It was one hour until we had to leave for the wedding and no one was ready.
It was time for me, as Sergeant-Major/Loving Mother of the Family, to rally the troops to the banner of getting dressed, styling hair and searching for The Other Shoe.
Thankfully, my Time Stretching App was activated, allowing me to compress approximately 96 minutes of strenuous preparations into less than one breezy hour.
As the minutes dawdled forward, my girls filled the vacant time by polishing my shoes. Thereafter, I leisurely helped them change their outfits because their party dresses got smudged with black.
As my family glided out the door right on time, I thanked G-d for the Time-Stretching App, which had made this operation so smooth and me so patient.
This is a true story. Happened to me last month.
Are you curious about the Time Stretching App and where you can download it?
Actually it’s just the code name I gave to a cocktail of various technical solutions that I use to limit my access to screens of all shapes and sizes.
When I use this “App,” I noticed that the hours become really long. Days seem to last at least 29 hours. They quantum-stretch to fit in such an endless amounts of doing stuff, as well as doing nothing much.
I have found time.
A Brief History of Time Stretching
My name is Naomi and I’m a workaholic. I have run my own business for almost 13 years. For most of that time, I worked day and night. Before you admire me (or pity me (or condemn me)), let me clarify that I liked working day and night. My drug of choice was extreme deadline projects. Two A.M. was a reasonable time for me to finally switch off the screen.
But a few years ago, after completing a long series of bungee-style projects, I found myself feeling burnt out. I decided to work less for a while. Maybe call it quits at 11 P.M.?
Even when I tried to scale back on my work, I found my eyes didn’t want to leave that screen. I found other things to stay up late doing, like reading educational articles and catching up with friends. Most of my online activities were pretty harmless, and some of it was quite productive, but I needed a break. Apparently something beyond willpower was necessary if I was going to get myself away from that screen.
About three years ago, I took drastic action. I tested a whole lot of different software, apps and plugins until I found an effective combination to block myself from all screen access between the hours of 11 P.M. and 7 A.M. No device in my life would so much as turn on between those hours.
Three years on, it’s hard for me to remember what a radical change this was in my life. Now it seem obvious to me that no devices should be occupying my head at that time (unless you call my pillow a device).
I was getting more sleep and feeling more in control, and that was great. But soon I began to be bothered by the fact that every waking moment, I was still in the thrall of the screen. I work full-time running my business ventures, and it was obvious that I need to be screen-facing during business hours. But what about the afternoons and evenings, when my kids were home and wanting love and attention? And what about later at night when I could be taking care of housework, talking to my husband or doing relaxing, enriching activities just for me? It’s true that there relaxing, enriching activities that can be done online, but in honesty, I wasn’t usually doing those things between the hours of 9-11 PM. Or if I was trying to relax, I was regularly distracted by emails and notifications that spoiled the mood. So often, when my screen cut out at 11PM, I thought to myself:
Where did my day go?
In retrospect, I realized that I’d been distracted during my time with the kids, and they had often noticed and complained, and that made me feel guilty. I often failed to take care of my home and self the way I wanted. Most nights at 11PM when the screen party ended abruptly and I finally awoke to real life, I was flooded with these feelings of regret, of having missed out, of my time slipping away from me and getting lost.
Two months ago, I realized I needed to try something drastic to solve this problem. I reconfigured my Time Stretching App.
I now have no access to any screen after 4pm, which is when my work day officially ends and my children arrive home. I have a brief window later in the evening to check messages and respond to anything urgent.
The entire afternoon and evening – no computers, no internet, no email, not chats, no screens.
100% real life.
When Time is Full
Do you know what it’s like to have a whole afternoon and evening without a screen, day after day?
Let me tell you.
The hours are longer. They balloon to astonishing proportions, like bubble-gum expertly blown by my 8-year-old.
Previously, a moment of down time instantly triggered my “screen-glance impulse.” Check this, reply to that, etc. The screen reliably filled up any gaps in my time.
When time is full, it goes faster. It made my hours shorter.
But now that I don’t have the screen option, I have to think of something else to do with my unstructured moments. If it’s just a few minutes, I might take out the recycling or do a yoga stretch or enjoy my toddler singing to himself as he builds MagnaTile castles. If it’s an endless screen-free evening, I might bake a lasagna, or play the recorder, or a call a friend, or have a cup of tea with my husband, or crack open a book I used to think was so inspirational when I was young and spiritual. Sometimes I go to bed early. Sometimes I stay up brainstorming my next great adventure.
Sometimes I even sweep the floor. You know what they say:
Not only do I find myself doing those things more, but I’m experiencing them differently. There is no computer running in the back of my mind, expecting me to check on it. The quality of every activity is completely different when I’m free of the “screen-glance impulse.” I don’t think I’m describing it well here. If you’re as screen dependent as I was, you probably have to try it to see what I mean.
Also I feel free. Like the slave shackles have melted from my ankles. Free to breathe and not rush. Things that used to feel pressured, like kids bedtime and… umm… (I can’t think of anything more pressured than that) are now much more relaxed and flowing. Because most of the time, where have I got to rush to?
It’s only the screen that was telling me I had to rush back to it.
Some evenings I’m kind of bored and can’t think of anything to do that doesn’t involve a screen. This lasts approximately five minutes before I think of 12 things I’ve been wanting to do for ages.
Then I do them.
The Silent Screen
Here’s where I admit I’m having a hard time adjusting to screen-less life in the PM hours.
Fact: it’s hard not to have web access when I want it. Even just for looking up a recipe for roasted fennel parfait or printing out coloring pages for my kids.
Another fact: Sometimes I’m in the flow of an important project and it is just sooooo annoying to stop in the middle and not be able to continue till the next morning.
Another fact: I now have little time for researching topics of personal interest or social web use because I usually do that outside of work hours.
Another fact: this whole arrangement is impossible and unbearable.
But, ready or not, here comes 4 PM:
The Beginning of Time
This article is a simple and personal confessional that cannot really do justice to a complex issue that effects all of us differently. Notice I haven’t even mentioned the elephant words, such as: smart phones, Whatsapp, Facebook, texting, etc. All of those need to be looked at squarely in the eyeballs because they’re big. I haven’t talked about the issues I’ve had restructuring my business to accommodate this drastic lifestyle change. I also haven’t mentioned the times when I fell off the screen-free bandwagon and made a mockery of all the wisdom I’ve claimed in this article.
I’m also assuming that an arrangement as extreme as mine probably seems for you unworkable, inadvisable and downright torturous.
I’m keeping this message simple on purpose.
Lots of us are troubled by our SGIs (screen-glance impulses). Lots of us feel that we’ve lost track of our time.
A Time Stretching App is one possible solution.
So far, it works for me.