Turning it off…

(Source: Public Domain. Wikipedia Commons)

(Source: Public Domain. Wikipedia Commons)

I was late to the smartphone game.  In fact, I just hit my one year anniversary of “upgrading” from my dumb phone.  While I could see so many of the potential benefits, I resisted for a long time – a resistance that was fueled mostly by the fact that I saw so many of my friends and work colleagues chained to their phones.  I just couldn’t imagine wanting to be that….reachable.

I was due for an upgrade on my phone contract and had been debating whether or not to take it.  Of course, just a few days before I was eligible for that upgrade, my dumb phone decided to die an agonizing death. The thought of “upgrading” to another dumb phone seemed a little silly, so I decided to bite the bullet and get the smartphone.

I admit it, I was pretty much instantly seduced by its many wonders.  It was so sleek and shiny and bequeathed me the ability to do a myriad of functions that normally required me to boot up my computer. I felt so powerful, so “with it,” and so bewildered that I had waited as long as I did.

As the days and weeks passed, however, I began to notice that my stress level had gotten really high. I didn’t immediately identify the reason.  Things at work and at home were busy, sure, but nothing that I hadn’t been able to handle in the past. I was at a loss as to why I felt to much more stressed than usual.

Then, one day, it dawned.  I had woken up to my alarm (which was on my new, shiny phone) and as I pushed the off button (ok, ok…the snooze button), I was greeted by a long list of emails that had arrived in my inbox while I had slumbered.  Almost on autopilot, I opened up my mail app and started perusing the subject titles.  And then I froze.

What was I doing?

I literally hadn’t even gotten out of bed yet and I was already checking my email? WHY? Most of it was junk mail anyways. What did I think was so important that it couldn’t wait until after I had brushed my teeth?

As I started to re-examine the past few weeks, I realized that this had become the norm.  My smartphone, with all of its wonders, had taken me over to the dark side of “uber reachability.”  Because I knew every time that a new email landed into my inbox, I felt compelled to immediately open it and read it.  And then, knowing that I had read it, I felt compelled to respond as soon as possible. It didn’t matter if I was in the middle of doing something else – or on my day off – someone had sent me an email! I must respond! It didn’t matter that they didn’t know I had already read it. I knew.  And that was enough to throw me into high gear.

No wonder my stress level was so high.

I was actually amazed at how little time it took for me to get that attached. And how little time it took to have a measurable negative effect.

The first positive step that I took was to turn off my notifications. No longer would my phone light up or chime every single time an email arrived. If I wanted to check my email, I would have to take the extra steps of actually opening up the app and seeing what was there.

The second positive step was to give myself one day off.  For me, it’s Sunday. The one day a week that I try with all my might to keep my inbox closed.  It’s actually harder than I thought. But, at the same time, it’s completely freeing.  I figure that if there is an emergency, someone will call me.  Otherwise, any other question, problem, or chainletter can wait until Monday morning.

Once again, I was amazed at how quickly the change happened. My stress level drastically reduced and everything suddenly seemed much more….manageable.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this over the past few days. While I’ve successfully kept the notifications turned off and am pretty much completely faithful to my email free Sunday, I still find that this “uber reachability” continues to be a personal struggle. I spend a lot of my day in front of a computer. Usually my smartphone and tablet are not that far away.  And I find that I have a little ADHD with my devices.  I’m constantly floating from one project to the next or – my biggest culprit – interrupting one project to check the next (I may have even interrupted writing this blog to go over and check my email). And I find that I’ve developed that nasty habit of checking my email even when I’m “off the clock.”

I know that I’m not alone in this very modern problem.  In fact, earlier today, I was watching an interview between Marie Forleo and Dr. Edward Hollowell where this very issue was mentioned.  Dr. Hollowell called it “screen-sucking” which I thought was a very poignant turn of phrase. But what hit me the hardest was when he shared a statistic that it is believed that in today’s modern world, most people spend 20 minutes of every hour dealing with unexpected interruptions (phone calls, emails, social media, etc.). (You can watch the interview here).

My guess is that, for me, at least some days, that amount of time is even higher.

Now, I can’t literally can’t work without my computer.  However, there are things that I can do to make my time more effective and to reduce that stress that comes from the pressure and guilt that is connected with “uber reachability.”

To start, I’m intrigued by Dr. Hollowell’s suggestion – one that I have heard from other sources but have failed to put into practice – is setting specific times to go through my email.  The great suggestion that he had was, once you have fulfilled that time, you need to actually turn it off.  Otherwise its, as he said, like a bowl of candy on your desk – you’re just going to keep reaching back in. While I may not be able to turn my computer off, I can close my inbox (which is permanently open in my web browser) and my distracting social media sites once the time is over.  Then I can, hopefully, turn my full attention to the task that is ahead of me – whether that is work or play.

I may become somewhat less “uber reachable,” but I believe I will become (and will feel) not only more productive, but much more balanced.  I’ll check back in and report how it goes.




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