On January 1, 2017, I made a New Year’s resolution to make my Sundays Internet free. This involved not going online Sundays for any reason, whether it be for e-mail, updates or inquiries. I did this because I realized just how much leisure time I was wasting on the Internet. I wanted to devote Sunday to its original purpose as a day of worship, rest and culture.
Since then, I have kept my resolution, surprisingly with little effort. Sunday is the easiest of days for most people to abstain from the Internet since many do not work. Thus, by staying away from my office computer and quashing any idea of getting a smart phone, my Sundays have been delightfully prayerful and restful.
Blissful Ignorance on Sunday
That is not to say there were not times when I was tempted to go online. Indeed, there were even some “emergencies,” in which it would have been very helpful to check information on flights, appointments or weather. However, I simply decided to skip going online, and everything worked out fine. It was just like times before the Internet when we survived in blissful ignorance of so many urgent things.
The successful transition to Internet-free Sunday got me thinking about doing something more. This desire got me looking for the next step in controlling Internet use. Hopefully, this move will allow me to find a way to use the Internet without the frenetic intemperance of constantly checking for mail and notifications. It will enable me to make better use of the time when I must be on the Internet. It was not easy to find a strategy for this next step.
A Wakeup E-mail
Ironically, a suggestion about how to take this next step came from an e-mail. It was not even a personal e-mail but one of those “junk” e-mails from an online newsletter that one typically deletes. It was written by a lady who had become exasperated by the e-mail and notifications that were taking so much time from her day.
It was as if she was reading my mind. She described my focusing problem because of Internet distractions. Her wake-up call to e-action was full of reasons that led me to take up the challenge of cutting down seriously.
Three More Good Reasons
There were three main reasons why she took measures that I found compelling.
The e-mail rush. She noted that e-mail can become an addiction like drugs or video games. Every time notifications sound, we get little shots of dopamine in the pre-frontal cortex that stimulate us and ask us for more.
Task switching. She mentioned how most people check their e-mail almost without realizing it. This happens at several times every hour if not much more. Checking e-mail and other notifications seem like an innocent break from work, but are actually great interruptions.
At the University of California-Irvine, Prof. Gloria Mark calls this interruptive process “task switching.” She found that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back up to speed after an innocent e-interruption.
Open loops. When one checks inboxes, it also creates open loops in the mind which demand resolution. These prevent the person from focusing on anything until it is in some way forgotten, postponed or answered.
All these things cloud the mind and prevent the person from efficiently reaching goals.
The Detox Solution
Her solution was what she called an e-mail or notification detox. It does not entail getting rid of e-mail since that is impossible given today’s work obligations. It does call for carving out a few hours each day, preferably in the morning, without checking e-mail or any other notifications. It may involve taking off tempting apps from the devices we use that facilitate these distractions.
She takes four morning hours that she calls power hours. During this time, she concentrates on the most important tasks of the day without the 23 minute, 15 second re-concentrating periods. With all the most urgent matters out of the way, she then checks her e-mail around lunchtime.
Of course, the intensity and practicality of the detox depend on the person and circumstances. However, most people can identify with the exasperation of e-mail overload and realize the need to take measures. We should not be discouraged by the task at hand.
The important thing is to break the consensus that says such self-control cannot be done. We need to look around and realize that we are not alone in sensing the problem. There are plenty of other people who are implementing detox programs of their own. We need to break the myth that such self-control cannot be achieved.
My first goal will not be overambitious. I will seek to carve out one two-power-hour session per day when I might concentrate on more important tasks without e-mails or notifications. The important thing is to control technology since it becomes abusive when it starts controlling us. Thus, if e-mail overload is causing concern, it is time to implement some version of detox. There is life beyond the Internet. Like restful Internet-free Sundays, it can be done.