And I’d like to do it again soon.
I got to work one day recently and realized I’d forgotten my phone at home. I don’t know what I was doing that morning, or how the morning had gone, but clearly I already thought I had my phone in my purse. In any case, I didn’t. If this happened to me a couple of years ago, it would have been a full-blown meltdown. But, thanks to a lot of work I’ve done over the last two years, I didn’t freak out.
Which is why I was surprised to hear the following sentence leave my mouth when talking to a colleague right before lunch. I said, “I left my personal phone at home today, so today has been a struggle”.
But, it really hadn’t been.
By the end of the day, I realized I had a more productive day than normal, and I didn’t feel nearly as exhausted as I normally do at the end of a workday.
I work a desk job, so whenever there’s a “break in the action”, like a break between tasks, or I’m waiting for my work computer to load Premiere Pro (which is a legit five minute process), I always find myself reaching for my phone to check Twitter, or my personal email or to scroll through Instagram.
That very benign-seeming check-in with my personal phone seems harmless, but it’s been proven that task switching or multi-tasking like that eats away at our available brainpower for the day, little by little. So, it’s no wonder that by the end of a normal workday, I’m flat out exhausted. Even though I only work a desk job and don’t have anything on my plate that is that stressful to cause me to want to nap as soon as I get home.
On the day when I forgot my phone, I got home and I had energy. I kid you not, it was the weirdest feeling ever to come home and not need a nap, or a glass of wine. That’s my normal routine. By the time I get home, I’ve put my brain through so much stimulus that it can barely function. So, not feeling that for one day was really an eye-opening experience to what my compulsive obsession with technology is doing to my brain and my energy levels.
Before I got home though, I had to make it through my work-day with nothing to distract me — what a concept!
When I didn’t have my personal phone to check every half hour (or more, if I’m being honest), I found I was able to get larger chunks of work done before needing an actual break, just to clear my brain and get ready for the next project or meeting. I was also able to think more clearly during the day and had more creative thoughts. Which, is pretty crucial to my job since my job requires part creative and part analytical thinking, multiple times a day.
I made it through my morning feeling pretty jazzed about the whole situation until I got to lunch and realized my routine would be a little different.
With all the nice weather we’ve been having, I’ve been going for 30–40 minute walks at lunch. There’s a paved nature path around where I work that makes the perfect break from my computer screen halfway through my day. The problem is, I normally listen to podcasts when I’m walking.
No joke, when I realized I’d have to walk solo, I seriously considered keeping my headphones in my ears just for show (so no one would try to talk to me). And also so I didn’t look out of place. There was part of me that realized that almost everyone who is walking outside during business hours is either on the phone with someone, or listening to music or podcasts. It’s rare to see someone just walking, with no phone, no purse or briefcase, no other ‘stuff’. So, part of my brain was feeling pretty self-conscious about having to be one of those people.
But, I just recently started reading The Nature Fix by Florence Williams (which is awesome and I highly recommend it), so I decided to get over myself and go for a walk, unplugged and unencumbered by tech.
The route I took was the same as every other walk I’ve taken around work this summer, but I found I was better able to soak up my surroundings and really notice things.
Because I am a nerd, I made a list of things that I noticed on this unplugged walk, more than any other walk I’ve taken so far this summer.
In no particular order, I noticed:
- How delicious the freshly picked raspberries were along the trail
- A squirrel hiding in someone’s truck
- How nice the breeze felt and the sounds of a woodpecker, a crow, and some seagulls
- Tree branches swaying and groaning in the wind
- The feeling of the sun on my face
- A really adorable pudgy groundhog
It was honestly so refreshing to really notice what was going on around me in a way that I could actually enjoy it, because I didn’t have stimulus from my phone vying for my brain’s attention. This is obviously anecdotal evidence, but I do think I was able to remember the walk more vividly than I normally do. It became more of a walking meditation.
Maybe what is more interesting than all of these warm and fuzzy things, is the things that didn’t magically change just because I didn’t have my phone on me.
For example, I still got distracted quite a lot during the day. But not by my phone, by my brain. I still lost focus on whatever I was doing because my brain would decide to go on a wonderful tangent that had nothing to do with what I was doing in the moment.
That goes to show, in my case at least, that technology isn’t wholly responsible for my distracted and unfocused state during the day. Our brain is often referred to as the ‘monkey mind’, meaning we are all over the place, just letting our brain take us for a ride. If anything, this little accidental experiment showed me my monkey mind still firmly has its grip on me.
On the other hand, not having access to my phone during the eight hours when I was at work did have some lovely side benefits. I left less distracted overall (even with the monkey mind having its way with me). Time also felt like it passed more quickly. The day didn’t seem to be as drawn out as normal. I also felt less tired overall, which might be the single greatest side effect of leaving my phone at home.
To be able to work for eight hours, and then come home and still have energy to actually enjoy hanging out with my partner and our cat (as opposed to just being grumpy), was honestly life-changing. I didn’t realize how crappy I felt by the end of the day until I came home from my phone free day and felt.. honestly, pretty great.
It might seem weird to think that our phones can have such an impact on our mental state and energy levels, but that’s what this accidental experiment has proven for me. That’s why, for as long as I can remember, I’m going to still bring my personal phone to work with me, but I’m going to leave it tucked away. I don’t know how effective it will be compared to actually not having access to it. But I’m hoping that having it out of sight and out of mind will still have a positive impact on me during the course of my workday.