Mindful Disconnection

Reality check: How many times a day do you whip out your smart phone for no particular reason? If you’re like me, it’s too many times to count. Here’s how I eliminated the pointless habit, and reclaimed 30 min per day.

Where does the time go?

Since becoming a father, I’ve never been so keenly aware of the finite number of minutes in a day. While bringing immense joy to our lives, babies also have a tendency to gobble up any and all free time. I took a personal inventory yesterday and realized that I’ve really been doing far too little of two things that I really enjoy: writing and exercising outdoors. But both of these things take time and if I was going to bring them back into my regular routine, I was going to have to reclaim those precious minutes from somewhere else.

Well, I came to a realization that was a bit hard to admit. It turns out that even though we only have one child in the house, we have two time gobblers. The second one I carry around all day in my pocket. But instead of gobbling up large chunks of time like my child does, my little electronic buddy kills free time with a “death by papercuts” approach.

I realized that any time I had a free moment, I would instinctively whip out my phone and start fiddling. Waiting for the coffee to brew? Check my phone. Brushing my teeth? Check my phone. Relaxing on the couch? Check my phone.

So What?

Here are the problems I see with this:

  1. I’m usually not doing anything necessary or productive. Usually I’ll check my email, even though I’m not expecting anything important. Or I’ll go on Facebook or Reddit and hope for something entertaining to pop up.

  2. All those minutes add up. Oftentimes if I’ve got a minute to spare, and I check my phone, it turns into two or three (or five or ten) minutes spent once I get sucked into something. When I do this many times per day, I figure it adds up to about half an hour of fiddlin’.

  3. That fiddlin’ time could be better spent doing something else.

Reclaiming the Time

Once I realized how much time I could reclaim if I stopped that pointless fiddlin’, I needed a strategy for being mindful of my “connected” time, and choosing to stay disconnected for more of the day. Sheer willpower was one option. But the reflex to whip out the phone was so automatic and, well, mindless that it was hard to stop. I couldn’t just turn my phone off or put it into airplane mode. What if someone urgently needed to get ahold of me? I needed a way to turn my smartphone back into a dumb phone. One that, you know, just does calls and texts.

A quick browse through my phone’s settings revealed that magical “Cellular Data” toggle shown at the top. When this is “off” your phone continues to function as a phone–it can place and receive calls and text messages. But anything requiring internet access won’t work–web, facebook, email, etc.

No Fiddlin’

Here’s how to give yourself a nice little hurdle to jump that makes it much less likely to fiddle with your phone…

  1. From the “Settings” app, click “General”
  2. Select “Cellular”
  3. Toggle “Cellular Data” to “Off” (notice that your 3G or LTE indicator goes away)

*Obviously this is for iPhone. If you know how to do this on other platforms, feel free to share in the comments.

Mindful Disconnection

Sounds too easy doesn’t it? What’s stopping me from taking 5 seconds to just re-enable that setting and get my Facebook fix? Well… nothing. But when I instinctively reach for my phone in an idle moment, that extra hurdle makes me stop and think, “do I really need to look at my phone right now?” So far, it’s been really easy to say, “nope.”

I’m only two days in… so we’ll see how it goes. But with my extra 30 minutes yesterday and today, I’ve so far managed to go for a run, and write this blog. So I’d say it’s off to a good start.

Do you have a strategy for mindful disconnection? Please share in the comments.

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