3 Tips to Help You Disconnect in a 24-hour Virtual World

“Don’t call me, I’ll call you.”

Many of us have tossed that saying around from time to time, most often in humor, but quite possibly with complete conviction.

There have always been those who obsessively called others, those who love to talk – or be heard – on the phone.  Those who need to fill every moment of silence with something – anything – to feel good.

Once upon a lifetime ago, we were only subject to this at home.  Long before cell phones, we had this thing called a landline.

If we are really “old”, that landline rang through to a rotary phone.  Some of you may have only seen these in antique or collectible stores but for those of us who are gracefully racking up the years, we can attest to using them. If you are with me on this, you can hear the sound of the action as your finger moved the dial then patiently waited for it to return before you could dial the next six – or more – numbers.

We weren’t allowed to call long-distance family or friends until the rates were lower during evening hours.  We used to sometimes call home collect, utilizing a third-party operator to connect us to our loved ones and even found ourselves in phone booths or using pay phones. You know the phone booth – where Clark Kent transformed from a suited reporter to a super hero in the blink of an eye.

Then came cell phones and chatty Kathy’s everywhere were given the freedom to dial ad nauseam, ringing you up at all hours of the day and night. Those who used them for work now had the ability to be contacted 24 hours a day and thankfully, set-up voicemail to accept messages for a welcomed break in the action.

And let’s talk email.  This year we celebrate a half-century!  Invented in 1971, we have come to rely on this means of communication heavily.  With that invention came the opportunity to reach out to people at anytime without the risk of waking, disturbing or interrupting them.

Over time, almost all of us became connected virtually – and the advancements continued until some felt forced to be online, or be left behind.

Enter stage right comes text messaging and today we encounter what I will humorously refer to as ‘texting terrorists’, those who ambush us with multiple messages either in concession or at random – whether we answer or not.  “Did you get my message?”, “Are you there?”, “Hello??!! You just called me! Where the heck are you?!”  We all know them, we all have them in our lives and we may all be guilty from time to time.

Add to these such business platforms as Teams, Chatter, Stream and other communication tools as well as social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram and we can find ourselves overwhelmed, burned out and frustrated.  We can’t even go to the supermarket without being encouraged to use self-checkout and we have to use a key pad to pay for our things almost everywhere we go.

With so many means available to receive messages, it’s exhausting. Rather than helping us focus, it often robs us of it.

But it’s not technology that is to blame.  We are to blame.  You.  Me.  All of us who submit to the pressure of being connected every moment of the day and night.

Technology is a blessing – and a burden.

It’s not easy to disconnect.  In reality, it’s near impossible today.  We’ve come to rely almost exclusively on technology to communicate.  So much so that people are forgetting to connect offline – to share messages via word of mouth and community.  To look up from their phones and simply smile or maybe engage in small talk with their neighbors.  To miss a call, assess the urgency in an email or text response and spend time in nature rather than scroll by it on Facebook.

Here are three tips to help you disconnect in our 24-hour virtual world.  May you stop to consider implementing these into your routine and enjoy the bliss that can accompany going wireless in a new way.

Cell phones 

You have voice mail. Use it!  One of my pet peeves is the person who picks up on the first or second ring and says with irritation, “I can’t talk right now.” Then why did you answer the phone, I think.  If you can’t answer the phone, don’t. It’s a quite simple and easy change of behavior that you can make a habit in an estimated 100 days or less.

Set a bedtime for your phone.  Commit to a set hour to shutdown from work calls and find a way to rid yourself of it before you snooze.  If we are honest with ourselves, we will realize how much time we spend using it wisely – and how much time we waste.

Do not disturb.  A glorious feature for those of us who may be distracted by a tone, a ring or a notification of any kind.  This is especially helpful when driving.  If you know that you struggle to miss any beep or buzz, put it on do not disturb and pick it back up later.

Email 

We get inundated with emails – personally and professionally.  Your day can spiral downward quickly if you react to every email that comes in. It breaks your focus and becomes busy work, not accomplishing nearly as much as you think.

Set a schedule to check emails. There will always be one or two that require an answer, those marked with high importance, but most can wait.  Check it when you are fed, showered and dressed to start the day, mid-morning, lunch, mid-afternoon, at the close of the business day or before dinner and mid-evening.  You don’t have to adhere to this exact schedule and it can be flexible. Experiment and find what works for you.

Notice I did not say before bed or when you first rise. Why?  Because you will risk losing sleep over some matter that you most likely can’t do anything about at that hour.  Same goes for the morning before you are ready to face the day.  If there is something pressing that needs your attention, chances are it can wait an hour or so.  And you will then be ready to face it head-on.

There was a time when I couldn’t commit to or agree with that.  I had to be on, connected and available to respond night and day.  Like Superman charging out of that booth, I was there to save the day.  Wrong.  I only ruined my own start to the day with unnecessary angst, worry and stress.  I eventually learned that the world did not come to an end when I was not there to save it – and more often than not, I wasn’t even needed.

Social Media

Like email, set a schedule.  We can – no, we do – waste so much time scrolling mindlessly through social media outlets.  There are so many cute dogs and kids to see.  We can’t miss what’s happening in the lives of others and have to be sure to like, reply or share.  What would we miss if we just simply signed out?

Just think of the time you can steal back in your life if you disconnect.  Think of the increased productivity and free moments you would find yourself with to pursue the very things that you said you don’t have time for.

Social media has it’s advantages and it brings joy to a lot of people.  It is a fabulous way to spread the word on most everything.  We can attend virtual workshops and events.  It does allow us to connect with anyone around the world and make new acquaintances.  But it can also cause you to miss out on the non-virtual life.

Know when to say when.  Shut down. Breathe some fresh air. And by all means, don’t call me; I’ll call you.

Author: E.M. Murphy

A freelance writer, coach, eternal seeker and Renaissance soul who aims to open minds and hearts. Armed with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and a NASM Certified Behavior Change Specialist, humanity and humor is at the heart of my writing, reminding us that the key to success will always start with a genuine concern for others while making sure to be true to our authentic selves.

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