When my wife asked me about the family lake house, I knew I was in trouble.
I stalled. I asked a question. Took a sip of my beer. We were just beginning to unwind from a long Easter Sunday with our three kids and extended family. We’d spent the day trying to corral six sugared-up children into an egg hunt, cooking a ham dinner for fourteen, and, of course, cleaning up the mess. Now the dust was finally settling, and my wife was asking me about a conversation I knew we’d all had, but for the life of me, couldn’t remember.
“We scheduled our summer there. The whole family!” she exclaimed, incredulous. “You don’t remember?” But the truth was, we hadn’t. Only one of us had been part of that conversation; the other one had been thinking about work.
While my three little kids picked through the Easter eggs they had found and the adults planned our summer vacation plans for the lake house, I was organizing my mental to-do list, prepping (read: worrying) for what I was going to get done Sunday night so that I would be on my game Monday morning. I was physically present, but mentally somewhere else.
Easter should be a time for reflection, gratitude, and above all, family. And even though I believed that with all my heart, my mind was still creeping back to work. I watched disappointment spread across my wife’s face as she figured this out. It wasn’t the first time either.
For most of us entrepreneurs, moments like this are all too common.
We live in an amazing age where you can knock out a day’s worth of errands in an hour on the couch with your smartphone. Thanks to technology, I can work a full-time job in the ministry (which I love) and with help, run a few growing side-businesses. For entrepreneurs, creatives, and makers, there has never been a better time to be alive. But all that opportunity comes at a price: the line dividing work and home is dissolving.
Because we can work from anywhere, we end up working from everywhere. I am guilty of turning my free time into work time, checking my phone during date night, squeezing in one more email before a bedtime story, and yes, even organizing my mental to-do list during Easter dinner.
Our addiction to rudely using our phones during conversation is so ubiquitous, it has its own name: phubbing.
Think back to your Easter celebration--or your last family gathering or meal--did you drift off thinking about work? Did your phone command your attention? Are you spending all your free time stressing over your job? Giving your most precious moments to a screen instead of your friends and family?
After my distraction last year during Easter (2017), I made up my mind to be more present with my family and make more of my downtime. It became clear to me that my motives, method, and mentality were all part of the problem. I found that with a little practice, intention, and a few simple rules, I could reclaim my free time, and put first things first. The benefits have been remarkable--for me and my family.
Here are three simple rules that I live by to be more present, unplugged, and connected to the people in my life:
- Set boundaries as a team – When I get home at 5:30, I’m still getting blasted with messages and emails, and the last thing I want (my motives) is to let my people down . That’s why unplugging is a lot easier when it’s a team effort. My colleagues know that when I get home, I won’t be reachable for three hours. Those shared expectations provide a tremendous peace of mind. Moreover, we’re able to keep each other accountable.Get on the same page with your team and set healthy boundaries between work and home. Because just individually saying “I don’t care” is never going to work. You care, so show it.
- Create space between you and your tech – By this I mean actual physical distance. When I get home at night, I put my phone in a drawer until my kids are asleep. I also take one day a week away from technology. For me, it’s Sunday (my wife usually has her phone if there’s an emergency). Even just part of a day is a good place to start.How do you feel without your phone? Anxious? Naked? Pretty soon, you’ll learn to love it (trust me). Our brains need to be reminded that our phones aren’t the most important thing in our lives--and make space to show our families and friends that they are. This has been a helpful method for me to accomplish that.
- Practice “being” – We get so good at multitasking that our brains learn to fill up every sliver of empty space with tasks and actions. But we need to learn how to turn this mindset off--to once again become a human being, not a human doing.For me, this looks like sitting quietly in a chair right when my day starts and I’m most eager to get going. I set a timer for 5 minutes, close my eyes, and do nothing but focus on my breath. If tasks or needs come to mind, I just repeat to myself, “I’ll do that after."This is going to be the hardest of the three rules to follow, but it is also the most important. By practicing in the morning, you have prepared your mind to do this in other situations later in the day. By learning to control your response to mental distractions and maintain a singular focus, you’ll be able to stay present during the most crucial times at both home and work.
Time is a gift, and technology can give us more of that gift. But we have to be wise about how we use both.
In the end, we all want to have success in business and at home. But “success” at home requires us to slow down, savor the little moments, and ditch our agendas. Nothing would be worse than gaining all the professional success we had hoped for, only to realize we hurt our relationships and missed out on life’s amazing moments along the way. The good news is, with practice and intention, we can have both.