I think, out of all the challenges I’ve done so far, this was my favourite. It forced me to examine just how pervasive screens (laptops, TV, mobile phones) are in my life - it was as though these things had crept in over the years without me really noticing how much I was letting them control me, as radical as that sounds.
My screen situation before this challenge was as follows -
Never owned one, don’t watch TV. We rarely go to the movies or watch films at home. So this wasn’t really an issue in the sense of screens sucking my time - I almost want to devote MORE time to watching good films as there are such stellar ones out there.
My problem with the computer is that I open it up to do something and then get sucked into something else… something not quite as important such as a video entitled "Why You Need a Llama NOW"
This was the most problematic screen as we tend to have our phones with us almost all the time. I slept with my phone next to my bed so it was the last thing I saw at night and the first thing I saw in the morning… not ideal. I would reach over and check it throughout the day for no good reason like I was seeking out my next hit. I had notifications switched on for just about every app. Whenever I was doing something, I felt like I *should* take a photo and post it to social media. I scrolled through my social media feeds too frequently and ‘liked’ way too many photos on Instagram.
GOAL FOR THE CHALLENGE?
My goal for the challenge was not to banish devices from my life completely like some weird little Luddite but simply to take back control over them. I don’t want to miss my real life because I'm staring at what’s going on within a screen instead.
Given that the challenge ran over December and we were traveling to Sweden, Mexico and the US, it was pretty easy for me to banish the laptop. I didn’t bring it to Sweden. I only opened it in Mexico to check in for our flights on the day we were leaving. I used it a few times in the US as I had to launch January’s challenge.
Obviously, I’m going to use my laptop more than that the rest of the year - I’m not usually on vacation for an entire month… But what I want to make sure I’m doing with the laptop is to ‘own’ my time on it. When I open my laptop, I want it to be dull as hell so that I can do what I need to get done on it.
HOW I TACKLED THE CHALLENGE
TV - funnily enough, I’ve scheduled in more TV time… I want to finally learn Spanish this year, so I’ve got Netflix and I’m using it to watch TV shows in English with Spanish subtitles, then Spanish with English subtitles and then just Spanish.
COMPUTER - These are the three little steps I’ve taken to make sure I actually get something positive out of the time I spend in front of my laptop -
1 - unsubscribing from pretty much everything. If a new email pops into my inbox from a site featuring lush interiors, you can bet I’m going to get sucked into looking at beautiful decor for way longer than necessary. We don’t own a home and our current rental is fully-furnished… I have no excuse to buy ANYTHING home-related. Likewise, all those lovely emails from travel sites had to go because it’s incredibly hard for me to resist the allure of a clickbait title such as “10 Off The Beaten Track Locations You Must Visit in 2018”.
2 - For necessary email - I’m scheduling in times to check my email rather than just having my inbox open and flitting back and forth between that and whatever I’m working on.
3 - I’m trying to finally finish a book this year, so I’ve set Google Docs as the homepage on my browser. Whenever I open my browser, it’s an immediate reminder to WRITE THE DAMN BOOK.
Basically, laptop time needs to be undistracted time because life’s way too short to spend it staring at a screen.
PHONE - In December, I really made a concerted effort to avoid using the phone as much as possible. I was definitely helped by all the travel - the roaming charges in Mexico and the US were so extortionate that I just switched off data completely and only used my phone when I was on wifi. I took photos, but they’re just for photo albums. I only posted to social media twice in December - once on my daughter’s 5th birthday and once on Christmas day.
Removing the audience factor also removed the silly sense of obligation to record everything. I have been around people trying to build their personal social media ‘brand’ and the amount of time they spend on snapping a zillion photos of themselves and then editing them and then coming up with a caption and hashtags before posting… it’s just such a time suck and I’d rather live in the moment a bit more.
As far as my ‘professional’ use of the phone - before the challenge started, I spent some time on the Later app setting up all The Kin Project posts that I would need for the month. That way, I’d just get a notification when I had a scheduled post, and I’d open Later, copy the caption I’d previously written, open Instagram and post. It would take one minute tops. I loved not having to write captions on my phone as I’m such a fat-thumb typer.
The massive revelation for me was switching off notifications. If there’s no alert on my lockscreen, I have no excuse to open the phone and get sucked into nonsense. Same as with email, I’m just scheduling time to go in and check social media.
The only rather annoying one with this is Whatsapp… I wish there was a way to distinguish between pointless ‘look at this funny meme’ messages and ‘you guys want to meet for brunch in an hour?’ messages. The second type are useful and I don’t want to see them too late. The first kind, I don’t want distracting me from whatever I was doing - those can wait.
Trying to avoid screens as much as possible last month forced me to think about what is really useful/enjoyable about using them.
For example - Facebook - I’m quietly culling people from my newsfeed by unfollowing them. I seem to have racked up a lot of ‘friends’ that I know I probably won’t see again, or very rarely, and I don’t really need their ‘news’ showing up. There are only a few useful pages that I follow. There’s a mum’s group here in Valencia that is amazingly open and supportive and full of genius ideas as far as parenting and Valencia go. I would definitely miss it if I scrapped Facebook completely. Plus, how the hell would I remember everyone’s birthday without Facebook?! The main thing with Facebook and Instagram - at least for me - is to just schedule in time to check them rather than frequently visiting them throughout the day.
I haven’t come up with any hard and fast rules as to my personal posting to social media. There are obviously people who make a living from their social media feeds. Maintaining that feed is how they earn an income. But how much of their own lives are they sacrificing by doing so? Where do you draw the line?
I’ve posted to Instagram three times so far this year. I like seeing what my friends and family are up to, so I assume it’s pretty reciprocal. But I’m not going to post while the ‘moment’ is happening. Snapping a pic takes no time. Snapping a pic, looking at it closely, demanding a re-take because someone’s eyes were closed, then editing the pic because it’s a bit dark and slightly off-kilter, and then coming up with a witty hashtag to explain what was going on, then finding appropriate hashtags, selecting the right location, and then tagging the people in there is the time-consuming part. I absolutely refuse to let my husband post ‘in the moment’ shots because of this - you’ve killed the moment as soon as you leave it to go work on ‘brand me’ by doing all the work that goes into posting.
None of this is rocket science. It basically comes down to the following:
- switching off notifications
- not feeling obliged to post a pic of every single moment of your life
- scheduling in time to check email/social media/guilt-free browsing
- not keeping your phone by your bed
But doing those four simple things makes SUCH a difference.