Don’t Wait by the Mailbox: Life Without Digital Distractions

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Imagine a man sitting on a park bench or in a small-town diner. Various people are in line, waiting to talk to the man, show the man pictures of birthday parties, tell him about how their day is going or share a newspaper article. Some people come in and argue about politics and religion. Every once in a while he likes something being shared with him. Mostly, he’s frustrated about the long line and annoyed at the stuff that he doesn’t care about.

Later, the same man stands at his mailbox, waiting for the mail-carrier. The mail carrier finally shows up and brings the man a bunch of ads and a few bills. There’s even a funny story from his mom about one of her neighbors that she mailed to the whole family. The man stands at the mailbox and goes through all of his mail. Eventually he realizes that it’s all garbage and throws it away. He then returns to the mailbox to wait for more mail to arrive.

Later, the man is on a date at a fancy restaurant. He and the woman are having a great conversation when some guy pulls up a chair and starts talking to the man, asking about his day and showing him a couple of pictures. Then his boss shows up asking about a work project. A few minutes later some salesmen show up with a few varieties of pills, cars, and a few “special offers” that they pitch to the man, interrupting the dinner.

Do all of these scenarios sound ridiculous? The ridiculous thing is that we allow these things to happen all the time. Every day we are bombarded with requests, notifications, conversations, calls, messages, social networking, media, advertisements and more. All of these potential interruptions are always with us, in our pockets and purses. You have access to all of these people and situations on your mobile device or computer.

Any time you sign up for something, install a new app or give out your contact information, you invite these interruptions into your life. Your phone even asks if you’d like to be notified by new apps.

There is nothing wrong with smartphones or computers. They are wonderful tools for connecting, emergencies, finding information, planning, getting directions and notifying others. When we use them mindfully they are powerful tools. When we allow them to constantly interrupt us, we give control of our lives to our phones.

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Try an experiment (if you read this blog at all, you know that I love experiments!) with your phone and computer.

  1. Disable all of your notifications. No vibrating, buzzing, beeping, chirping or music-playing is allowed!
  2. If you want to take it a step further, don’t check anything on your phone or computer for an hour after you wake up.
  3. Then, one step further, set only one or two times during the day to check up on everything: messages, calls, emails, notifications, etc.
  4. Finally, consider every new interruption: mailing lists, new apps, new contacts, social networks. Use “Disable Notifications” as the default. Then enable only the most vital or important notifications over time.

Yes, you’ll miss calls, texts, Facebook alerts, Twitter updates, email alerts and other notifications. But you know what? It’s ok. The great thing about all of these notifications? They’ll still be there at the end of the day. Breathe. Sit down and close your eyes. Tell yourself it’ll be ok. Now go into your phone settings and turn them all off! Let yourself laugh while you’re doing this! You’re being a rebel. Take pride in and laugh at your rebelliousness. You can even laugh maniacally at your phone if you’d like. (OK, that’s probably enough maniacal laughing. You’re scaring your coworkers.)

Now watch yourself throughout the day. Notice how often you don’t check your phone or computer. It’s pretty amazing how long you can live without that constant vibration in your pocket. Take control of your phone instead of letting it take control of you. Decide to consciously check your notifications instead of mindlessly standing by the mailbox waiting for mail or at the newsstand waiting for updates. You can do this! Your phone is a powerful tool if used wisely. Don’t let it control and interrupt your life. Decide when and where you will check those notifications instead of letting it decide when to notify you.

Start with 24 hours. Turn off every notification on your phone and computer and any other gadgets you have. After the 24 hours, keep going if you’d like to. Notice how your stress levels decrease and your focus increases. This one habit can have powerful implications in your life. Let it change how you interact with the digital world for the better.

For more about digital distractions and stress, check out this article from Break the Twitch

Here are some more great ideas (and similar ideas) from Becoming Minimalist

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