Observe Something Else
It was the birds and trees and sounds. I now understand that this challenge could only come towards the end of the week, because when I am walking around with my phone in hand, taking pictures and being consumed by my favorite apps, I am literally unable to see the world around me. After walking through the first challenges, I could now take time to observe the people, places and things around me in appreciation and wonder – and not just once, but every day since then. Some of these observation times resulted in no memorable thoughts, and other times I remember letting my mind wander and having to stop myself from immediately reaching for my phone to look up something, or snap a pic, or you fill in the blank of whatever I was seeing. I would just think and observe.
7. Bored and Brilliant Challenge
The final challenge was to sit and stare at a pot of water until it boils or to fill a page with tick marks to purposefully bore your mind. This isn’t something I would normally think of as being the beginning of my best creative sessions, but sure enough I have come to believe. My variation on this challenge was a sort of guided meditation where I sat completely still and wrote every thought that came to my head no matter how minute or crazy until there was complete silence – no thoughts. After completing this task, I had mind-blocks fall away on things I had been trying to accomplish, and I actually felt my productivity go up for the entire remainder of the day. Once again, it seems ironic that being so “still” can cause such productivity, but as I have learned through the Bored and Brilliant project, losing a little of the productivity tools may help us to regain “some of the simplicity and wonder that lead to deeper creativity, insight and calm.”
This book, challenge and new awareness has impacted my personal, professional and balance of life – bringing me back into an equilibrium with technology. Perhaps the most important thing to note is that I didn’t give up my phone or cancel all my accounts, and the book doesn’t encourage you to. It is not anti-technology. It simply helps those of us who have grown so dependent on our phones to get some of our brilliance back that we gain from free time. And I can now say firsthand and for the first time in a long time – no, I am not too busy for free time. I just have to put down my phone and realize that it is here, when I choose.