It’s been a little more than a month since I wrote about embarking on a Hands-Free Journey. Like I said then, I think writing about my efforts to unplug (and in the case of my many wireless devices, to just put the damn things down) will help keep me focused – and honest. So in the interest of full disclosure, here’s a quick recap of my initial reflections.
Just being aware of my habits has been helpful. First and foremost, reading Hands Free Mama and really thinking about just how often I look at/pick up/use my phone has been an eye-opener. Not necessarily a pleasant eye-opener, as I’ve realized how much of a crutch my phone has become for filling in random pockets of time – pockets that I could just as easily fill with something more rewarding. That awareness alone has helped me put the phone down at moments when, a month ago, it would have been firmly in my hand. That said…
I maybe could have timed the start of this challenge a little better. I started this challenge (sorry, “journey”) a couple of weeks after joining the Listen to Your Mother cast – also known as finding all sorts of new, wonderful writers to read, new blogs popping up in my inbox all the time, and new Facebook friends whose posts keep me cracking up, along with a renewed inspiration to write, myself. I’m feeling a serious tension between wanting to prioritize breaking my gadget habit and really wanting to write and read and support these new friends. My solution so far hasn’t been a great one: basically “binge-reading” a bunch of blogs and posts at once, which kind of takes some of the fun out of it. (Binge-watching tv and binge-reading are not one and the same, it turns out.) Hmmm.
Turning off notifications really helps. Rachel’s book reminded me of a trick I learned at my last job, when the pop-up and ding! I’d get with every new email completely distracted me from whatever actual work I was supposed to be doing. It’s a really complicated, fancy trick, so pay attention here: Turn the damn notifications off. Right! When I did that at work, all of a sudden I felt much less compelled to check whatever random email was coming in reminding us that we weren’t supposed to pop popcorn or make coffee after 3 p.m. or that we all needed a refresher course in the dress code (yes, most of those emails at that former job were about a bunch of crazy rules that we broke, a lot). So, it makes sense that the trick has worked on me again for texting – now that my phone doesn’t “buzz” every time a text comes in, I find myself looking at it much less. That one change felt like a victory to me. I wish it had occurred to me sooner.
Vacation was a great break. I’d pledged to myself that I’d try to check email/FB/Twitter only in the morning and at night on vacation. This was made somewhat easier by the lack of babyproofing in the hotel, since I spent most of Teddy’s waking hours running around after him, making sure that he didn’t flush the TV remote down the toilet/lock himself in the bedroom/turn on the dishwasher/play with knives. But I think the other thing that helped was that I was out of my regular routine, and having fun just living in the moment. There’s no room for Twitter when you’re building a sand castle at the beach. (Partially, because the combo of phone-sand-sunscreen isn’t a good one, and partially because you need both hands to try to keep a sunhat on my kid’s noggin.) I slipped and checked midday a few times but overall, I did pretty well with that goal.
The hardest time: after bedtime. But when I did check? Just as at home, during nap time and after Teddy’s bedtime. Which means that I spend my evenings staring into my gadgets, rather than talking with B, or working out, or reading, or, you know, sleeping. I swear that even watching trash TV is better than staring into my phone, because at least then it gives me something to talk about. This is probably the hardest part of this habit for me to break. Suggestions welcome.
I’m glad to be starting this early. Rachel talks in the book a lot about her regret at missing experiences with her family as a result of being so connected to everyone outside her house. I don’t feel like I’ve gone that far down the rabbit hole, which I’m thankful for. To be honest, despite my phone affliction, I feel like I’ve been more “present” than ever since Teddy was born; we waited so long for him that I have loved so much of the time that I just get to hang out with him. (Some parts of snow days excepted.)
Not every part of Hands Free Mama applies or appeals to me. It turns out that as I took a hard look, I’ve actually already made some of the non-tech-related changes that Rachel is also working on, like trying to let go of perfectionism and overcommitting myself – but that doesn’t mean that I don’t need to be vigilant about not slipping back. I’ll keep you posted.