Creating Balance with Technology

Originally posted on Medium

How much time would you say you spend each day online, that’s not related to your job? An hour? Two hours? More? How much time do you spend each day exercising, reading, engaging in music, learning a new skill? Does it balance out the time you spend online?

The average person spends nearly 2 hours a day on social media, and that doesn’t even include browsing through online shopping sites or checking personal email. This time can be spent while we’re at lunch, commuting, or supposed to be working. But depending on your job, you may not be able to get online until you’re at home. If we consider the numbers we first discussed about changing our relationship with social media, we only have 4 hours a day of free time. What are we spending our free time on?

While we recognize the amazing opportunities social media can provide us — connectivity to family and friends, ability to share our passions with others, learn new skills, expand your horizons, etc. — we also want to emphasis that in order to be balanced human beings we need to find the balance between real-life experiences and online experiences.

Reaching a state of equilibrium

Think of the universe as constantly trying to reach a state of equilibrium. We work eight hours a day but also sleep 8 hours a day. Perhaps merely a coincidence, but our brains need sleep to balance us out and recharge us. A plant will (typically) only only grow to the size of its container. That’s its point of equilibrium — the amount of soil and nutrients only supports a plant of a certain size.

So what becomes the balance point for our online lives? If we spend two hours a day online, should we not also spend two hours a day away from the screen? Or perhaps even more. Some people may get drained by 30 minutes of screen time and need an hour to balance that out.

Teaching balance to children

As digital becomes more cemented as a part of our everyday lives it becomes increasingly difficult to extract ourselves. We use them to organize our days, input our shopping lists and reminders, to coordinate with friends about lunch dates. All extremely useful things. It is when we disengage with what is in front of us, or ‘multi-task’ with technology that it starts to turn into unhealthy habits.

As the holidays are a few days away, we believe it’s more important than ever to take the time to reset, to give yourself and your family balance.

The holidays are often a time when family can get together in person, replacing the need to chat online with them with real-interactions. An opportunity to show children the value of real-world interactions. One thing you’ll want to help them avoid is sticking to their old habits of spending time online, instead of taking that time to engage with family.

We’re firm believers that children learn by observing. They look to our actions to define what is normal. When we display healthy technology behaviors ourselves they are more likely to reflect those behaviors back.

Creating healthy tech behaviors

How do you create healthy tech behaviors for you and your family? Here’s some suggestions gathered from the Mazu family.

Phone free zones

“We have ‘no-phone-zones’ like the kitchen table. It’s a place for everyone to gather around, share a meal and stories about their day.”

A few other places for phone free zones:

  • The bedrooms — when we keep technology out of our bedrooms we’re better able sleep and not tempted to check our emails or feeds when we’re winding down for the night or first thing in the morning.
  • The car — some of the most interesting conversations with kids happen in the car, plus it gets them in the habit early of ignoring their phone, instead of being tempted to text and drive.

Phone free times

“When we sit down to watch a movie as a family, the phones and electronics stay in the other room.”

Multitasking isn’t as beneficial as people think and can actually be harmful. Other times when being phone free is beneficial:

  • Sports events or concerts — it can be tempting to just quickly check your phone while your child is not on the stage or the court, why not cheer on everyone else’s children too?
  • Homework/studying — students don’t absorb the information they’re working on when they’re mentally preoccupied by their phones.

Schedule offline activities

“I like to set myself reminders. Whether it’s a quick reminder to get up from my desk for a 5 minute stretch while working, or a daily walk with my wife and dog.”

Sometimes it’s easier to get up and do things when we schedule them into our day. It can take over 21 days to turn something into a habit, so scheduling even simple things like taking a walk every day, into your calendar can get you off the phone or computer.

Another trick some people use is to sign up for classes — whether they’re exercise or learning a new skill. When we sign up for classes, we invest money and so are more likely to go to ensure we get our money’s worth.

Meditate

“One of the first things I do every morning and the last thing before bed is meditate. Sometimes for 10 minutes, sometimes longer. I feel calmer, better prepared to start my day, and can settle in to sleep easier.”

Taking 5 minutes to meditate can help restore your mind to balance, release stress, and bring you back to calmness. And can be a great introduction into longer meditations. A great old Zen adage is “You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day, unless you are too busy; then you should sit for an hour.” It speaks into balance and that the busier you are, the more time you need to relax and re-center yourself.

Do not disturb mode

“Every day from 11pm to 8am my phone goes into Do Not Disturb Mode. No calls, texts, emails, or app notifications can come through. Which means my sleep isn’t interrupted.”

Unless your job has life threatening emergencies that can happen at all hours of the night, enable your phone for do not disturb mode while you are winding down for the night and sleeping. You can enable this setting at any time during the day too, using this feature for your phone free times.

Turn off app notifications

“I used to get so annoyed by every app sending me notifications. Reminding me that I haven’t played a game yet today, or posted to Facebook recently. Yet I would still log in when those notifications came up.”

App notifications are a way to keep us constantly coming back to an app. “So-and-so posted for the first time in awhile.” “Someone commented on your picture.” Unless your job demands that you have certain notifications and respond right away, turning this off lets you connect with the app on your own terms, instead of being interrupted and distracted.

How are you spending your time?

The first step to creating balance is figuring out how much time you spend every day doing different things. Not that you need another app, but you can try out a time tracking app to help you see what your week looks like to help you find out when you’re spending too much time online and could be balancing it out with offline activities.

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