We wake up in the morning reaching for our iPhones to turn off our alarms, check the time, and check our email, Facebook or Instagram feeds.
We grab our phones on the way to the bathroom to do the same, hoping, dear God, that it won't fall into the toilet again. Many of us are parents. We are busy professionals. We want a break. Sometimes our phones are our only respite. A breath from the demands of children, housework, relationship pressure, professional demands.
And our days are full. They've never been so ripe with noise and busyness and rushing. And we are tired. Oh, so tired.
A couple of years ago, I decided to step away from this bombardment to try and figure out what life would be like without the windows of my day being crowded by news and punditry, busyness and chatter.
I gave up the Internet for 31 days.
In the absence of time-saving technologies like cars, smartphones and washing machines, time expanded. They had more of it.
It was a time of slowing, quieting and coming close to family and my immediate community in our West End neighbourhood of Toronto.
All good things must come to an end, however, and while I returned to the web changed, my pace of life accelerated once again.
"We can sense that there is something wrong with our relationship with time," writes Cecile Andrews in the wonderful compilation, Simpler Living, Compassionate Life. "For most of us, we're rarely aware of what we are doing. Our attention is constantly diverted. Being mindful is difficult because we are always anxious about time. We never have enough of it."
One woman and her family decided to challenge their relationship with time. Suzanne Crocker, a retired physician, and her husband moved themselves and their three children, ages 10, eight and four, to a remote part of the Yukon where they lived for most of a year. They lived for those nine months with no electricity and without any means of keeping time. No clocks. No power. No "You've got five more minutes." No more "Hurry, we're late."
What they found is that in the absence of time-saving technologies like cars, smartphones and washing machines, time expanded. They had more of it.
More than ever, we are living in an accelerated culture. I've written in my book, The Joy of Missing Out, that we complain about having no time, all of the time, and yet we impulsively spend what free moments we have submerged in the never-ending drama of email inboxes, social media feeds and television that often leave us feeling more exhausted than if we'd not bothered with them in the first place.
During my digital detox, when I was no longer compulsively reaching for my smartphone throughout the day, I made two important discoveries:
First, that the world keeps turning without us. The web keeps clicking along without my words, without my likes and dislikes. It made me feel small. It showed me I'm not the centre of the universe, I am not as important as I think.
Second, I discovered that I wear my busyness like a badge of honour.
The truth is, there are windows in my day for slowing down, for doing the things I want to do.
I'm a mother of three young children, I have an executive husband that travels often for work, I have no family living nearby to help out. I have a lot of good reasons to say "I'm so busy."
But the truth is, there are windows in my day for slowing down, for doing the things I want to do, connecting with the people I want to connect with. But what margin I may have, I fill.
I could sit for 10 minutes and read a novel while my kid runs around in the park, but instead I check email. I could drive a reasonable, relaxed pace home, but instead I operate like a race car driver to get on to the next thing.
What Suzanne Crocker and her family's example teaches us is that in order to find time we must stop valorizing our ability to keep a more and more frenetic pace.
"As parents, we're the architects of our family's daily lives," write Kim John Payne and Lisa M. Ross in their book, Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids. "We build a structure for those we love by what we choose to do together, and how we do it. We determined the rhythms of our days; set a pace. There are certainly limits to our control... Ask any parent of a teenager. And it often feels that our lives are controlling us, caught as we are in a mad rush from one responsibility to another. Yet the unique way that we perform this dance of daily activities says a lot about who we are as a family."
They continue: "You can see what a family holds dear from the pattern of their everyday lives. I've been trained to do this as a counsellor and educator, but children need no such fancy training. They pick up the clues naturally. They see the golden overlay on all our comings and goings, all of our tasks and busyness. This is what they see: With our time and presence we give love. Simple."
Our connection to nature has never been so lacking and never been more needed.
Filmed over nine months, off the grid, without external crew and featuring the unique perspectives of children, Crocker's documentary, All The Time In The World, explores the theme of disconnecting from our hectic and technology-laden lives in order to reconnect with each other, ourselves and our natural environment -- parents connecting with children, children connecting with nature.
Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder, writes: "Given a chance, a child will bring the confusion of the world to the woods, wash it in the creek, turn it over to see what lives on the unseen side of that confusion."
Moon-bathing. Forest walks. Touching trees in midtown Manhattan. Our connection to nature has never been so lacking and never been more needed. We are out of step with the seasons, we are out of step with our hearts. We can not love well in rushing.
It may not surprise you that city dwellers have a higher risk for depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses than people living outside urban centres, studies show. We're on a treadmill of our own making, rushing from one thing to the next, filling what moments we have with quick online check-ins, extra tasks. Rushing. Rushing. Rushing. Doing. Doing. Doing.
We can step off.
Recently, I've been challenging myself to do one less thing. One less errand. One less email. One less task. Slowing down and being present to my kids at school drop off. Kissing their messy heads an extra time before they disappear behind the double doors, then lingering for a few moments to talk with other parents. I'm trying to arrive earlier for meetings, sitting for 10 minutes beforehand, giving myself space to pause and prepare. I'm aiming to leave the dishes in the sink, picking up the library books to read to my boys.
Quiet now cobwebs, dust go to sleep. I'm rocking my baby, and babies don't keep.
It's powerful to focus on one small thing. It can change us.
Maybe, by reexamining our relationship with time, we might discover we have more than we think.
Join filmmaker Suzanne Crocker and author Christina Crook on Tuesday, November 15, 2016, for a Toronto screening of multi-award winning documentary, All the Time in the World, followed by a conversation about slowing down, making space and modelling healthy tech habits for our kids, moderated by Huffington Post Parents Editor, Kristy Woudstra. Tickets: www.jomobook.com/film.
Christina Crook is a TEDx speaker and author of The Joy of Missing Out: Finding Balance in a Wired World. Her commentary on technology and our daily lives has appeared in the New York Times, Psychology Today, NPR and more. www.jomobook.com
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Schulte suggests the 'brain dump' technique (aka writing down everything you need to do) in her book, 'Overhwelmed: Work, Love And Play When No One Has The Time': "The working memory can only keep about seven things in it at one time," she says. "If the To Do list is longer than that, the brain, worried it may forget something, will get stuck in an endless circular loop of mulling, much like a running toilet. The brain dump is like jiggling the handle."
David Rock, director of the NeuroLeadership Institute and author of 'Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long', says: “There are so many potential distractions and detailers that can take our attention, we need to be really clear about the most important things. As a rule of thumb, you can remember three ideas relatively well. For that reason, you should limit yourself to three goals for the year, for the quarter." To prevent email distracting you from these goals, Rock suggests you should never check your inbox when you first arrive at work. "When you do finally check your email, remind yourself of those goals beforehand."
"Working in concentrated blocks of time with regular breaks, can be more satisfying and productive than multitasking," says Schulte. This also helps to prevent procrastination. If you know you have a 15-minute break coming up when you can do that online shopping or check your Facebook page you'll be less tempted to keep interrupting your work to do it and be more likely to stay focused.
Despite being an expert on the subject of mulitasking, Dr. Earl Miller, Picower Professor of Neurology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, admits he finds it as easy to get distracted as the next man. To get around it, he removes temptation: "I plan ahead – I try to work in a quiet environment. I try to remove distractions. I plan to be productive instead of trying to be overproductive by multitasking. I plan to focus."
To power through your work as efficiently as possible - and overtime - Rock suggests capitalising on the time you are at your peak in terms of focus. Generally, he says the best time is early in the day and early in the week, although he concedes everybody is slightly different. “Find the ideal window in your week when you can carve out focus time — to do what I call level three thinking, deeper problem solving and writing and creative work," he suggests.
Addicted to checking your emails - even when you're in the middle of performing an important task? Tim Ferris, author of 'The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere', and Join the New Rich' explains how detrimental interruptions such as emails can be to your workflow: "There is a psychological switching of gears that can require up to 45 minutes to resume a major task that has been interrupted," he explains. To keep these interruptions stretching your working day, he suggests, "Check e-mail and phone calls twice per day at specific predetermined times."
If you've ever spent time agonising over how to respond to a simple email request, your brain could need some decision-making training. Become more assertive with the decision making process by reading 'The Decisive Monet: How The Brain Makes Up Its Mind' by Jonah Lehrer.
Follow Christina Crook on Twitter: www.twitter.com/cmcrook