As constant connectivity becomes more and more integral and tempting in daily life, it’s wise to step back and reflect on how you utilize online tools. Are you spending time the way you truly desire to? Are you efficiently getting work done? Do you feel addicted to certain technologies? My own digital journey is constantly changing course as I revise what I do–and don’t do–online. Here are five tips that I will follow for the time being:
1. Create a list of your intentions and goals when you get to work in front of a screen. Make it visible. Create it with paper and pencil, or use an online task list. If you find yourself straying from your intended tasks, having the list will help create awareness of your online habits and attention patterns. Howard Rheingold makes this suggestion in his outstanding book Net Smart: How to Thrive Online.
2. Turn on your cell phone ringer. I’ve decided that, unless I’m in a meeting or a public place that warrants a silent phone, it’s much more efficient to pick up the phone. Even if I don’t recognize the number. Phone tag is on the verge of becoming an Olympic sport with some people’s penchant for constantly screening calls or keeping ringers on silent. Remember when we had land lines, and somebody in the house would rush to answer the phone, no matter what, with the exception of dinnertime-interrupting telemarketers?
3. Work in focused, twenty to thirty minute bursts. This works for me. Whether I’m lesson planning, writing a blog post, or checking off tasks from my online “to-do” list, I like feeling engaged in one thing at a time, chunking productivity followed by leisurely distractions. After the burst, take a break. Check your Twitter Feed or personal e-mail. Browse your favorite blogs and news sites. Get your hyperlink and multitasking fix, then get back to another burst. Depending on what you are doing online, sometimes it’s advantageous to have multiple tabs or windows up. As I write this blog post, I’m readily accessing other articles and blogs to link to.
4. Pursue a technology-free hobby (or close to it). For me, this includes gardening and bow-hunting. There are so many worthwhile–and mindless–pursuits online, and it doesn’t surprise me to hear students exclaim that their free time is swallowed up by social media, gaming, etc. But to lead a balanced, active life, I believe it’s unhealthy to do too much of anything. The onus is on teachers and parents to help set guidelines and teach young people to find balance.
5. Disconnect once a week for a full day. This one is tough. I haven’t built it into my repertoire, as I’m a voracious reader, enjoying tapping into multiple online news and commentary websites on a daily basis. As the school year starts, there are countless ways I use computers to facilitate lesson planning, parent communication, and professional writing/networking. Saturday will become my computer disconnect day this school year. Want to take the challenge to the next level? Keep computers and cell phones off for one day a week. I’ll touch base later this fall with a report on how well I’ve achieved tip #5, assessing whether or not it’s worth it.
Do you have any strategies for balancing screen time with other pursuits? Are there some ideas you’d personally add to this list?