What would you do if someone just handed you 11 hours?

I’m writing this on my way home from a business-packed trip to New York, which I spent running between meetings, speaking engagements and recording sessions for a few upcoming podcasts. I hardly had a minute to myself, much less 11 hours. But, if I’d taken an extra day in the Big Apple, I could have spent my time (let’s say, oh, 11 hours) in any number of ways. One example:

I could start my day at Inwood Hill Park at the top of the island, walk down to Times Square, have lunch outdoors at Junior’s, take in a matinee of a Broadway Show, burn off some of my Junior’s cheesecake with a walk down to the financial district and enjoy a leisurely dinner on top of One World Trade Center.

I’d end my day with a deep feeling of satisfaction and contentment.

But Wait a Minute…

So why am I obsessing over 11 hypothetical hours?

You’re probably ahead of me—we all talk about not having “enough” time, but, according to a 2018 article published by Market Watch, we spend more than 11 hours a day interacting with tech-based media, with a lot of that time spent on email, social media and gaming.

“American adults spend more than 11 hours per day watching, reading, listening to or simply interacting with media, according to a new study by market-research group Nielsen. That’s up from nine hours, 32 minutes just four years ago,” Quentin Fottrell’s article reports.

I’ve spent 20+ years in Silicon Valley and I love so many aspects of social media and our digital life, but I think we can all agree we’re not living our best lives at that level of media consumption. Deducting just 7 hours for sleep, that’s just 6 hours of tech-free time a day.

4 Ways to Dial it Back and Improve Our Lives

A lot of the tech we’re using is an essential part of our professional and personal lives;  drastically cutting back is an uphill battle most of us aren’t willing to take on. But, even trimming our media time from 11 hours a day to 8 or 9 (the amount we were living on four years ago, remember?) could have a powerful impact.

So I’d like to offer a few ways in which we—adults and the teens in our lives—can cut back on tech use and live more fulfilling lives without feeling too deprived. You’ll notice that my suggestions trend toward taking opportunities to actually “be” in the world rather than “live” online. If we limit tech exposure in the streets, overnight and during meals we’ll be making solid progress. Cutting back also might save a few relationships. Here are a few ideas for giving our smartphones – and ourselves – a break. By giving our phones a rest we can:

·      Avoid a Trip to the ER. To some extent, a “Zombie Apocalypse” is upon us. At least it looks that way when we study pedestrians on street corners. Just watch people on the sidewalks of any major city glued to their phones. It’s even worse when you add texting drivers into the mix.  As I note in Lifescale: How to Live a More Creative, Productive and Happy Life, a revealing study found that a whopping 20% of teens struck in New York City crosswalks were on their devices.

·      Enjoy Our Meals Again. While we’re living in the era of the ‘foodie,’ so many of us rush through mealtime, check our phones at the table, and generally do everything but savor our meals and the people we’re with.It’s reducing our quality of life and (probably unknowingly) making us unpopular. There are few things more annoying than having a meal with someone who takes that “very important” call, then makes you listen to one half of their conversation. Equally vexing is that person who is constantly checking their news feed, email, texts, etc. while eating with you. Rule of thumb: When you’re eating, put the phone away.

·      Sleep Through the Night. Even if we continue to spend two-thirds of our waking life absorbing media, we can still limit use at bedtime. A 2016 study by Common Sense Media noted that 29% of teens and 12% of parents sleep with a mobile device in bed with them and 36% of those teens and 26% of those parents actually wake up at least once to check their mobile device during the night. By putting our phones on silent or in the next room at least some of the time, we’ll sleep better and be more productive the next day.

·      Save Our Relationships. Smartphones are proven relationship killers. A 2018 study on the effects of mobile phones on the rising divorce rate in China found that there was a direct correlation between marital breakups and cellphones. The paper found that mobile phone penetration had the greatest impact on divorce rates in large parts of the country.  Similarly, an article published by Humans.media reported that since the year 2000, the number of marriages has declined and the number of divorces in the U.S. has increased, 92% of these divorces included cell phone or other tech media as evidence of infidelity.

Finding Balance

In Lifescale, I write that “living purposefully is to live in a state of constant growth.” In fact, I conclude the book by emphasizing the importance of growth.

“Lifescaling is about growth and development and new awakenings as we journey through our days and nights. It’s about finding happiness in our evolution.[..] It’s intent, focus and the work you do that leads to the little accomplishments every day that add up to big achievements and outcomes throughout your journey.”

In addition to the suggestions I’ve included above, these “little accomplishments” can be as simple as asking a stranger to take a photo of you rather than doing a selfie. Another little accomplishment could be to check your personal email the way you check your snail mail, once a day; you’ll be surprised how much time you’ll save or who you’ll meet along the way.

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