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technology and productivity people holding phones

When I was a kid, I remember having to read stories from the Book of Virtues for school. At 831 pages and scores of stories, it’s a massive book, but for some reason I can only remember one of the stories. But that one story has changed my life.

The gist of the story is this kid who is impatient and always wanting to move on to the next big thing. As stories go, he meets a woman in the woods who offers him a magic ball of thread, that makes time speed up when he pulls on the string. Voila! This kid no longer has to sit through the “boring” things of life. Sitting at a bus stop? Pull the string. Sitting in a boring meeting? Pull the string. I think you get the idea.

At first, the kid only uses the thread sparingly. However, as time progresses he begins to pull on the thread more and more, skipping bigger chunks of time, until one day he runs out of string. Coming to the end of his life he feels empty. Skipping every challenge, every mundane task, has left his life devoid of value and only left him more discontent.

The more I thought about it, the more I began to draw parallels to my life. Has my need to always feel connected become my ball of thread? Has my iPhone become a pacifier to get me through things that I find boring? I couldn’t escape the fact that the answer was, undoubtedly, yes.

After the expected period of self-pity, I began thinking about how stressed I can get with everything going on in my life and how my constant connection to technology is only fuel for this fire. The American Psychological Association states that Gen Xers and Millenials report much higher stress levels than those older than them. And Forbes reported that a 2014 study by Baylor University showed that students average 9 hours/day on their phones and that this usage was driving anxiety, impacting not only their productivity but their general sense of wellbeing.

After doing this research, I came up with a few strategies to help me be more present, improve my wellbeing, and be more productive:

    1. Set boundaries. Protect the things that are important to you by creating times and places where technology is not welcome (dinner table, date nights, the bedroom etc.).
    1. Partner with your friends and family to make this process easier and more meaningful— after all, it’s no fun if you’ve committed to not being on your phone and everyone else is on theirs.
    1. Erase the app on your phone that you ‘waste’ the most time on. To help make this stick, every time you reach for your phone to open said app, do something else. Text/call a friend, get up and go for a walk, embrace a new hobby.
    1. Reflect on how you’ve changed. After you’ve set boundaries and distanced yourself from the apps that distract you the most, spend some time reflecting on the results. If you’ve partnered with others in your efforts, reflect together; everyone will have beneficial points of view.

    At face value, there is nothing wrong with technology. But like any good thing, too much of it can become boring, make you sick, or worse, start to control your life. I also know that I don’t have a magic bullet for how to fix this issue, but I can tell you, I’m starting to second guess pulling out my phone when I start to get a little restless. Join me in trying to be fully present and engage with the people around me instead of my phone. Our friends, families, and workplaces will become fuller, richer places because of it.

Also see: Regain your focus and momentum

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