I value building strong, healthy, connected relationships with people I care about. I also enjoy using technology in a lot of different ways.
Sometimes it feels to me like technology and building these relationships are at odds with each other. If I’m not careful, I can find myself getting sucked into the infinite information stream my phone provides when I should be spending time doing activities that build those relationships, like playing with my kids or talking with my wife.
I’ve noticed this trend, and over time, I’ve been developing some ways to help me stay present while still using that technology to help me manage my areas of responsibility.
Carry a Pocket Notebook
Something I’ve started doing lately is carrying a pocket notebook and pen with me everywhere I go. I picked up a pack of Field Notes notebooks and a set of Pokka Pens, and every morning when I get ready, they go in my pocket.
The ability to capture any thought on my phone to allow for automation and processing is incredible, but I also find if I’m not careful, I’ll easily get distracted and lose the very thought I wish to capture in the first place.
Additionally, I almost immediately feel disconnected from the very room I’m in when I unlock my phone to do something even as menial as write a sentence in Drafts.
Don’t get me wrong. I still use the heck out of Drafts on my iPhone, but I try to use it more strategically such as when I am working or feel able to have a screen accessible.
Where the pocket notebook comes into play is when I want to have something available to capture ideas but don’t want to have the distraction of my phone anywhere near me.
Where technology seems to remove my mental presence from a situation, there’s something about paper which allows me to stay engaged with what I’m doing requiring my present attention, while still enabling me to process my thoughts out at the same time.
Set Phone on Airplane Mode
Most days when I’m done working I leave my phone in my office. I don’t know what it is about my phone because when that thing is on, I still feel like I need to check it every once in a while. I’m not sure if some mental process is still running in the background or what telling me there might be something I need to know.
The simple solution that’s helped me turn that itch off is to leave my phone in my office on airplane mode.
I have no clue why this works, but it does. When I switch my phone into airplane mode, this low level anxiety usually there when my phone is on and I’m trying to relax is all of a sudden gone, and that allows me to be more present and focused.
Perform a Mindsweep
Chris Bailey discusses the idea of attentional residue in his book Hyperfocus. Attentional residue is what happens when you switch what you’re focusing on.
Say I’m working on writing this blog post. I’m not quite finished with it, but I need to be done with work for the time being. When I exit my office to go play with my kids, most often I’m partially distracted by the task I was just working on. This usually lasts a few minutes and fades, but sometimes I get stuck on something for quite a while in my head, which makes it hard for me to be present.
To help with minimizing attentional residue when I want to be present, I try to perform a mindsweep as I’m switching modes. By spending 10 minutes writing down any open loops or thoughts that come to mind, I free my attentional space up from anything lingering so I can devote my entire attention to what’s next.
Have a Plan
Whatever you do to help yourself be more present when you need to, have a plan. Knowing what I want to do and what outlets are healthy for me ahead of time makes it much easier to keep my attention on the people around me.
At times, staying emotionally and mentally present can feel like a lot of work, but the rewards of better relationship and connection are worth it to pursue. The further you are in building the habit of staying present, the easier it gets. I encourage you to keep going!