Mindfully Carve Out Tech-Free Time for More Grace

The team at Gracefully wants everyone to live more at ease. As we work to navigate the digital world, we’ll occasionally share tips for how to live more gracefully. #LiveGracefully  

Technology is less graceful when it takes over your life, causing you to be less present and engaged with your surroundings. Yet many of the technologies and apps that we use are not inherently graceless. Rather, it’s all in the way we use them. For example, Instagram can be a simple, graceful platform filled with beauty and inspiration, or it can be all about self-promotion, the compulsive seeking of more hearts, and the development of body dysmorphia. Twitter (yes Twitter!) can be a way to find new perspectives and interact with the best minds in the world, or it can be about trying to one-up someone and or bully them.  

When we’re mindful of how and when we’re using different technologies, it’s more likely we’ll practice self-control. In fact, some researchers suggest that some friction should be added to the design of technologies to promote more mindful interactions. There are some excellent and concrete tips for how to be more mindful of our tech use, and beyond these, we encourage everyone to be more mindful of when we are mindlessly using technology.

Think about it. How often do you pull out your smartphone just to kill time or fill a silent break? When we use technology this way, we tend to shut out others and create barriers. According to Kleiner Perkins partner Mary Meeker, the average adult is spending 5.9 hours per day interacting with digital media. Undoubtedly a fair chunk of that is unintentional, mindless, and graceless usage. Caresse, Sarah, and I all reflected on our days and where we could carve out more tech-free time by reducing that mindless usage. Here’s what we came up with:

Caresse:

Working in tech, I used to have very few unplugged moments. I was connected at work, at home, and distracted in moments when my full attention was needed. I had constant notifications pinging me from Slack, CNN, Facebook, Instagram, email, etc. and it was causing unnecessary levels of stress. About two years ago, I had a realization. “I can turn notifications completely off and the world will not stop.” And that’s exactly what I did. Now equipped with more awareness of my need to unplug, I slowly worked in many little moments of tech-free time throughout the course of the day.

I start most days walking my dog to the dog park. While I used to spend that time reading emails and preparing for the day, I now focus on my surroundings and my dog. I still feel like I’m mentally preparing for the day but it’s less chaotic and more positive.

In the evenings after from work, I love to cook. It’s meditative for me and I work hard to focus on just that. If using a recipe, I have a preference for using my recipe books vs. my phone or computer. I focus on the ingredients, the smells, the taste, and the process.

Outside of my daily routine, I am more at ease when I’m focused on one thing at a time and I find I am able to achieve that feeling in my many outdoor sports activities including running, rock climbing, skiing, and hiking. I like to avoid tech at all costs when enjoying the great outdoors. While there are many useful apps for safety and navigation, I avoid texting, social media, and the internet when I’m outside.

Sarah:

On my commute to work or if I’m in a waiting room, I’m often tempted to check email or tumble down the shoe-review rabbit hole. Instead, if I’m thinking ahead, I pack a paperback or a cutout crossword puzzle for the subway or the doctor’s office (I like the hard-copy versions in the Washington Post or the New York Times). If it’s standing-room only on the metro or I’m facing a long ride, I pull out a book. When my subway line was closed a couple summers ago and my commute time was doubled by the bus, I devoured the “Song of Ice and Fire” series and never noticed.

One very cool thing about both crosswords and books in these settings: They don’t cut you off from other people the way that bending over a phone does. I’ve had fun conversations with my seat mates about what I’m reading or scribbling over. For some reason, we seem more available to others when we’re not locked up in our tech.

Brian:

Commute time seems to be a common reason for people to mindlessly reach for their phones. I am lucky enough to walk to work each day, and I used to wear headphones for the 20-minute walk, listening to music or a podcast. While I don’t think this was an awful use of my time, it certainly kept me locked in my own head. About a year ago, I stopped using my headphones and left my phone in my bag on the walk to and from work. It’s amazing how much more I notice now, including other people, interesting architecture, and beautiful gardens. Even more so, I think far more imaginatively, often about work, but I also compose lyrics, think through trips, or just go to a fantasy world - it can be awesome.  

Another time when I use my phone mindlessly is when I am traveling alone, especially at meals. I can be in the most stunning city, but still I start scrolling through Twitter or Facebook. To combat this and be more present, I have started to carry a small journal with me when I travel alone. I still find it awkward to have a meal alone, but now I try to occupy that time by taking notes of what’s around me or trying to do a bit of creative writing, which admittedly is mostly just choppy sentences, but I am at least more present.