How To Reduce Distractions In A Constantly Connected World

The one thing I really loved and at the same time struggled with during my month-long silent meditation retreat was to surrender and live without any form of digital device. During the first week on the retreat, I had phantom vibrate, thinking my iPhone was buzzing when it wasn’t even with me.

When I lead mindfulness workshops for lawyers, the topic of how to live mindfully in a 24/7/365 connected world frequently comes up. There’s a compulsion to keep up with all the breaking news, emails, social media streams, or whatever your favorite online pastime may be.

More data has been created in the past two years than in the entire previous history of the human race. We are consuming more data than ever before. However, what’s not happening is disconnecting so we can actually process the data.

Whenever I’ve been stuck in the Twitter vortex for too long, I feel slightly hungover, as though I’ve been trying to drink from the firehose of data dump.

Often, lawyers will complain that they feel as though their life is being run by their Inbox. Yet, that is entirely within our control. For example, I once had a very difficult client. She was incredibly needy and she would spend hours Googling every aspect of her bankruptcy, finding articles that seemed to contradict my advice, or some issue she thought I wasn’t addressing. She would constantly email me these articles she found. I wanted to be responsive, so I made it a point to respond to her emails immediately.

After a while, we were exchanging dozens of emails a day. Then one Sunday, my husband and I went to the beach and I accidentally left my phone at home. When we returned at the end of the day, there were angry emails from the client and she demanded to know why I was “ignoring her.”

At first, I was angry at her and her sense of entitlement that even on Sunday, she expected me to respond to her email instantly. Then I realized this was entirely my fault. I had set the expectation that I’d read and respond to her often nonsensical emails immediately. Now, I have a general policy of not responding to client emails on the weekend.

Mindfulness has been an incredibly useful tool in helping me figure out how to have a sustainable relationship with digital technology. Rather than going into automatic, habitual patterns, you begin to slow down and notice what is happening.

There are two areas in my life where I changed my habits. These changes made a huge difference in how much time I spend on my iPhone.

  1. No iPhone in the bedroom.
  2. No email for the first hour of the day.

Like many, I used to use my iPhone as my alarm clock and would sleep with it on the nightstand. The problem was that it was too tempting to scroll through Facebook or check email. I would then wonder why I had so many nights of insomnia. Getting the iPhone out of the bedroom eliminated that compulsion, the habit of constantly checking the phone.

Similarly, not checking my Inbox first thing in the morning allows me to set my priorities, rather than allowing others to set the agenda for the day.

When it comes to cultivating a sustainable relationship with digital technology, blanket rules rarely seem helpful. Advice like just check your email once a day at 1:00 P.M. may sound good, but it’s unlikely to work given our work demands.

This article was first featured on Above the Law.