Control your time and life by unplugging

by Mary Ann on May 14, 2012


nuclear air raid drills

Nuclear Air Raid Drills in the 50's

I like Kerry Patterson of Vital Smarts. He is a great writer and beside he is from my own era and so I can relate to everything he writes. In a world that seems to be passing me by so much of the time that is such a refreshing feeling.

In September Kerry wrote an article about unplugging from the workplace but I saw some amazing parallels to doing the same at home.

Kerry talked about the nuclear tests that America engaged in 1951, and all the craziness that went along with that. Students were sent flying to the floor to cover the backs of their necks in case of a nuclear attack from the Soviet Union. We had to practice this often. We saw American soldiers in newsreels, dressed in green fatigues, toting rifles, and holding their helmets tight to their heads, walking resolutely into a cloud of nuclear dust as the latest blast rolled across the desert.

It was all craziness because in 1951 we all knew about radiation, the danger, and yet the tests went on.

Kerry then asked the question “What similarly insane things are we doing today?” What modern inventions have we wholly embraced, which appear to have made our lives better, but are actually slowly killing us? In short, what “nuclear walk” are we taking today?

Kerry and I agree on one crazy thing that is happening today, our inability to unplug!

Can this really be a date?

Let me give you an example of what I am talking about. I live on the second floor of a two story apartment building. Below us is a wonderful family with two daughters. In front of their apartment is a large hedge that hides their patio from view. As I was coming up the walk one day I saw Lisa and Patrick’s heads above the hedge. I saw no children. I called out to them, “Hey are you guys having a date?” They both looked up and answered “yes”. As I rounded the hedge to the stairway I saw that they were both playing a game on their individual cell phones but…they were on a date.

I mentor moms often who complain that they have a hard time having structured learning time or family reading or even time to be present and listen to a child. When we actually track how they spend their time they are amazed at how much of it they spend on the computer answering email, checking Facebook and dealing with other social networking sites, as well as online games that they play.

They are also amazed at just how often they are interrupted during the day by calls on their cell phones. This loss of actual time leads to a sense of dissatisfaction in their performance as moms. They just can’t seem to keep up.

mom busy with phone computer picture

How much time do you spend on the computer?

This goes for dads as well who come home from work but bring it home with them on laptops and cell phones. Then they wonder why they just can’t seem to connect with their children or avoid becoming angry and frustrated with them.

I ask “What would happen if you unplugged once in a while. What if you turned the cell phone off during family learning time? What if you didn’t check email or Facebook until late afternoon or even the next day? Would disconnecting for even an hour make your life better?” They answer yes but I can see the addiction in their eyes. They don’t want to be out of the loop, miss anything. And frankly, for some, being thus engaged feels better than doing all the jobs that moms face every day.

But what would happen if we did unplug for even an hour a day? Would it make a difference in our feelings of satisfaction, in our health, in our ability to focus.

The answer is a resounding YES.

Take a look at some of the facts that Kerry shared.

Every time you stop your current task, deal with an interruption, and then return, you place the original task from short- to long-term memory, put the new job into short-term memory, and then reverse the entire process to get back on task.

Completing this conceptual lifting dozens of times a day creates stress, which just might lead to distress and all of its attendant health problems.

Frequent interruptions can lead to feelings of dissatisfaction. Instead of working continuously for periods of an hour or more on a task that’s challenging and solvable, we purposely interrupt our flow, add stress, and make our job far less enjoyable. Take family reading or school time for example!

When we use our time to stay digitally connected at the expenses of work we feel we must complete each day we extend our day beyond healthy limits. Instead of going to bed at 10 we go at 11 or 12 because we have to finish those chores that we didn’t’ get done. This leads to lack of energy, grouchiness and dissatisfaction with our children and life.

interrupted mom picture

Too many disruptions creates a sense of dissatisfaction.

This happens a lot. I know one mom who plays three online games, and is a prolific Facebook reader and writer. Often her Facebook messages say things like “I just can’t keep up” or “I am too busy and my kid are so messy!”

With the release of each new innovation, there’s much to think about. As we invent and embrace new devices, we may not know the toll they’re taking on our mental, emotional, and physical health until it’s too late.

What can we do?

Take control of how you spend your time. Take control of your outside interruptions. Make it part of your family dialogue. When will you, your spouse or the kids be on the computer? How much TV will any of you watch? What family times call for silencing of cell phones? How much Wii or other electronic games will you play?

three kids with macs picture

As Kerry suggests, “Talk openly about the two-edged sword of innovation”. Decide how and when you kids busy playing ps3 picturewant to be connected and where and when you want to be interrupted. Make it a choice, not the natural extension of embracing what appears to be a helpful new tool.

And remember, it’s not an all-or-nothing proposition. You’re not required to take a vow of digital celibacy. You don’t have to chuck your devices; you just have to control them so they don’t control you.

I know a mom who realized that checking her computer first thing in the morning was the one thing that was messing up her day. She made a decision to turn the computer OFF each evening and then to NOT turn it on again until after 12:00pm. It has made a world of difference. When you make decisions about technology you make more time for your family.

What have you done to take control of the digital age and your time? Please share, we all need the help. : )

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

kim May 17, 2012 at 12:33 am

So true. I just received a cell phone after a year without one. It was bliss. I took a facebook holiday this week as well. Thank you for the reminder, I think that this could be a big issue in the future!


Mary Ann May 17, 2012 at 9:58 pm

I went all last year without a cell phone and frankly it was heavenly. I am now tethered again but i leave it home on propose often – just to maintain some control! : )


Shiniga May 18, 2012 at 2:18 pm

Very true. When in India we didn’t have much internet access and since it was slow, we were off social media most of the time . And cos of that I got to spend so much time with family. In fact its crazy when I think the amount of time we spend on computers these days. Ratish and me sit in two rooms , with our gadgets. A plan should be made and followed. This article on unplugging really makes me think. Thanks Mary Ann for sharing the thought.


Mary Ann May 18, 2012 at 4:28 pm

Shiniga I think that is the most important point – that when we take control and have a plan we can enjoy both technology and our family. So we just need to have a plan as a family and then be consistent! : )


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