Be A Grown Up And Put The Phone Down

guy phone.jpg

I read an article in Bloomberg last week that stunned, convicted and challenged me greatly.  Researchers have found that middle aged Americans spend more time on social media than millennials.  In fact, 35-49 year olds spend an average of 7 hours per week on social media – that’s a little over 15 days per year!  It’s horrifying to me that people in the prime of their life (I say that as someone who sits right in the middle of that demographic!) are wasting this much time.  It’s coming at the expense of marriages, kids, careers and significance for Jesus.  It’s all so sad.

And all so familiar.

I’m not sitting in judgement of those people.  If anything, I’m aware of how much of myself I see in that statistic.  As I’ve searched my own heart, I’ve realized my social media obsession is driven by two primary factors:

We’re dissatisfied with our lives.

Truth be told, I think a lot of us are disappointed in ourselves.  Life doesn’t seem to be working out according to our plan.  We aren’t as extraordinary as we had hoped and are, in fact, struggling to keep up with the ordinary demands of life.  Ten years ago, we dreamed of being a CEO and now we’re just trying to pay the mortgage.  We wanted an amazing marriage and are learning to make peace with a domestic partnership.  We dreamed of significance but now we just dream of retirement.

And social media provides an incredible opportunity to avoid all of that.  Why deal with our own lives when we can look at someone else’s?  Plus, if we stay on social media long enough, we’ll find someone who makes us feel better about ourselves.  So much of our social media obsession is driven by a toxic combination of escapism and comparison.  All of the irate political banter, selfies, latte photos and vacation envy helps us avoid our situation.  But it’s a lot like getting drunk – it may distract us in the moment, but our problems only grow and our ability to deal with them only shrinks.

So, stop judging or envying others and get busy living your own life.  Deal with your problems.  Find your own joys.  Embrace your reality.

We’re unsatisfied in our souls.

The prophet Jeremiah had never heard of Twitter but God gave him tremendous insight into the human soul.  “Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” (Jeremiah 2:12-13)  For many of us, social media is a broken cistern.  It isn’t holding water.  It’s leaking like crazy and our marriages, kids, careers and churches are suffering.  But we’re only trying to trap water because our souls are thirsty.

It’s not just that we’re looking for an excuse to avoid the laundry.  Our souls are crying out for relief – refusing to give up on the belief that we were made for more and demanding we find something to satisfy that thirst.  As a Christian, I know that thirst can only be satisfied in Jesus.  I know when I’m walking closely with Him, immersed in His Word and connected in prayer, I don’t care that much about Facebook.  But when I’m not abiding in Him, the thirst of my soul demands satisfaction and I’ll run to Instagram.  It’s so sad because living water is ours for the taking.  Our souls don’t have to thirst.  We just need to learn how to satisfy them.

So, what do we do about all of this?  Let me suggest one simple solution.  And, no, it’s not to get rid of all social media.  There’s plenty of good, inspiring content out there to be found.  It’s a small change born out of a realization I had in my own life – when my phone is in my hand, it’s like whiskey in the hand of an alcoholic, I’m almost powerless not to check it.  When it’s in my pocket, it’s not much better.  But when it’s in my bag or in a drawer in the kitchen, I don’t really care about it that much.

Just that little separation helps me resist the temptation to check out and actually stay present with Laura and the kids.  I can actually get work done.  I can actually go to the gym.  I can actually address the areas of my life I’m not satisfied with.  I can actually make progress, focus on God’s Word, find rest and end up much happier.  No doubt, God is doing a lot of work in my soul to deepen my satisfaction in Him.  But my contribution to that work is putting the stupid phone down and creating the space for him to work.

Digital Detox

digital detox

We can get so used to experiencing life through the screen of our phone that we forget how much better the real thing is.

To combat this, I did a little digital detox last week.  No email, phone or social media for five days (with one minor exception…just to keep it honest!).  I knew it would be good for my soul.  I didn’t know a few of the other things I would learn.  Here’s the most significant:

  • After sitting out five days, it took me less than an hour to get caught up on my email, texts and social media accounts.  It was amazing how many problems had resolved themselves or no longer mattered.  I say all of this because I usually spend an hour a day on email.  Imagine getting 4-5 hours of productivity back every week simply by checking email less!
  • I found myself thinking about and praying for real people in my life more than normal.  All of the attention that normally goes to people I don’t even know on my Facebook newsfeed automatically swung to people I do know and really care about.  Cutting off my digital connections enhanced my personal connections.
  • I was able to enjoy the moment.  Technology is wonderful when we use it well.  When we use it poorly, it leaves us playing with our kids, thinking about an email, wondering if a tweet was directed at us, and debating if the whole scene is cute enough for Instagram.  Everyone looses, especially the kids.

So, I’m not swearing off technology.  But I am resolved to use it better…and it might not be all that long before my next digital detox!  Maybe you should schedule one as well.  If five days seems unbearable, could you do five hours one weekend?  If the answer is no, you really need to detox!

War Against Distractions

distractions

It seems like the faster our world moves, the harder it is to get anything done.  Maybe I’m just particularly susceptible.  After all, a co-worker once told me I had the attention span of a fruit fly.  But I don’t think I’m the only one.  Our world is increasingly littered with distractions.  There’s always something trying to pull us away from the truly important.

I’ve realized the only way to accomplish my goals and be faithful to what God is calling me to do is to wage war on distractions.  I need to consciously, systematically and brutally battle against them.

Here’s just a sample of the distractions I’m warring against these days:

  • Email.  I only check it at three designated times per day.
  • Facebook and Twitter.  Two designated times per day for these.
  • Mindlessly surfing the internet. I use Google Chrome as my browser and Stay Focused to limit my amount of time online.

Here’s some distractions I’m trying to avoid all together:

  • Unresolved conflict.  It’s hard to be productive with a low-grade conflict grinding away in your mind.  The Bible is on to something when it says, “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.” (Eph. 4:26)
  • Gossip.  Why are you wasting your time with someone who has nothing better to do with theirs than gossip? (Prov. 20:19)
  • Comparison & Envy.  Shouldn’t we be so busy doing what God told us to do that we don’t have any space to worry about why and how He’s using someone else?  (John 21:22-23)

There are a number of practical strategies to fight each of these distractions.  Most of them involve removing temptations from your situation or removing yourself from a tempting situation.

But what really works is focusing your heart on something greater than these petty little distractions.  You were made by God.  We’ve been given the privilege of knowing Him, relating to Him and being used by Him.  He’s given us work to do and fruit to bear.  Focus on that and all of the sudden distractions seem to matter less.

Your call.  You can spend all of today on your Facebook newsfeed envying people you hardly know who are on vacation or you can plunge yourself into everything God has for you today.  You just can’t do both.

No Tech Until Tuesday

Laura and I are headed out of town for the weekend with some friends (and Jack…can’t forget him!!) and to make it a real vacation, I’m shutting off all technology until Tuesday morning.  No computer, no phone, no texting, no tweeting, no anything!!  It’s an oddly freeing thought.

Maybe you don’t go cold turkey for four days over the weekend but why not take a break for a day or even a few hours.  Unplug and enjoy the weekend a bit!

 

Emailing Your Way To Ineffectiveness

Sometimes you just need to shut your email off and get things done.

Don’t get me wrong – email is a wonderful tool.  I use it almost every day and can’t imagine life without it.  But it’s also a major productivity and creativity killer.  It’s almost impossible to focus on bigger projects if you are constantly distracted by the message that just hit your inbox.  Sometimes the distraction comes from the way we’ve set up our computers – a chime or flashing message every time we get an email.  But a lot of the time my distractions come from my own obsession with checking my inbox.  Ever find yourself working on a project and all of the sudden checking your email like it’s some kind of subconscious decision?  I know I have!

Here’s my suggestion: turn it off.

Your computer actually works without Outlook or Mac Mail open all the time!  The world will be fine if you aren’t on email for a few hours.  Sure, one hyperactive co-worker will probably have a melt down if they don’t get a reply instantly but, let’s be honest, that person’s going to have a daily meltdown no matter what you do!  So, just turn the email program off and watch your productivity increase.

For extra credit, you can turn your work email off on your smartphone when you get home for the evening.  If you think the lack of distraction will make you more productive and creative at work, imagine what it will do for your relationships at home.

Breaking free of email might just be the greatest leadership decision you can make today.