2014-01-05 19.30.52

I’ve changed since we moved from the city to the country in July. Like many of you, I was completely glued to my iPhone, compulsively checking it to see what was happening on Facebook, and if any new email messages had come in. Now I actually hate checking my email. I find it overwhelming and annoying, and I just can’t be bothered with weeding through the sea of spam, newsletters, and forwarded content.

I usually park my phone somewhere for the day, and the ringer is nearly always off. I try to be prompt about returning calls and answering emails, but even this feels like a chore sometimes. Am I becoming a hermit? Perhaps, but I have noticed some real beauty blooming in the space that was once filled by my compulsive connection to my devices.

I’m reading again. For pleasure! I’ve read three novels since November. I use my down time in class for such soul-enriching activities like reading, writing (in my journal!), working on family scrapbooks, knitting, and sewing. It’s been so nice to take this time for myself, and I began to realize how much I missed engaging my imagination and creativity. It’s ironic that stepping away from my laptop might lead to a clearer path to reaching my writing goals, but I’ve realized how easy it is to get distracted and thoroughly bogged down by the Internet.

I realized something else too. It’s vitally important for my children to see me unplugged. We live in a home with media restrictions for our kids. They only get a limited and highly scrutinized amount of television time on the weekends, iPhone games are vetted by the parents and only reserved for long car trips, and only our eldest daughter has an email account, which she largely seems disinterested in. She’s ten. Let me tell you, children aren’t the only ones at risk of having their brains melted by screen time, but the adults in our house are nearly always plugged into something.

Other parents out there will know how impossible it feels to spend any time on yourself. I think I felt like my often mindless meandering through my inbox and the net was filling my “me time” quotient. That is, until I started filling that time with more physical activities, and quiet reflection, or engaging in reading an actual book. It feels richer, and calmer, and so much more rewarding.

Are any of you experiencing this? Surely any of you who are meeting the demands of small children will know that a shift away from the screen is necessary and life-altering.

Here’s how to decrease your screen time, and make more time for other pleasurable pursuits:

1. Streamline your inbox. I can only recommend Gmail, because I love it so much. I have filtered my inbox so that emails from certain addresses appear first as ‘Important’ and everything else gets prioritized at the bottom of the page. You can even send certain emails into smart folders that you categorize yourself. There are armloads of helpful tutorials on YouTube to maximize your Gmail experience.

2. Weed out your Subscriptions. This is an on-going pain in the ass, and I can’t sugar coat it I’m afraid. Once a week I sift through the epic amount of blog posts from other blogs, newsletters, spam, and advertising and I can usually find three or more to ‘unsubscribe’ from because the content has either become annoying or I’m just not interested anymore. You know that irritating process of deleting about twenty emails per day before you even open them? Weeding out will help skip this step.

3. Ask your friends/family to stop. Every one of us knows one or more people who are constantly sending irritating forwarded emails. I can think of a couple of my own contacts who fall into this category. They’ve now gone the way of the ‘boy who cried wolf’ – if they were emailing for help to bail them out of jail, they’d be stuck because I almost never open their emails anymore. Here’s a tip – it’s a lot less rude to say “I’d love to stay in touch, but I’d like to ask you to stop sending forwards. I’d rather hear about what’s going on with you!” then to flat out ignore their emails. Try it, you’ll see.

4. Brush up on your email etiquette. Now that I’ve discovered the freedom in stepping away from my computer, I try to only send concise, to-the-point, engaging emails. I don’t want to clog up anyone else’s inbox, and neither should you.

5. When time is precious, surf with purpose. Know what you are looking for on the Internet, and step away from the computer, or re-direct yourself if you find that you’re falling down the rabbit hole and getting distracted. It’s so easy to get off-task online – it’s like a candy store that knows exactly what you’re craving. Be aware that you’re being lured in, and be proactive so that your time can be spent the way you want it to.

6. Set time limits.  This one is nabbed from the fertile brain of Tim Ferris (who couldn’t do so many awesome things if he spent all his time in front of a screen) – check your email only at certain times during the day, and set a timer. Prioritize your responses and get to the rest next time. Tim even suggests you set an auto-reply message alerting people to the fact that you will only be checking your email during certain times, so that they begin to ease up on pressuring you for a response. It works. I swear by it.

As you look forward to the weekend, challenge yourself to cut down on screen time. Only read the blogs you love (like this one!), don’t be lured into losing hours of your life to a screen, enjoy the fresh air, a cozy fire, playing with your kids and just try to be more in the real, physical world. I can attest to this being a wonderful revelation.

(True Playboy Mommy confession: As I type this, my dear mother who is sitting with Noodle so I can have a writing day is playing with him on her iPad. He can completely use it on his own and he’s not yet 15 months old. We’ve given grandparents the right to utilize educational screen time to help manage wily kids. Let’s face it, we’re only human!)