One happy consequence of having a profession in self-development and wellness is that you are constantly focusing on it and you are hyper-aware of what you are doing/not doing in your own life. I’m dedicated to not just speak this stuff – I want to walk the walk, dance the dance, and climb the climb. Which makes it pretty near impossible to not notice or hold yourself accountable when you aren’t doing so.
When I was preparing for my presentation for Engineers Nova Scotia on “How to Protect Your Life from your Smartphone”, I was made acutely aware of all these tidbits and strategies that I was not yet applying to my own life. In particular, the ideas of only checking email twice per day (at set times) and turning off notifications so your day and attention isn’t constantly taken away to attend to incoming messages, texts, emails, etc. I was completely guilty of reading things as soon as they came in, and often feeling an urge to respond right away. I could tell it was contributing to a feeling of overwhelm and being less mindful – constantly checking my phone. It’s not the way I want to feel and it isn’t helpful to my productivity. Realizing this great advice I was giving the Engineers – I figured I better eat my own words here.
So I started an experiment. And, like many other things I try, I like to try it on a level that is a bit over the top (or I should say feels over the top) because it excites/interests me more and in turn motivates me more to actually do it. So, I went ahead and changed my email signature to inform everyone the limits of contact with email and to provide a phone number for urgent matters. I turned off all my notifications on Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, Text Messages, and Email. Not only do they not make noise, they don’t pop up, and they don’t even show me a little number in the corner of the app of how many notifications are waiting for me.
It was weird at first. It was hard not to check my phone more often. I found myself having conversations and negotiations with myself. “Well, if you check your email now, you won’t be able to do it again this evening” and found myself responding with “okay, yeah.. I’d rather do emails when I have more time tonight at home”. It’s a funny process to be in inside your head – but what it really means is that I was making more intentional choices about my time and choosing the most productive choice.
What I found with this experiment? More calm. More peace. Less temptation. Even though I knew the notifications were off – it still wasn’t as tempting without that little number taunting me about how many new things are waiting. It was calming not to be interrupted with vibrations and beeps, and looking at my phone for the time became just that – because when I looked for the time that is just what I saw – not messages or email pop-ups.
It gave me my power back. I now have control when I attend to things. If I choose to dedicate time to email – then I am intentionally checking and answering email. Once I’m done, I’m done and I can move on to something else productive.
It also lessens the expectation others have on my response time, and the guilt I might feel for not getting back, because I have set up the expectation prior to the emails or messages coming in. The expectation is in my email signature, and as for friends and family – I let them know of my plan and that if they need me urgently to please call (I have it set to let phone calls come through from anyone on my contacts list, or any repeated calls).
It has allowed me the space to be even more intentional with my day, and to have the quiet focus where calm and creativity thrive. My experiment has now turned into a habit, and there’s no way I’m going back. Sometimes I struggle with it (usually when I’m engaged with avoidance behaviours and not engaged in valuable things – phones are amazing avoidance-aids) but most of the time it’s just giving me all these amazing gifts. More control and power over my life, more productivity, more calm, and more freedom.
I encourage you all to examine your relationship with your phone (emails, messages) etc. Are they interfering? Would you be willing to see what it’s like without a constant flow of these things to see if it would add value in your life? Will you experience the same benefits as I have? I don’t want you to take my word for it – turn off your notifications and see for yourself! 😉
Every action we take to create space so that we can respond instead of react – gets our minds out of “stressed/reaction” mode and into “calm/collected/mindful” mode. And couldn’t we all use some more time in calm mindful mode?