Email, texting and the web make my life crazier.
Both statements are totally true. While I couldn’t imagine life without all the conveniences tech gives me, I never feel like I can truly power down because of it — I am always on call, always engaged.
It’s gotten to the point where my kids have noticed. “Mommy, put away your phone!” my daughter will command me. On weekends, if I’m trying to catch up on email in my home office and hear her heading up the stairs, I guiltily slam down my laptop’s lid so I won’t get “caught.”
“Technology is a good servant but a bad master,” says Gretchen Rubin in her new book Happier at Home, the sequel to her bestseller The Happiness Project. Her second book on bliss takes a look at everyday ways to feel more at home when you’re at home — including simplifying the stuff you own, being more thoughtful of your partner, tapping into the joys of your neighborhood, all in the name of feeling calmer, more energized and, yes, happier.
Gretchen dedicated a school year, September through May, to this latest project, tackling a different topic every month and digging up interesting research along the way. Like her first book, it’s filled with inspiration of the most practical variety; she gives you ideas you very much want to try, as soon as possible. She makes you scribble stuff out on Post-its and tack them to your computer, like “Give gold stars” (her resolution in her chapter on marriage to be more supportive and appreciative of her husband).
Gretchen dedicated January to better controlling her time — particularly her tech time. As she writes, “The real problem wasn’t the switch on my computer, but the switch inside my mind.” I asked her if her kids were aware of a difference after she put herself on a tech diet. “You know, I don’t know that my kids consciously register a difference. They certainly never comment,” she says. “But I notice!”
Here, adapted from the book, are Gretchen’s 8 tactics to power down—and power up your happiness.
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Put down the phone, iPad and laptop when family’s around 1 of 8Often, I'm tempted to check email not because I expect any urgent message, but because I'm a bit bored — standing around in the grocery store while Eliza takes forever to choose the snack to take to the school party, or watching Eleanor finish, with maddening precision, the twenty flowers she draws at the bottom of every picture. If devices are around, it's hard to resist them, yet nothing is more poignant than seeing a child sit beside a parent who is gazing into a small screen. (I still get distracted by newspapers, magazines, books and the mail, but this rule helps.)
Photo credit: flickr/Barbara LN
Take a tech Sabbath 2 of 8Some people, whether religious or not, observe a technology Sabbath. "No email, no calls, no checking the Internet. I don't even read nonfiction," a friend told me. "Novels only."
Photo credit: flickr/TheNext Web
Detach from tech when you’re traveling from one place to another 3 of 8I used to press myself to use that time efficiently, but then I realized that many of my most important ideas have come to me in these loose moments. As Virginia Woolf noted in her diary, "My mind works in idleness. To do nothing is often my most profitable way." Along these same lines, a friend met her husband when they sat across from each other on a bus. If they'd been busy with their devices, they never would have spoken.
Photo credit: flickr/Ed Yourdon
Head to a library to get work done 4 of 8Instead of trying to resist the siren call of email, Facebook, Twitter, the web and the phone, I put them out of reach. Also, the atmosphere of the library helps me to think. When I want to take a break, instead of heading to the kitchen for a snack, I wander among the books.
Photo credit: flickr/Wootang01
Don’t check email at bedtime 5 of 8I love ending the day when an emptier in-box, but the stimulation of reading emails wakes me right up and as a consequence, I often have trouble falling asleep. Unless someone is crying, throwing up, or smells smoke, sleep is my first priority.
Photo credit: flickr/Whatleydude
Mute your phone 6 of 8Someone coined the term "fauxcellarm" to describe the jumpy feeling you get when you imagine that your cell phone is ringing.
Start the day by tackling email 7 of 8For a while, I tried to write between 6 and 7 a.m., before my family is awake, but I found I couldn't concentrate until I read through my in-box. People use all sorts of solutions for controlling their in-box. I love one friend's strategy: The footer of her emails reads, "Please note: This in-box does not appreciate long emails."
Photo credit: flickr/RambergMediaImages
But of course, keep in touch with friends 8 of 8I embrace the fact that I do a lot of connecting with friends and acquaintances through technology. Although nothing replaces face-to-face meetings, it's better to use those tools than not connect at all.
Image source: Flickr/cscott2006
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