photo by Austin Neill

Relieving My Notifications of Duty…

…and reclaiming my life. How removing interruptions has changed me and my family.

You’ve probably heard that you have to hear something (insert arbitrary number) times in order to actually internalize it. Things start to get real meta when I consider whether I’ve heard that recommendation enough times to internalize it or not. But when you change a personal behavior, you can often see in retrospect the many opportunities you had to do so earlier. Most of the time those opportunities come in the form of a family member or a close friend.

Enter Ariel, my beautiful wife. She is so hip. She totes around paper — real paper — and writes things down. She writes handwritten notes for everyone to make them feel special. She finds a way to compliment strangers and confidants alike, waltzing around improving almost every single personal relationship she has almost every single day. It’s amazing. She owns an antique typewriter named “Little Blue.” She reads all day every day and is a literary genius. And she kind of shuns technology.

You know how they say that opposites attract?

Anyone who knows me can tell you that I spend an inordinate amount of time connected to the internet and “plugged in”. I mostly blame school, as some days I spend much more time on campus than at home. But I really value the tools that today’s technology provides, from attending massive open online courses to writing collaborative software with a worldwide team. The ubiquity of these innovations in our lives will only grow as we enter what is being called the Third Industrial Revolution. The internet is growing to surround us, and we are depending on new technology as humanity has always been driven to do. What an awesome time to live in.

In the midst of a moment of indulging in this awe, I hear my wife’s voice.

“Look up.”

We are eating dinner and she wants to spend time with me. Ouch. I am suddenly torn between two worlds. She is the love of my life. An angel on earth. But on the other hand my academic and economic living only exists because of the passion I have for the future of technology. How can I find an agreeable balance between these two true loves of mine?

I’m positive that I’m not the only one who faces this question daily. I want to provide insight into an answer that I have found works. My wife and I still have those conversations at times, and thankfully she is ever forgiving of my shortcomings.

A few weeks ago I read this article by Quincy Larson, founder of FreeCodeCamp about living “asynchronously,” and learning to control your time instead of letting time control you. Following these age-old-made-new tricks has been an eye opening experience for me. Quincy shares them from the perspective of a work environment, but I apply them more generally. All credit goes to him for coming up with them.

Unplug

The first suggestion made is that taking control of your life includes removing notifications.

No more Facebook notifications.

No more Slack work channel notifications.

No more free burger email notifications from Red Robin.

None.

It may sound drastic, and that’s because it is. The fact of the matter is that the majority of notifications that come via that pretty little screen in your pocket are probably useless and definitely not important. The information they contain, if you care about them, can wait until you decide to face them on your own time. For me this principle wasn’t just about reclaiming time out of my day. It was rather about finding fulfillment in each day, and as appetizing as that free burger sounds, I think I’ll live if I never hear about it.

Most everyone my age has had the experience (or similar) of trying to share something meaningful with someone, but their phone keeps reminding them that Gina Redwood just beat their Candy Crush score.

Not cool. I would venture to say that you don’t want to be that person.

So reclaim your time and your life.

Recommit

The second suggestion that Quincy offers is to “defend your time by dodging meetings.” This doesn’t draw as direct of an analogy to life at home, but I think that the principle stands true. Your commitments are yours.

At work, you are the writer, the engineer, the designer. You can turn down meetings because you understand your value as a professional and the value of your time (and perhaps that it would be spent more readily elsewhere). The rest of your life can follow the same standard. Here comes another one of those things you’ve heard a thousand times.

Learn when to say no…

Saying no says to yourself, “I am worth it.” It says that you are cognizant of your value, your priorities. It says that you are willing to go out on a limb to live true to that knowledge.

and when to say yes.

And saying yes says to yourself, “I can do more.” You are in control, and you know what you can handle.

Learning how to make this type of decision is one of the great trials of life. As you step out of your comfort zone and accept challenges, you will find increased fulfillment.

Be Present

Quincy’s last suggestion is to increase productivity by working in a non-open office or from home. This is incredibly useful considering all of the research that has been done suggesting that open offices — although fun — are not ideal for maximizing productivity.

Analogously, striving to be present outside of a work environment is crucial to eliminating interruptions and removing stress. After the previous two suggestions you will find that your most important relationships improve. But nothing can replace the gift of full attention.

As a private office generally improves productivity, so being present generally improves your ability to make quality use of your time.

If you are committed to the task at hand in everything you do (I’m being idealistic here), you will find that the things you do that aren’t really important will fade away. I have seen that as I focus in on being where I am, FOMO fades. What a glorious blessing. While the products and media and things vie for my attention, I can simplify and zero-in on my most precious possessions: my relationships.

The Road Ahead

While my personal adoption of these tools has not been perfect, they have yielded enormous results for me. I believe that Heraclitus was onto something when he said that “the only thing that is constant is change.” And so we adapt and we grow.

Perhaps you’re hearing this for the umpteenth time. Perhaps this is the time that you will give it a try. Unplug, commit, and be present. Look up from your devices. You might just find something worth enjoying.


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