By Brad Beckstrom.
“You are too close to the TV, back up, your going to ruin your eyes!” my mom would say. If I were still a kid today she’d be shouting “You’re too close to your phone, put that thing away.” It would be good to hear, as I sit here, flicking, clicking, responding, on my phone then picking up my iPad.
Like many, the problem for me isn’t the iPhone or iPad, it’s the massive flow of information, it’s the screen time. The sensation of being 4 inches from this screen or group of screens that bring this massive data dump into our lives. We often hop from one screen to the next from the laptop to the phone to the tablet to the TV.
I wanted to slow this down, significantly. I wanted to reboot, shut stuff down and spend more time stepping back and looking around. I wanted to go on a low information diet. I wanted to slow down to improve.
Here’s how I discovered the power of slow.
It’s your time, not theirs.
I stopped looking at notifications on my phone. I turned them off on lots of apps like Twitter and Facebook, many others. These apps were also sending me email notifications. I also shut those off. Twitter and Facebook and other apps will still be there, and I’ll still use them but it will be on my time versus the steady stream of interruptions many of these apps were creating. You can do this in settings on your phone or go to your settings page, example facebook/settings. If you still want some background notifications, just shut off email and change your notification settings to silent. With a little fiddling, you can even turn off the little red notification badges that pop up and attach themselves to the app icon. Then you can use social media on your schedule, and slow that stream of notifications to a trickle.
I started moving around more. I stopped looking at my phone while walking and don’t look at it in the car (unless I’m the passenger or I’m lost). It’s always seemed odd to me that people stare at their smartphone while walking, but if you look up, and look around you will notice a lot of people doing it, occasionally right out into traffic! Anytime you’re walking, biking, driving etc. think of that as screen free time. Put on some music or a podcast, stuff that phone in your pocket and look around.
5th Av. Image, two phones talking on one looking at the other. Notice the pack of phone zombies behind her.
I’ve cut back on the number of books I read on my iPad and have been listening to audiobooks while I walk, or in the car. Listening to audiobooks while you’re walking can really make time fly. There’s something about audiobooks that allows me to be really absorbed in the story while still enjoying the trail. Sometimes an hour will pass by and I’ll have gone a couple miles. I’m still using my iPhone but I’m giving my eyes a break from screen time while getting a workout. I’ve been using the Overdrive app to check out free audiobooks from the library. I’ve always got a few in the queue because sometimes there’s a wait for popular books.
Paper is slow. There is still something about reading a paperback or hardcover book that slows things down, removes distractions. Since I’ve been cutting back screen time, I’ve rediscovered paper books. I’ve been reading a lot of photography books and memoirs that aren’t available electronically. I pick these up from our local library. I’ve found a lot of books there I would normally not find clicking around on Amazon. I stop by the library about once a month, that’s about when the books are due and I can pick up a few new ones to keep the flow going.
If you are not a great sleeper, try cutting back your screen time in the evenings and replacing it with a book. This allows your brain to prepare for sleep.
I plan my day in a ruled Moleskine notebook. I have a lot of items on to do lists but I take some time each evening to put down the next day on paper. The act of pulling the important things off of an overflowing to do list app and putting pen to paper helps you slow down and lay out your day. I use one page per day and I try to leave about half the page blank to scribble down ideas or notes. Don’t forget to doodle.
Create Slow Food
There’s something slow about building a salad, even if you’re using some premixed ingredients and putting, chicken, beef or pepperoni on top like I do. When you put the salad together, often using leftovers and mixed greens, veggies, you’re really taking some time to think about your food. I like to think of my salads as kick ass creations that I can take some time to prepare and enjoy. I like a big sandwich or burger as much as the next guy but I find that if I am buying food that’s fast, I’m also eating it fast. If I’m going to go to lunch I try to make sure I walk or ride my bike to slow things down a bit.
Output versus Input
I’ve set a goal to create every day. No, I’m not talking about banging out emails. Just creating something. This could be a photograph, writing a couple hundred words in the morning for this blog, or some ideas for a client. This is important exercise for the brain. If you spend your time only absorbing news, information, TV shows, even just reading books all the time, the right (creative) side of your brain may suffer. Last time I checked, we all need both sides of our brains.
Output is also harder than input, forcing you to take in less information and start putting out some. This doesn’t have to be a hobby. Yesterday, I was bored with a presentation that had too many words, so I decided to take out half the words and replace them with photographs.
The great thing about output is that it helps your brain do something constructive with all that input. A lot of the things I write about, I’ve learned elsewhere. The fact that I like to summarize them and share makes it much easier to remember things. By getting my thoughts on paper I’m committing them to memory, even making habits out of them. If you’re having trouble getting started, just write something funny or make something for yourself, don’t worry whether other people like what you’ve created or not, you’re doing this for your health. One of the things I’ve learned is that keeping both sides of the brain active, like this guy, is one of the primary differences between 85-year-olds who are out on a sailboat and those in a nursing home.
Embrace slow investing
One of the best pieces of investment advice I’ve ever gotten had nothing to do with stock tips or real estate. My first boss sat me down and explained the benefits of dollar cost averaging. Slowly and steadily taking a pre-tax amount out of each of my paychecks, and automatically investing in the company sponsored 401K. I started taking out a percentage right away. That way I never missed it as my paychecks grew over the years. If you’re slow investor when the market is down you’re automatically getting stocks at a discount. When the market is up, your nest egg is growing. This allows you to worry less about the markets, as In both cases your dollars are working for you. Once you start slow investing using dollar cost averaging make sure you’re putting into a total market mutual fund with management fees below 0.5% or close to it. I’ve shared some helpful tips from the best in this article on lean investing.
Don’t forget to breathe
This seems very simple, but other than when I was exercising, I realized that I was a lousy breather. This could have something to do with recurrent sinus issues, but more likely it stemmed from just not taking some time to really take deep breaths. I found it’s great stress reliever and a great way to get to sleep. Every hour or so just stop and take some deep breaths. It will naturally slow you down.