In Constant Contact: Weening Yourself Away

On Wednesday we talked about how many of us are addicted to maybe the tiniest bit obsessed with being in constant contact, via phone/text/email/Facebook update, with everyone we've ever known. Or at least our family and closest friends (all 1364 of them). Our justification for this is that something might happen, and someone might need to get in touch with us. Remember Carrie, in Sex and the City, and her explanation for not wearing a watch? She said that she'd found that someone would always tell her what time it was. I have a friend who once went on an extended news fast, not listening to radio or television (this was in the old days, before the internet) and not reading the newspaper. She said that she found that, if something important happened in the world, someone would tell her about it. This is true: if something you need to know happens, someone will let you know. You don't have to go searching for information about who's doing what. If you need to know, you will know. And family emergencies? Yes, you do need to be available if there are people who depend on you. But, again, that doesn't mean anything more than carrying your phone with you. It doesn't mean checking that phone constantly. Another story from Back in the Old Days: when I was a kid, we went on vacation one summer. There was a family emergency in Texas, and we were in the Rocky Mountains, camping. No phone, no text, no email. Nobody even knew where we were. But down in Texas, someone got on the phone and called the highway patrol and gave them my father's name. They looked up the license plate number, tracked us down, and a highway patrolman pulled us over and gave us the message. Meaning: if someone needs to get in touch with you, they will get in touch with you. Using that as an excuse for carrying your phone in your hand and checking it every ten seconds is just that: an excuse. When you're working, you want to get into the zone, that zone Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote about in Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (2008). To get there, we need time. For some of us, that means time alone. For others, it means time in silence. But for almost everyone, it means time that is uninterrupted by things that take our attention to some other, more mundane place. So here are some suggestions for you if you're just the tiniest bit obsessed by staying in constant contact and you'd like to ween yourself away, but your life circumstances are such that you need to be available to people who depend on you. ~~First think about whether you're really as indispensable as you think you are. Most of the people you know are not going to rely on you, personally, in an emergency. If you argue that you have to keep your phone in front of you all the time because your neighbor might need a ride to the dentist, what are you really saying about the value you place on your studio time? ~~If your phone has Do Not Disturb settings, use them. You can set it up so that you're not available during certain hours and then tweak the settings to allow calls from certain people or to allow calls if someone tries to call you more than once within three minutes. ~~Make sure people know when you're working. Tell them your hours, and ask that they call you then *only* in the case of a real emergency. This may seem harsh, but it's fair. Those suggestions go only so far, though: they make it possible for you to relax and step down from the "I have to be able to get emergency messages" argument, but you have to do the rest: you have to convince yourself that if it's not an emergency, you don't need to know, at least not during the time you've set aside for working. Then you have to set the phone down and leave it alone. Learn to be Old School about it, at least while you're working: it's a phone. It will ring if someone calls you. There's not need to do anything else with it. Treat it like one of those cool black rotary phones from the dark ages and just let it sit there, doing its job while you focus on doing yours. Creative Time and SpaceChapter 2, "Making Time," in my book, Creative Time and Space, will spark more thoughts about ways to manage your time and tame those time-wasting habits that plague us all.   Ricë is the author of Living the Creative Life, Creative Time and Space, and Destination Creativity. She also blogs at The Voodoo Cafe.  
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