Hello, my name is Jayne, and I am an addict. (is that cliche?)
I’ve had a serious addict in my family, so I know the signs. It was a hard thing to watch. I think that you can’t truly understand what an addict is dealing with until you’ve felt it. Even watching someone go through it does not explain the actual feel of it. Some of us have felt it on a small level, like the sugar you can’t stop eating or the self-destructive behaviours you can’t shake. Addiction is everywhere, and yet we haven’t really figured out how to fix it.
I have a few addictions, thankfully nothing too serious, but today I’m going to talk about my phone addiction. I can say very confidently that I have a problem. Better yet, this post is coming afterwards, so I had a problem!
My councillor asked me what causes me work stress outside of work. When I’m at home, why does work come up? Why does it jump to mind? I answered honestly about fearing I would miss emails, needing to check constantly just in case, being notified when I was getting emails, etc. We realized together that 90% of that came from my phone. It dinged every time I received an email, beeped for messages, and alerted me to anything that could possibly happen!! I understood right then that every single time my phone made a noise, my anxiety skyrocketed. My phones constant jarring music sent my heart racing, no matter which sound it was. Even if my mom called I would feel that anxiety. I don’t have a ‘Gilmore Girls’ situation with my mom. We get along just fine.
She asked me how often I get an email after hours that needs to be answered in the next five seconds? I thought about it for a long time. The answer is almost never. I answer everything right away because I’m like that, but it doesn’t need to be answered. If there was a real emergency, everyone has my cell number so they would just call.
So I turned the notifications off for the evening. I would have to manually check the email if I wanted to check. I told myself I would check before dinner and before bed. If it wasn’t urgent, I would flag it to answer in the morning.
This worked okay, but didn’t make that much difference. My phone still made noise, so I was still checking it. That’s when I discovered the bigger problem. My phone didn’t stop making noise, ever, no matter what was happening. If I wasn’t getting emails, I was getting game update notifications. Your stamina is full!! If it wasn’t game updates, it was Facebook notifications, or Twitter, or chats, or Instagram, or…. it just kept going. My text messages and actual phone calls accounted for maybe 1% of all the noise my phone made.
I started paying attention to the alerts. What was important? Most of it I swiped away without even looking at it. The only things I clicked on were texts and calls, and obviously email.
It was a hard task, but eventually I went through and got rid of everything. Game settings didn’t notify me that my stamina was full. If updates were needed there were done without alerting me, because I don’t care. Anything that wouldn’t change or stop notifying me was deleted (sorry bubble game, you were deleted for not letting me stop the annoyance.) I told all my Facebook friends that they could call or text, but I would no longer be actively on my chat. Because my friends are amazing, they said nothing and immediately started texting me instead.
During this process, I realized that I didn’t need my email notification on at work either. My phone would buzz the same time my computer would ding, and I would get double notifications of emails. If I’m at my desk why do I need my phone to alert me? I turned the sound off. I still get emails to my phone, but it doesn’t ding or beep. The few times I’m out at lunch meetings, I will just manually check when whoever I’m meeting goes to the washroom.
After this long process of cleaning things up, my phone stopped making noise.
It was so weird. I would look at my phone and wonder why it hadn’t beeped in awhile. I’d open it up and have no notifications. Once, I even forgot where I put it without having a panic attack!! That’s a big deal for me.
To my surprise, things settled down. I got home from work and made dinner without my phone in the kitchen with me. I went out with friends and didn’t even put my phone on the table! I wasn’t constantly getting reminders to be distracted so I could focus better than I’ve ever been able too.
After the first day of weirdness, I didn’t even think about it anymore. If I wanted to play a game, I opened it up. If I wanted to contact someone, I texted them. If I wanted to check Facebook, I did! Suddenly my phone wasn’t running my life, I was using it to make my life easier. Isn’t that a novel thought! I didn’t even realize it had taken over my life, but it had been running everything. It had been dictating my every move. ‘Look at me!’ it constantly shouted, and I would obey.
It sounds like such a small thing, but it’s not. My whole life opened up. I started looking up and seeing all kinds of things. I started giving my friends and family my full focus and our relationships became stronger. I started being able to sit through a whole movie, or relax in the bath! (new rule, no electronics at all allowed when taking a bath). It was liberating, freeing and stress-relieving!
And here’s an important part for all those people out there who are like me: workaholics. My work didn’t suffer. I’d convinced myself that the reason I had my phone on me all the time was because my work demanded it. Turns out I was putting demands on myself and telling myself it was my job. I have office hours and most people respect that. Most of my clients don’t expect me to answer at night. They send an email knowing that I’m probably out and will get to it in the morning. The few clients who started to pester me for not answering, I simply explained to them why I was no longer answering non-emergency emails outside of work hours. I was always accessible to them so they can count on me. I work with actors and I have to remember that for them, their careers are their whole lives. They take classes all hours of the day and have questions all hours of the night. I will always answer every single question, but I have lots of clients, and my life outside of work is mine. Respect my time.
I do still check. I always check quickly before bed, and usually before dinner. On the weekends I’ll check in the morning, mid-afternoon, and before bed. Most of the time I just look and see if there’s anything urgent. Every once in awhile I’ll be sitting at a coffee shop and I’ll just log on to answer everything to make my next morning a little less stressful. But I make sure to make a point of being clear that it shouldn’t be expected that I answer out of office hours.
The next step for me was night. I’ve always told my mom that if anyone needed me at two in the morning, I’d want them to be able to get a hold of me. She’s the one that pointed out to me that technology makes that possible! I can turn on my ‘do not disturb’ for the night but make exceptions. ‘Do not disturb’ unless my mom calls, or sister, brother, best friend, select other friends. So I made these changes and started turning my phone on ‘do not disturb’ at night. I’m sleeping so much better!
This all came about because of one question my councillor asked me. What is more important, work or life?
I didn’t even have to think about it. I said life. I know it right down into my soul that I care about life more than I care about work. She followed up with a second question: why then do you feel so guilty about taking time to live life?
I often stare blankly at my councillor. I do. I feel extremely guilty if I take any time away from work. I’ve allowed work to seep into my entire life. I go to work full time, I’m on call evenings and weekends, I never take a vacation… it’s like my life is a guilty pleasure that I never let myself indulge in. That realization hit my hard, and I immediately started changing my ways. My phone was a major step in that direction. I encourage you to make sure you haven’t made the same mistakes I have and let technology dictate your life.