Do you feel sometimes like you’re doing too much?
I’ve been feeling like that more and more often. Not because I’m super busy – although I am – but because I have too much technology going on. I check my email on my personal phone, my work phone, my Kindle Fire, my office laptop, and my personal laptop at home. I use all these five devices every day. As I type this, I realise it sounds so insane. How did it get to this? And I’m not even a gadget geek; the opposite, if anything.
Why do we do this?
The underlying problem is, of course, the compulsive need to always access the internet. I like reading, and the internet offers an endless supply of interesting and funny and enlightening and educational reading material, all the time. There’s also the occasional video, the music to be downloaded, the documentaries to watch, and the emails to check.
And this is all apart from the time spent on the internet for my work.
The scary part is that I’m one of the few people I know who isn’t obsessed with being online all the time. My situation is pretty bad, but literally everyone I know younger than 65 is worse off – checking the phone during dinner, while watching a movie at the cinema, while waiting at the take-away counter. Everywhere. And we’ve been brainwashed into believing this amounts to clever time management:
Watching a movie and simultaneously checking your work email?
You’re multitasking like a boss!
Listening to that podcast while driving your kids to school?
Go, girl – you da boss of juggling!
Catching up on the latest episodes of your favourite show while also scrolling through your Twitter account?
Whoa, you’re an advanced multitasking ninja! The 21st century go-getter capitalistic lifestyle proponents bow down to you in wonder.
The end result is – no surprise – stress, stress, and more stress (it’s apparently called technostress). You may not feel it immediately (in fact, you may feel exhilarated at the time thanks to all the adrenaline coursing through your veins), but it wears you down, and over time will literally kill you.
Finding out what was wrong
As I tried to figure out why I was doing this to myself, I realised it originally sprang from some well-meaning attempts to manage my time more effectively. I wanted to do several things, and wanted to make sure I was being productive and utilising every opportunity to do work, and filling every minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run.
And what do you do when you want to improve on something? Yes – you go online.
Countless productivity articles, books and apps exist to remind you that you can squeeze out a few more minutes of usefulness from your 24 hours by doing ten things all at once, or by adding another activity to your ‘downtime’. After all, goes the logic, even Beyonce has only 24 hours per day; what’s your excuse for not achieving Success™?
I agreed. I needed to produce more output (success) in the 24 hours I had every day. Time was no longer an intangible measure of actions occurring one after the other; it became something that I needed to gain control over. I needed to time my sleep, time my hours at work, time my rest, time my exercise.
And what is the best solution for time management? Devices! When my workplace had given me a laptop and a smartphone, I was thrilled. Free internet! But this added two more devices to my full bag of devices. I initially decided to separate work and personal devices as a “clever” way to manage all the information overload. But I soon began accessing my personal apps on my work phone, my personal email on my work laptop, my work calls on my personal phone, and crisscrossing everything until everything became work and everything became personal.
And I became overwhelmed. I turned into a person who was irritable, impatient, and constantly on the verge of flinging her phone in frustration. This was despite the fact that I was working more, and faster, than ever before. I was in a race with myself to get more done, sooner. I had to renovate my flat, get my fledgeling company registered (don’t tell my boss), work on my blog. I also had to eat healthily, work out and get fit, and take care of myself emotionally (ha!). I had to work hard in the office 40 hours a week, impress the hell out of everyone and become indispensable to the company – so that I never get laid off like I had before.
I had given up my social life by now. I hadn’t eaten out or watched a movie in a theatre, I hadn’t gone clubbing or met my friends in ages. I wasn’t seeing anybody. I was a social island – just me and my cat. I told myself I was being focused.
I spent all my waking hours on my phones – WhatsApping friends and family, responding to emails, watching the latest viral videos, catching up on the news… Every minute was a frenzy. The last thing I did before hitting the bed was check my phone, and the first thing I did when I woke up was check my phone. Taking a break at work meant checking my phone – while peeing, while getting coffee, while catching up with colleagues. I was constantly charging my devices. During weekends, when my phone battery was dying, I switched to the Kindle Fire and plugged in my phone. When the Kindle battery began blinking, I swapped it with the now-half-charged phone and merrily continued assaulting my eyes and my mind.
My sleep suffered. My health suffered. My moods swung crazily. I became a nervous wreck who tried to come across as normal. But the good thing was that I realised I was spiralling out of control. I’d had enough. Nothing was worth this. My mind was tumbling through the days out of control, and my eyes started to feel like they’d drop out of their sockets.
Resetting my life
I finally decided to stop, and reassess my priorities. I had wanted to consciously develop a simpler lifestyle, and this certainly wasn’t helping, although I’d thought it would. Was there a way to loosen these devices’ grip on my sanity? Obviously, yes. I thought a bit about the whole situation (did not look online!), and then decided to do these things:
Minimise the time I spend staring at a lit screen
I will switch off the internet on my phones during office hours (I’m on the laptop anyway; why do I need the phones as well?).
I will stop using digital devices one hour before bedtime, and turn off the WiFi as well. There’s no reason it needs to be on when I’m asleep.
Minimise the apps I use
I only have the Twitter and Instagram apps on one phone, two fitness apps on the other. For everything else, I will use my personal laptop. If I’m too lazy to open my laptop for something, that means it isn’t important enough. I do not use my work laptop when I’m at home, and I don’t use it for personal stuff.
Break bad habits
Like checking my phone every time I’m at a traffic signal or in the loo. I will check my phone once in a couple of hours for any text messages or calls I may have missed.
Set boundaries with others – including my boss
I will make it clear that my time is important, and since I’m not an emergency medical technician of any sort and no lives are at stake, I don’t need to be contacted outside of office hours. There will inevitably be exceptions to this, of course; my office isn’t giving me the laptop so I can switch off after 6:30pm. Of course they expect me to work after hours as well, and of course I will. But it needs to be reasonable. And since I’m currently on contract, I refuse to work regularly outside of designated office hours unless I’m being paid extra for it.
Remind myself that I’m not missing out on anything by stepping back from social media
This is tough. Thanks to social media, news about current events get transmitted incredibly quickly. I have been a beneficiary of this a couple of times, especially when I once got to know of a police-ordered curfew through Twitter and was able to take safety measures keeping that in mind. So I am well aware of how vital being online could be. But the fact is that these situations are rare. I need to remind myself of that. Other than that, I don’t really need to know what the latest politician or celebrity is guilty of doing, so:).
Spend more time reading books (and not on my Kindle Fire)
This is easy. I love reading, love the smell of books, love visiting the library (yeah, they still exist). No problems here!
Switch off at designated times – mealtimes, sleep time, etc
This is also tough, but so important. I will make it a point to talk to the person next to me. You know, IRL.
Everything in moderation
Don’t get me wrong – I love the internet. But I need to get away from letting it overwhelm me. I’ll still be on IG and Twitter – and my blog. But I’ll have control over when and why, and, most importantly, for how long.
Simple steps, yeah?:)
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