We take our devices—namely our phones—everywhere with us: to dinner, to bed (so they’re the first and last things we see before slumber), even to the bathroom. But at least for me, this is a (too) noisy way to navigate the world. When I check my phone in the mornings, in bed, my mind starts to feel packed: packed with information from social media and websites I’ve visited, packed with what I need to do. Often I find that I’m not even reading what I’m seeing. I’m just scanning and scrolling down, very quickly, trying to absorb everything. Everything. Which naturally makes my mind feel all jumbled up and overwhelmed.
I feel most at peace when I’m not with my phone (or at least when I’m not checking it every few minutes for texts or email). Rather, I feel most at peace when I’m writing without any distraction, riding my bike with Brian and breathing in the breeze, participating in a challenging workout, and, if you can even believe it, sometimes while washing dishes. Basically, I feel most at peace being present to my mind, my body or my world.
This doesn’t mean that I hate technology. Like Sherry Turkle says in her book Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, “So, my argument is not anti-technology. It’s pro-conversation.” (I featured her book in this piece on talking face to face.)
That is, I’m pro-space, pro-joy, pro-being mindful, pro-looking at each other and the stars, pro-wondering and wandering, and pro-listening to our loved ones.
That is, technology becomes problematic when it starts to spill into every area of our lives and stops us from tasting and touching and seeing and savoring our lives. When it overshadows that. When it takes us away from a project that’s really important to us, or time with our families, which is precious.
If you can relate and are looking for more space in your life, here are some suggestions for gently removing devices from your life, while gaining a whole lot more.
- Create tech-free zones—both times and places where technology isn’t welcome. This might be not checking social media and email after 6 p.m. This might be no phones at the dinner table or in the bedroom.
- When you’re working, put your phone in a drawer. Out of sight, out of mind.
- Think about what your mornings and evenings could look like, if you aren’t waking up to your phone, mindlessly scrolling, or tucking yourself into bed with one last check of email. What would you do? What would you have time for? What would you enjoy? What do you look forward to?
- Think about what you’d personally gain if you weren’t so plugged in and tuned in with your devices. If it helps, make a list.
- Carve out 15 to 30 minutes of quiet time every day. You might listen to calming music and just be with your thoughts and feelings. You might listen to a guided meditation at this time. You might journal. You might simply sit outside and listen to the sounds, and look at the sky.
- Use programs like Ommwriter, if you’re having a hard time concentrating, and keep checking other websites. I’ve used this program to write my last few blog posts, and it really helped me to fully focus.
- Schedule when you’ll use the Internet (instead of working around your distractions). In the new book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, Cal Newport suggests writing in a notepad the next time you’re allowed to use the Internet. You’d keep this notepad by your computer at work. “Until you arrive at that time, absolutely no network connectivity is allowed—no matter how tempting,” he writes. (I’ll be featuring the book in an article for Psych Central.)
- Do something every day with your hands, and by that I don’t mean touching a screen. I mean cook dinner, write a letter, write in your journal, sew, create a collage, play with Play-Doh (seriously). Do something that grounds you and takes up most of your attention.
Again, I’m a big fan of technology. But when we’re constantly plugged in, we aren’t connected to what really counts, which for you might be anything from meaningful work to your surroundings to your loved ones to peace to joy to excitement to love. When we regularly disconnect from our devices, we reconnect to ourselves and to our lives.
How do you manage technology? Do you start the day with your phone in hand? Do you have boundaries around technology use? What works for you?