The computer is my greatest tool of efficiency, but the computer is my number one distraction in life.
If you are near my age (39), you remember the days without computers. You remember the days before the Internet and email. You remember that if you wanted to communicate with a friend or relative out of state, you had to either write them a letter or pay long-distance charges for a phone call. You remember doing research at the library. You had to drive to the library and then physically pull books off the shelf. You probably had a set of encyclopedias at home. We did. I loved them. Those were the days.
But I wouldn't trade them. Indeed, it cannot be disputed that the advent of the computer has greatly improved our lives. Even if I complain about certain technologies, I am no Luddite. I read a quote the other day by an 80-year-old man, on a site which I frequent. He said that if he had had that particular site back when he was preparing his dissertation, it would have shaved one year off the process. I think we can all agree that this invention called the personal computer has greatly increased our efficiency.
With a computer, I can pay my bills online. I can even set up automatic payments, saving myself time and energy. I can set up elaborate spreadsheets to keep track of my expenses and budget categories. I have the dictionary and encyclopedias at my fingertips. Looking things up online is faster than the old fashioned way of flipping through pages. I can have a meeting with several people, without having to leave my home. I can share pictures with all my friends and relatives instantly—no more stamping envelopes!
But with all the ways that this computer age has enhanced my life, it brings with it many temptations. I find myself drawn to check my Facebook feed dozens of times a day. When I send an email, I can’t seem to be patient, waiting on the reply. I check my Inbox every few minutes to see if the reply has come in—which I know is just ridiculous. With the incredible volume of information at my fingertips, I find that time is too easily wasted researching things like craft projects to do with my kids. Or, truth be told, I just plain get lost looking at funny memes.
And I chose to start a business (this blog) that would require me to be on the computer all the time and promote on social media! Why?
Last summer, I started a new habit of taking a computer-free break, once a week. I really enjoyed it. At the time, I had no thoughts of starting this blog back up. But when I did start it back up last August, I convinced myself that I needed to be on the computer every day and on social media all the time, promoting the blog. I told myself that it was okay to be on social media all the time, because it was for business. So, I stopped the computer-break habit. I see now that I need to get back to that. It just felt good. On a side note, even though I was on Facebook daily for my blog, I did break the habit of feeling the need to see everything. I used to browse my feed all the way down to where I had left off the time before. I always felt like I was missing out on something. I did the same thing with Pinterest. Now I know I am missing out on a lot, and I’m okay with that, but it’s still far too easy for me to get distracted with commenting and liking people’s random posts. (So, if I missed a post of yours--or many--now you know why.) :)
I think, for the health of my soul, I need to get back to my regular break day from computers.
When I get on the computer, nine times out of ten, I check my email and Facebook first and then forget what I originally got on the computer for. I really feel like Alice, falling down the rabbit hole, or rather being sucked down, and then I go chasing after the white rabbit, looking up things I never intended to look up. I start scrolling through my Facebook feed and get in a daze. I sit there and think that I really need to stop, but find it really, really difficult. Then I’ll finally shut my laptop and realize I never looked up what I got on the computer to look up in the first place! C’mon, you know you do the same thing.
I read Crystal Paine’s new book and it was so great. She explained how she just had to get off of Facebook altogether, and she pays someone to post on social media for her blog (that would be really nice to be in that position). She explained how we all have 168 hours each week. I wonder how many of those I’m wasting on frivolous computer usage, when I could be writing (notice how I haven’t posted much to this blog lately?).
I notice that when I do take the break from the computer, it helps me reset, refresh, and refocus. Things pop into my mind that I would like to look up on the computer, but since it’s a no-computer day, I write them down on a list. Eventually, my mind starts to focus more on the present and more on real life. I usually do some re-prioritizing, in my mind, on those days about things that are most important to me and my family. Spending too many days on end, in computer land, for me, ends up being a life of putting out little fires, never fanning the big fire that needs to be burning. I just end up taking care of all the little tasks, but never accomplishing my big goals.
Now, something that helps me on the days I am on the computer (and I have recently become more diligent about this) is keeping a list of my computer-related tasks. It’s been a huge help. Before I sit down to the computer, before I open my laptop, I write down a list of what I intend to do online. Even the seemingly trivial things—reply to Suzie, email Jane, request Magic Tree House books for my daughter on the library website, watch Weird Al’s new music video, pay bills, place food co-op order—I write it all down. It doesn't matter if it’s trivial, it doesn't matter if it’s small, it doesn't even matter if it’s a productive item (hey, watching a Weird Al music video with my kids is good bonding), if I write it down, I’m being deliberate. And when I've completed the tasks on my list, I close the computer. I don’t allow myself to browse around if it’s not something on the list. Those are the times I feel good. I feel accomplished and I don’t feel like the computer is eating up my time.
If you have the same issue I've described, put a Post-It note on your screen with these words: WHAT ARE YOU DOING? WRITE IT DOWN. I had to do that until it became habit. I used the sticky note program that came installed on my computer and just increased the size until it filled up the whole desktop and increased the font size so it was nice and large—the better to get my attention.
(This is a screenshot of my computer desktop with an enlarged sticky note.)
Another good tip, one I don’t do often, but have heard works for friends, is to use a timer. I do allow myself to just veg on Pinterest from time to time. And that's okay. I have come to terms with the fact that I will never complete 99 percent of what I post on Pinterest, but it just feels good to pin things like quilt patterns, crochet patterns, and craft ideas. In this case, it would be good for me to set a timer. I usually just gauge it by something else going on in the house at the time. I only veg like that on a weekend or late in the evening, and then only if my husband is engrossed in something himself. So, when he stops whatever activity he’s involved in, I take the cue that it’s time to put the computer down. And I usually don't allow myself to get lost in Pinterest land more than about once a week. (I used to LOVE Pinterest, but I think when I started up this blog, I realized there weren't enough hours in the day and I broke the habit.)
Sometimes I admit it is hard to stay focused on longer activities on the computer, like writing this article. (And I hope you're still reading it!) I've heard there are apps available to block you from Facebook and other time wasters while you’re working. I haven’t tried those yet.
What about our kids? Many people think the young generation is hopelessly lost to their devices. It’s become a popular punishment to ground teens from their phones and we are usually telling our kids they're spending too much time glued to their screens. But I thought about this and I’m not sure I agree. We did the same thing when we were kids, but it was with a television or a rotary phone—with a really long coiled cord. I watched a lot of television as a kid and I spent hours on the phone with my friends. Teens need social connection; they’re doing it now with FaceTime and Instant Messaging, but it’s really no different than it was in my day. Is it any worse for them?
I think the question needs to be, are they addicted? Do they slough chores to use their devices? Do they sulk and pout at the idea of spending time with the family without their phone? When they get together with friends, are all faces directed at a device? Or are they spending real face-to-face time, actually talking with their friends?
I don’t believe my children have screen issues. And that’s why I’m not going to ask them to participate with me on a weekly no-computer day. Maybe it’s because we homeschool and they’re not quite as involved with their iPods as their fellow traditional-school counterparts. Perhaps the majority of kids out there do have a problem that needs curbing. I just don't see it here in my home. My teenager has no interest in starting up a Facebook account. He frequents YouTube to post videos for his friends to watch and to watch tutorials on Van Halen guitar solos. I am fine with that. It is productive as it furthers his hobby: guitar. He plays Minecraft with his friends, but again, that's a social outlet. My daughter, who is almost 9, loves The Legend of Zelda. She gets an allotment of game time each day for that. And she texts and does FaceTime chats with her best friend. They both know they have to do chores each day before recreational activities. They neither one give me attitude about that. They know that schoolwork comes first, during the school year. (I'm not saying they're perfect; I do have to tell them to put the iPods away from time to time, during school.) They eagerly put down the devices to spend family time playing a game or reading a book or watching a movie together. And when they get together with their friends, they have real interactions. I hope that as my children grow up they will just view computers as another appliance in the house, like a television, and use it effectively.
I wonder if our grandparents viewed the television as this big time waster when it entered homes back in the ‘50s? Granted, at first, there were few shows to watch, but as programming increased, there were doubtless numbers of housewives hooked on soap operas and wasting time now that this "evil box" was in their house. Families started spending more time in the evenings staring forward at their favorite shows, rather than being together. Today, many people waste countless hours watching television. The studies have shown us the numbers. But there are plenty of people out there like myself who rarely ever turn the television on. We enjoy family movie night together and usually watch one show a week. We've never considered putting time limits on our television, or declaring a no-television day, because none of us have a problem with that particular screen. I don’t think my husband or my kids have issues with computers, so I don’t see the need to do time limits or unplugged days for them.
As I mentioned above, I do put time limits on my daughter's video game play. We did the same when my son was little. We teach our kids that you need balance in your life. It’s just not healthy to spend all day on a video game. We only just recently decided to take the time restraints off our son to see if he is mature enough to decide an appropriate amount of game play on his own. He’s 14 and I don’t want him to feel limited all his growing up years and then go crazy with video game time when he heads off to college. He made some poor time decisions at first, but I think he’s keeping it to a decent level on average. Video games, television, and computers can all be addictive things, but so can sugar. If we let the reins out in a few areas, while our kids are still in the safe confines of our home, we will be able to see if they show addictive tendencies, and if so, help them deal with that issue.
I see that the devices themselves are not the problem, it's us. If we recognize that we have issues controlling our time or focus, then screens can be a health problem--a health problem for the soul. What does that mean? Here at All Things Health, we believe in a balance of all areas: spirit, soul, and body. The things which affect our soul health are relationship issues, financial issues, addiction issues like the one mentioned, stress, anxiety, depression, and more. So, eat right, but don't forget to address the health of your soul!
What do you think? Do you take breaks from screens in your house? Do you put time limits on yourself or your kids? I’d like to hear from you. Leave a comment below, or join the conversation on Facebook.
Laptop -Extra Ketchup via photopin cc
White Rabbit - public domain
Girl on Laptop -"PictureYouth" via photopin cc
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