A new year is always a good time to look at our habits and consider goals. Some readers have asked me about my tech habits, and I realize that I have not shared them much. So today, I thought I would write some of my practices and goals for the new year.
I consciously work to limit tech’s downside to bolster my emotional wellbeing and maintain undistracted connections with others. In the same vein, I also work to have habits that let me benefit from our digital world’s upsides.
Before I dive into this, though, I want to say two important things. First, my kids are older — Tessa is living at home for a gap year, and Chase lives with friends near his college. What I share below is very different than what I would have shared when they were younger, and having consistent routines was much harder!
Secondly, everything I say should be taken with a grain of salt — I am not an ultra disciplined diva! There are definitely days when my habits fly straight out the window.
Here are some of the things that work for me and others I am working on — including a tech-related issue in my marriage.
I’ll start at the beginning of the day. I wake up with an old fashioned alarm clock since I don’t have any other tech in the room (more on that below).
The first thing I do each morning is pick up my room, such as put away clothes and make the bed. Knowing this space is clean, even if I am heading to the clinic for the day, gives me a little rush of “Ahh, clean room, let’s start the day” feeling.
Then I go to my home office where I find my laptop and phone. I look quickly at my emails (even though I know plenty of people write about how one shouldn’t do this) and then grab my phone and head to the living room. With an app (currently Ten Percent Happier) on my phone, I do about 15 minutes of guided mindfulness meditation. Sometimes my husband joins me, and we choose sessions that have to do with things on our mind — recently, we were doing ones focused on relationships because we had been irritating each other a little more than usual :)
TECH AS A TOOL FOR WORK
If I am not in clinic seeing patients, I am home and using tech for my work much of the day. I use my computer to research various topics, record interviews and communicate with others such as researchers, colleagues, teens on our advisory committee, and the list goes on. I use word processing as a tool for doing things like writing this blog. And I use a video editing tool to cut video footage and the Screenagers Podcast.
I am endlessly happy and amazed by all the things I can learn via my computer (We are the last generation to know what it was like not to be able to look up most anything.) Just yesterday, I needed to review how to do an editing maneuver on Adobe’s Premiere, and bam, there it was via YouTube.
I have a Facebook account, and I go on it for about 10 minutes, three or so times a week. I see what friends are up to, and now and then, I post something. Last week when I posted about vaccinations. My primary way of staying connected socially is through email, phone calls, and occasionally Zoom meetups.
I have only set up notifications on my phone for text messages. My phone tells me if I miss a call. On my phone, the apps I use are texting, maps, email, podcast players, music players, a voice memo, photos, calculator, and an alarm for meetings in the day. About three nights a week, I use my phone to play music to dance to (I just started this month, but I’m so happy to have restarted dance — something I enjoyed growing up).
I do not take it for granted that, as humans, we can now talk on the phone and walk outside. Whenever possible, I try to schedule my calls during a time I can walk outside.
TECH FOR FUN AND EXERCISE
I absolutely love — and, again, I do not take it for granted — all the ways I can go online to delve into my different interests and find new ones. I probably spend 30 minutes a day using YouTube in this regard. For example, yesterday, I thoroughly enjoyed this video made by Stanley Kubrick’s daughter, Vivian, about the making of The Shining.
My daughter has been learning how to paint with wax, and I have been watching videos on the artform — beautiful. I plan to try it soon.
Of course, then there are also movies and shows that I love. I am compulsive about is so I can easily refer to them when it is time for a film. Don’t get me wrong, this can still be challenging to decide what to watch, mainly if this involves anyone else in the family, but it is much less of an issue than starting from scratch or just being led by what the streaming platforms push up front and center.
I use tech to take online exercise classes. These days my exercise studio, Community Fitness, is all online — my favorite teachers are Darsinio, Jenny, and Autumn.
TECH FREE TIME
Having most of a whole day each week, where I am free from tech, is key to me. This might be snowshoeing with the family or biking and walking with a friend.
Another example of tech-free time for me is making dinner. I am an avid cook but not the recipe-following type. I purposely don’t have my phone or a laptop in the kitchen, and I have fun creating dishes from what is on hand. I just cook and talk with whoever in the family is with me.
TECH AND NIGHT TIME
One goal I have had since the beginning of the tech revolution is to leave my phone and computer out of my bedroom at night when I go to bed. There are all sorts of reasons for this. One is that I want to wake up without the pull of email enticing me. Also, I don't want to be woken up at night by some phone beep like a text. And finally, when tech isn’t in my room, it ensures that I read a book, write ideas, or flip through a magazine as a way of unwinding and falling asleep. If I were to be on my computer or phone, I know the more tired I get, the more often I would find it hard to turn it off.
Recently my husband was bringing his computer to bed to watch movies and shows. I tried hard not to be phased by this — but boy, that did not work. I could feel my chest just clench. He would wear headphones and try and tilt the screen away from me, but I still found it so distracting. I would peak at what he was looking at but I didn’t want to! Human curiosity would get to me. Or if I wasn’t peeking, I was frustrated by the light even as much as he tried to hide the light. Tension mounted.
So after a few times, I asked if we could talk about this, and, fortunately, he was understanding. He agreed to bring his computer to bed no longer. Unlike me, he sometimes looks at his phone in bed, but I am okay with that.
I do not use an e-reader at night, but I have nothing against them. I wish I could use them for purchasing books because they are so convenient. Yet, I prefer books so I can take notes in the margin, and I find it is so much easier to refer back to things in the book.
SOME CURRENT GOALS
My relationship with tech is ever-evolving, and I have my challenges like so many of us. For example, recently, I started to note that I switch over to my email more regularly than I used to. So I am working not to do that as much. To accomplish this, I try to notice my urge to check, stop, then take a breath, and stay on my current task.
Three months ago, I noticed how I got sucked into the ever-revolving Youtube videos. Now I am more conscious of not looking at the suggestions YouTube serves me. When I go to YouTube, let's say because I want to watch a lecture related to an update in medicine or mental health, I literally don’t let my eyes go to all the videos YouTube has used millions of data points to know what I would like. About twice a week, I purposely zone out with YouTube, often watching movie trailers or reading about film history (one of my hobbies).
I feel a little exposed having shared all this personal “data.” I don’t want to come across as too disciplined or who knows what else. Yet, it is worth it to me to write all this because, in our tech age, I think hearing from others about how they try to manage all this is so vital.
If you have tech habits that work for you, you would be willing to share, leave comments here or on our Facebook page. Thank you so much.
Questions to get the conversion started:
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Click here for information about Dr. Ruston’s new book, Parenting in the Screen Age
Subscribe to Dr. Ruston’s Screenagers Podcast.
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