Prioritizing What’s Important

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.

The Best Thing You Can Do For Your Children Today: Let Them PLAY!

IMG_4301We were traveling in South Africa a few weeks ago. Our ship docked for a six-day port stay, and we were lucky enough to see the highlights: a cable car ride to the top of Table Mountain, a hop-on/hop-off tour bus that drove us around the city, a drive to Boulder Beach to see the penguins swimming in the ocean, and a climb up to the lighthouse at Cape Point to watch the swirling waters where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet. Plus, we visited the aquarium, played at some parks, ate plenty of delicious food, and found a western-style grocery store to restock our snack cupboard.

A few days into our adventures, my oldest turned to me and said, (more…)

Parks in China, Vietnam, Singapore, Myanmar, and India

In the last two months our family has spent time in six different countries, visiting parks in every location.  I have a growing theory that the casual observer can learn something about the culture from paying attention to the types of equipment in a playground and watching the ways that equipment is used by the children and the adults they are with.

My sampling of playgrounds from the countries in the title of this post (plus, the post I wrote a few weeks ago about parks in Japan) is very small, and I’m sure does not provide a clear overview of playgrounds across that country.  Still, I enjoy reflecting on our experiences in these parks and wondering what conclusions I can draw given my very limited experience. (more…)

Playgrounds in Japan

Desmond on a train in Kobe, Japan

Desmond on a train in Kobe, Japan

One of the interesting realities about traveling with young children is the ways that it changes our use of time while we are in port.  We aren’t touring museums or spending much time in Japanese teahouses.  Instead, we are balancing our time between cultural sites and places where our children can be children.

We get to see local playgrounds and experience a small slice of what it is like to have a family in the countries we are visiting.  I plan to share pictures of these experiences with you.  In Japan, we visited two parks, and while I’m sure these parks are not typical of the entire country, I was interested to see how the Japanese design spaces for children in these small regions. (more…)