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On Living A (Somewhat) Less Connected Life

unpluggedThis year has been about shedding the things I don’t need, in completely unexpected ways. First, I shed my chronic migraines suffering from blinding headaches as often as five times a week by doing a medication washout period in February that revealed 90% of my headaches were rebound headaches caused by too much medication. They vanished quickly, dropping down to once a month, allowing me after nearly nine years of migraine misery to kind of snap to life.

Since then, I’ve continued my efforts to change how I eat. I’ve gotten back into hiking and going to the gym. I’ve lost weight; less than I hoped, but enough to feel proud. I’ve embraced cooking, happy to provide for both my family and myself in that way. Hell, I’m even baking.

But the unexpected change came at the end of the summer, when I stopped taking my laptop downstairs in the evenings.

I bought my first laptop in 2008; prior to that I had no smartphone and only a desktop computer. I worked at a desk, and then I walked away from the internet. But when I got that laptop (and shortly after, my smart phone), suddenly I had the internet with me anywhere in the house. At first, I just used it to skim the web and read blogs. Then social media, in particular Facebook and Twitter, began dominating my life. I’d spend the evenings sort of watching shows on television while hanging out on social media sites and skimming my RSS reader.

When I went to bed, I’d see my laptop screen in my dreams.

As my mind defogged from lack of exercise and non-stop pain, I realized something. My brain was scattered and disconnected. I couldn’t remember conversations I had on Twitter, television shows I watched, or if I’d already read that blog post I just clicked on. I was sharing on social media thoughts I should have kept to myself, and I was so unfocused. It was a wonder I could get any work done.

So I made a decision: one screen at a time. Well, sort of: I technically have two monitors on my desk but… you know what I mean.

For the last few months, I have walked away from my computer at the end of my working day sometimes 5:30pm, sometimes 9:30pm and either read a book or watched television without distraction. In addition, we finally cut the cable TV cord and now all the television we watch is completely intentional via Hulu or Netflix.

I’ll admit it: it took a while to be able to focus on just television again. And I still pick up my phone during commercial breaks (on Hulu, obviously) and check in a couple of times a night. But I’ve found the ability to focus on just one thing again.

I feel the change in all corners of my life. I can look my daughter in the eye when she’s telling me something important and focus just on what she’s telling me instead of feeling a bit like a trapped hummingbird. I fall asleep more easily. I feel no need to pull out my phone and update Twitter while I’m hiking, or when I’m at an event at my daughter’s school, or at dinner with friends. (Um, not counting photos. I do pull my phone out for that quite often.)

Several years ago I remember meeting with a potential client interested in creating a social strategy who asked me, with incredulity, “How do you find TIME to do it all?” My explanation spending roughly eighteen hours a day in front of two to three screens was so startling to the client he decided to pass on social media for the time being. Because that kind of intense social media use isn’t the sort of thing the average person wants (or needs) to do.

Please don’t think I’m criticizing you for your social media use. I am the queen of doing what is best for you. All I know is it wasn’t good for me, and the way I’m doing it now is better for me. Yes, I pick up my phone and check in on social media far more than the average person does but by stepping back a bit, I am enjoying regaining the focus and clarity I’d lost.

What about you? Are you over-connected?

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