While I’ve written about needing to disconnect from phones while walking to maintain awareness of our surroundings when I talked about the importance of Doctor Who’s Weeping Angels. And while I believe that we do need to drop the phones to have situational awareness, our smartphones are assassinating more than our ability to take stock of our surroundings, they’re robbing our joy and creativity.
Now, I am head-hypocrite here. I have a smartphone. If I didn’t know about the screen time tracker, I’d tell you I’m not really on my phone all that often. But then that weekly screen time report comes out and says my screen time is down all the way to just under three hours a day. That’s three hours of being in the same room as my family and not paying attention to how my kiddo smiles or how she isn’t really reading the book in her hands, instead she’s guessing the words based on their first letter. Before I go on I need to be honest and say I used to spend over eight hours on my phone a day.
I am not alone in believing my connectivity is stealing from more than my creativity.
Costs to Mental Health and Creativity
I’m sure we’ve all heard how our screentime can affect our mental health. What would happen if we all threw our screens in a safe for a month and spent that time making meals with our families, practicing our hobbies, or building creativity?
Yeah, building it.
Our smartphones taught us to blur the lines of our separate spaces to the point where we cannot honor any of the spaces we take up. We respond to Slack messages in between pulling frozen veggies out of the freezer and putting them in the steamer. During our children’s extracurricular activities we’re cruising social media.
We’re never bored.
Our minds don’t spend enough time focused on a task and this is robbing us of our ability to truly build what we are capable of. Our phones train our minds to always fill the void. Clear the notifications. Check all the things. All the time. The first thing we do when our phones go off in the morning is checking what happened during that chunk of time we had to lose consciousness and put them down.
What if the next best novel existed in your brain and could only come out if you lacked connectivity during six-hour blocks? Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein was written based on a story she told friends one evening to pass the time. My friends come over and instead of playing a board game we fire up the TV. We aren’t priming our creativity to create. We numb it instead.
What would happen if we committed to diving deeper in everything not technology-related? How would our minds rewire if we decided to charge our phones overnight on the kitchen counter and got actual alarm clocks? What if we experimented with not looking at our phones for the first hour we were awake?
After watching a video of neuroscientist, Jim Kwik, Marc Neidlinger shared it with everyone at O-Neb HQ. We are reprograming our brains to not be effective, to not focus, to not serve us. Even as I finished that last sentence, I got a notification that someone wanted to join the Unsettled group on Facebook. Despite working on this post, I abandoned ship, clicked the Facebook tab and let them in. Then once I got back to this post I had to remember what I was doing. Jumping around from task to task doesn’t mean I am good at multitasking. It means I am good at doing multiple things poorly, all at once.
I’m looking at this next year as opportunities to really start upping my game across the board and the only way I can accomplish this is if I drop my great distraction and tune in to the tangible. I’m willing to bet dollars to donuts you need to fine-tune that too.
A Week Without Morning Cellphone Time
So I decided to actually try not touching my phone for the first hour I’m awake for a week and here are the observations I made.
I had my phone charge by my bed even though I used my alarm clock. I have the kind that slowly illuminates to mimic sunrise. Once the time has come to drag my sorry carcass out of bed, it begins playing bird chirping noises. It’s great.
Once I got up, I immediately grabbed my phone before remembering I was going to ignore it. Typically, I wake up, grab my phone and look at what Fitbit says my quality of sleep was. Why do I rely on an app to tell me if I’m rested? Sometimes it’s because I will believe I had awful sleep, but Fitbit shows I was in the middle of a REM cycle when my alarm started (the sunrise starts 10 minutes before the room floods with the sounds of an aviary). When I am corrected by my Fitbit, I usually change my mood and correct my thoughts about not getting any sleep.
Today though, I ignored the impulse. Normally, after I check my sleep patterns, I usually get distracted by all the other apps on my phone and remain in bed for an additional 20 minutes and then rush around like a crazy person.
Instead, I got up and started my morning routine. Right at the one hour mark, I briefly checked my phone without spending much time on it.
Now at work, I am surprisingly resilient to reacting to notifications; deciding to instead, finish my thought or project before allowing someone else’s priorities to become mine. I recognize my brain is the most capable of creative projects first thing in the morning, and so I have opted to write before reading emails or looking at my to-do list. Once I have spent 60-90 minutes working through the creative projects then I will switch for a bit and give my brain a break.
Total Screen Time: 1 hour 7 minutes
I left my phone in the living room and had a great night’s sleep. I think yesterday’s screen time was interesting. While I don’t feel like I touched my phone less, I’m sure I was overall less “reactive” to the screen light up. Truthfully, I had it turned face down and set to silent most of the day.
From a creative standpoint, I cranked out a lot of content we are going to need for Orange Nebula. Perhaps I have more focus and creativity.
I encountered a snag this morning. Typically I do some reading and meditating before I get my kiddo out of bed. I can’t focus when she’s up. For both of these, I use apps on my phone to keep me accountable. I think my hack to overcome this is to put my phone on do not disturb and continue. I should experiment with airplane mode and see if both apps work without connection to wifi.
Total screen time 1 hour 33 minutes which included a FaceTime meeting with my MBA learning cohort.
Leaving my phone in the living room is getting easier and easier. This morning, my mental clarity was the best it’s been this week.
I was humbled a little last night when my kiddo saw me playing a game on my phone when I should have been hanging out with the family. She wanted to play with me. What struck me is my husband and I heavily regulate her screen time and here I am without self-control, indulging in something that offers me zero return in the future.
Another important observation I have made this week is my productivity has skyrocketed. The time I would have looked at my phone in between my tasks “to prepare me for the next task” has dropped to next to nothing.
Total screen time 1 hour 56 minutes.
Without my phone in my hand last night my little one jumped in my lap and ended up telling about her day. It was a sincerely precious moment. It makes me wonder if my phone, despite its size, takes up a greater amount of space than I realized.
Another interesting observation – I ate lunch at my desk and worked straight through the day. This caused the workday to feel much longer and it might have also resulted in more screen time. It looks like I need to maintain balance to be productive.
Total Screen Time 3 hours 12 minutes.
I think overall I am sleeping better. Looking at my Fitbit’s data on my sleep I see fewer moments where I am waking up. I think this might be, in part, due to the light of my phone shining to alert me to a new response on social media or news articles.
I’m more in tune with my family. I think by not touching my phone for the first hour and thus reducing my need to be so responsive to every alert, I have created more space for people physically around me.
It’s also interesting to note recently I had a conversation with Marc where I admitted my drive to be so responsive on social media was a prison of my own creation. This week has shown me the world hasn’t imploded. Rapid responses aren’t worth the cost.
I am one person and need to ensure my family and coworkers are treated better and given my best efforts.
Total Screen Time 1 hour 18 minutes
My experiment with not touching my phone for the first hour of the day allowed me to be more mindful of my screentime throughout the day. I have seen increased productivity and improved sleep. This experiment unexpectedly impacted my family life. I realized all the moments I am looking at my phone, rather than being present. It feels like I have more time with family, when in fact I am simply making better use of the time.