A few months ago, I took my phone with me on a long trail run on a day that just happened to be incredibly humid. When I got back to my car, I pulled my phone out of my hydration pack and discovered that the display had become a pinstriped, blurry mess. Uh oh.
So I started the process of drying the phone out. And so began the longest five days of my life.
At first, I was totally panicked and had no idea what to do with myself without emails and social media feeds to check. I could tell you that my job requires me to be tethered to email and social media — and to an extent, that’s true — but it’s not the whole truth. I really just liked having it there at the push of a button. Nothing shows you that you have a rabid tech obsession like not having a functioning cell phone next to you 24/7.
By the third day, I noticed how much more focused and peaceful I felt. It was remarkable. So remarkable that once my phone began to work again, I kept it turned off and pretended that it was still on the fritz. In that short time, I discovered how much my tech-checking habits were costing me in terms of peace of mind and productivity.
But you don’t have to waterlog your phone or break your computer to free yourself from the obsession of checking your email or social media. There are other ways.
Know the extent of the problem. Pay attention to how many times each day you check. For me, it was easy — it was the number of times each day that I reached for my phone only to remember that it wasn’t working. I was shocked to discover how often it occurred. Seriously, I had no idea. Maybe you think it’s just a few minutes here and there, but add up all the minutes throughout your day, your week, your month. Suddenly we’re talking about a sizable chunk of time and energy.
Be mindful about why. I noticed that checking had just become automatic. The urges came over me from time to time, mostly when I was bored or wanted to procrastinate. Sometimes I felt compelled because I was afraid I was missing out on something. For some people, it’s an autopilot thing they just do as soon as they wake up. Every time you go to check your email or social media feeds, ask yourself why. Then, after you’ve checked, ask yourself if checking really made a difference.
Cut back on what comes in. I’m talking about a digital detox of sorts. Unsubscribe from emails you never read — save yourself the time having to delete a bunch of stuff every day. Unfollow the people and sites that you always scroll past or that consistently cause you heartburn with their posts. Stick to the stuff you really want to see and cut out the rest.
Reevaluate what you use email for. It’s amazing the lengths we’ll go to in order to avoid having an actual conversation. Instead of shooting a bunch of emails back and forth or agonizing over how to put your thoughts into words, consider whether a call might be more efficient. I’ve also stopped using my email inbox as my to-do list because I’ve found it to be to distracting and overwhelming. Maybe email isn’t the best tool for every job.
Consolidate your efforts. Studies have shown that it can take 25 minutes to regain your original train of thought after being interrupted by an email. Wow. How many emails do you get every day? That’s a lot of time spent just trying to get refocused. So turn the notifications off or close out your email program while working on other things. Check your emails at planned intervals throughout the day and set aside a chunk of time just for responding to email in batches so you don’t have to constantly switch between tasks.
Be compassionate to yourself. Keep in mind that it takes time to break habits. You’ll probably mess up from time to time. You don’t have to be perfect, you just have to stay committed to doing the best you can day after day.
At first, cutting back made me nervous, but let’s be real — in the event of an actual emergency, that’s what the telephone is for. While some emails are important, constantly directing energy to checking your inbox is not.
By limiting your tech-checking — specifically first thing in the morning — you may find, as I did, that you get to choose the direction of your day, rather than having it be chosen for you.
Do you rely on technology too much? —Alison