A few months ago, my email app on my phone was glitching. I could not get the notifications to disappear.
I tried everything. Looking for threads where an unread message might be lurking, clearing out my messages through a separate email service, but try as I might, that notification remained.
Notifications pester me into action.
In those tiny red numbers, I see opportunity. An email response I was waiting for, a chance to multitask, an opportunity to connect with a friend. My heart almost skips a beat when those numbers appear, and in those milliseconds of anticipation, I think:
Maybe something has happened. Something wonderful. Something tragic. Some adventure or reward or warning. Something.
Inevitably, I am disappointed. Even when I get a really good email, I have to remember to respond later (or save it as “unread” – which means those notifications won’t go away). The mental energy of staying connected is draining.
So when I was stuck with an email app that would not clear the notifications, I was irritated.
I reflected on a time two years ago, when my family sailed with Semester at Sea. One of the most incredible experiences was living without technology. Out at sea, there was slow and expensive internet. All passengers began the voyage with two hours of internet time. Two hours. For a four-month voyage. You could purchase more, but the costs were prohibitive (something like $50/hour). I thought I couldn’t survive.
Surprisingly, when we completed our voyage, many of us had time leftover. We learned how to live without the internet. If we had a question to ask someone, we had to walk around the ship until we found them. In fact, at our first port stop, I bought a watch because I stopped carrying my phone and had no other way to tell the time of day.
Eliminating the constant tech-drain made me feel calm. No one needed me. I was free to be present.
Living in tech-isolation is impractical on an ongoing basis. Much of my work takes place with people around the world, so I rely on email and social networking sites. I’m grateful for the technology that allows me to stay in touch with family who lives far away. But what I know is this:
Constant connection makes everything feel urgent, even when it’s not, so choosing small ways to disconnect can help us reprioritize our mental energy.
The answer for me is not disconnecting entirely, but rather, making conscientious choices about how I spend my time.
So, last week, when I couldn’t get my email notifications to go away, I made what felt like a radical decision: I turned my notifications off.
Now I only know that I have email when I decide to open my email. I am in control. I sit to check my email when I have the time and energy to respond to messages. Email doesn’t pull me away from the ones I love or the things I am trying to accomplish.
Guess what? I feel free. Turning off my notifications is a gift to myself and a gift to those in my immediate community: I don’t have to be anywhere but here.
This isn’t a radical idea, but it has been meaningful enough for me that I thought I would share it. For me, turning off my notifications was an act of love. Loving myself means protecting my mental energy from the exhaustion of being fractured. Loving my family means drawing boundaries so my attention isn’t divided. Loving my work means making space for uninterrupted focus.
May you find ways to prioritize what’s important today.