Life, Productivity

Blurred lines

I received this article in my inbox from Nir Eyal’s newsletter, about using timeboxing to prevent burnout- in work and in life. As a Cal Newport fan (who I feel is sort of the (self-proclaimed?) King of Timeboxing), I hear a lot about this subject on his podcast. I also do frequently use timeboxing to plan my own days, though not religiously.

The basic gist of the article is that coming out of the pandemic, people are burned out from trying to do so many things simultaneously, while often lacking real control of their situations. Timeboxing (i.e. scheduling specific time blocks for certain activities/ tasks) is a way to make sure you are inserting things that you really value into your days- not just things you “have” to do. In other words, it can help you make the most of your time.

This isn’t revolutionary information to me, because like I said, I’m very familiar with the subject of timeboxing. He’s talking about scheduling time to read, or time for yoga, or time for gardening, or whatever it is you value doing.

Good advice, but kind of old news to me.

However, in his intro, a quote caught my eye that really resonated with me (in reference to the COVID-19 pandemic):

The lines between every domain of life were blurred, so controlling how we spend our time became more complicated. We could no longer rely on physical boundaries to establish the boundaries we needed.

I think this blurring of lines has been a real problem for me, lately. And lately= the last ~10 years!

Forget about the pandemic for a minute and the obvious increase in blurred lines of parenting/working/homeschooling. That was like, blurred lines on steroids.

I’m talking about even before the pandemic, or non-pandemic related “blurriness”.

I don’t want to point fingers, but I kind of feel like technology might be to blame for a lot of the blurred lines in my life, and my uneasy and unsettled feelings. I know this topic of “technology and distraction” is not new, and obviously I’m not the first one to think about this. (Cal Newport beat me to it. LOL.)

But I’ve been especially aware of a nagging feeling of…. not sure what to call it. Failed multi-tasking? Multi-tasking when I don’t want to be? Squirrel brain? Feeling I always have to be “available” to everyone?

And I do think my phone plays a role in that, for a variety of reasons.

1- I’m always “reachable”.

My Fitbit buzzes me if someone texts me (unless my Fitbit is dead for 3 days and I never get around to recharging it, which happens pretty often). So no matter what I’m doing, I’m never really JUST doing that. Example: I’m cooking dinner. Wait, nope, now I’m answering a text about what time I’ll be picking up the swim carpool. Okay, back to cooking dinner.

The whole “text message” thing is an amazing invention, and I love that it exists. I don’t deny its value.

But I do sometimes miss the days when you could just be. I mean, back in the ’90s, when I was a teen, no one could just interrupt whatever you were doing whenever they felt like it. Sometimes that sounds sooooo blissful to me, now. Looking at my phone’s screentime, it shows that on Wednesday I received 51 text message notifications during the day. 51! That’s a lot of little brief “interruptions”. (*It’s not all bad- I greatly enjoy many of these text exchanges! But still, they add up.)

I remember going out shopping with my mom as a kid. We’d leave a note on the table for my Dad: “Ran to Kohl’s. Back in a bit.” And off we’d go, completely unreachable until we got home, to just focus on…. our shopping trip! And nothing else.

2- Societal expectations have shifted, with the changing times.

I feel like I am “expected” to respond to messages relatively quickly, especially if it’s a fairly time sensitive question or request. If I don’t, the other person might get annoyed, or think I’m being rude. Because everyone has a phone, and it’s SO EASY to fire off a quick text, there’s generally little regard for the fact that maybe the other person is doing something right now!!!

I think this can be a big cause of blurred lines. Working from home can amplify these issues. There are times someone will call or text me, and I’ll feel pressure that I “should” respond right away. Technically, I can- my job is flexible enough to start and stop if I need to. (Kind of- there is definitely still a mental/ productivity cost!!) I try to pause and think, “If I were working on the hospital unit right now, taking care of patients, would it be expected that I stop dressing a wound and take this call? Or answer this text?” NO, of course not! So why do I feel pressured to be constantly available, just because I’m working from home?! It’s so…. silly. But still a very real struggle.

3- Having my phone with me means I also have: my email, the weather channel, Facebook, text messages, the entire internet, books, articles, news, and, if I wanted to, the ability to book flights to Fiji from my phone. (*No Fiji trip in the works. Hypothetical example. 😉 )

Again, “back in the day”, wherever you were, there you were. But now, you basically never have to just do one thing at a time. No need to wait to get home to check your email- you can do that quick from the restaurant table while your husband runs to the bathroom. (Or heck, you can check your email while you chew your burger, if you want!) If the 10 minute car ride feels just so boring, you can take a quick look-see on Facebook or do a scroll through Instagram. Even if you are trying to just live in the moment and are resisting any urge to surf your phone, someone will probably text you or something, anyway.

You’re never really just in one place at a time, if your phone is along….

Anyway, this little mini-rant post feels like it probably ended up being kind of incoherent and random… ha. Sorry for the brain dump.

I think I’ve been having some of these feelings bubbling up more lately, as I’ve been really busy, constantly feeling pulled in many different directions, and have just not been doing a great job of setting limits with my phone use again.

I’ve written about these feelings before, including ideas and efforts to combat it- decreasing social media checks, turning on Do Not Disturb mode, etc. But honestly, I just haven’t been implementing them…. So I guess I can’t fully blame my phone. There’s a personal responsibility piece in there, too.

Seeing the above quote, from the article, just really made me kind of miss the old pre-tech world that had a few more physical boundaries, when none of this was even an issue. When time was a little more black and white, without all of the grey areas, interruptions and overlap.

Daily Gratitude:

I am grateful for a fun night last night. We went to Ethan’s friend’s house for a bonfire and they shot off a bunch of fireworks!

Happy 4th of July weekend!!!!

8 thoughts on “Blurred lines”

  1. I feel this so hard. I heard a quote somewhere about how historically, for work, a tiny proportion of us needed to be on call – doctors, etc. Now because of smart phones we have reached a point where virtually all of us are on call 24/7 – and that’s not natural.

    I have a FitBit but I have no notifications go to it, that would drive me crazy and is actually my main reason for having something other than an Apple Watch.

    Have also just removed my work emails from my phone AND my personal laptop! This is huge for me.


  2. I’ve just been thinking about how I am so distracted by social media that I never have time to think my own thoughts. I always have other people’s thoughts in my head. I try to just not use my iPad for a whole day sometimes, and I deleted these apps from my phone so I can still use that. But even that feels like I’m still allowing my thoughts to be directed by other people. Now after reading your post, I think it’s because I am still reachable with my phone. Plus I still read paper books and magazines on the no-iPad days, that are other people’s thoughts too. My nervous system is in such a constant state of anxiety, I think the solution will be to spend large blocks of time with no contact AND no media. Just me, my thoughts, and human interaction with the real people in front of me in the real world.


  3. I regularly just leave my phone on a different floor of the house than I am. It feels like sort of an old school fix – I hear it if it rings, like it was a landline, but any other notifications can probably wait. I feel like I can do this because I don’t have kids, so there’s no need for me to be immediately available at any given time. But I do notice that’s it’s kind of nice not to be glancing at it all the time.


  4. I understand the feeling, when phone is near by, we are always available. I want to try to leave the phone more at home when going out for a walk with the girls. when I go out with hubby alone, I feel like needing to have the phone in case girls call me for emergency.
    I am thinking of getting a phone without social media, only call/text. hahahah…. that would solve many of the “problems”


  5. This post is excellent and bang on – I feel so many of these issues acutely in my own life. I feel like it’s such a fine balance between having technology (which I agree is a lynchpin in much of our modern discontent) be a slave vs. a master. Too often the dings and buzzes control me. Like you I do take some steps to avoid it (like turning off notifications on my watch for a while)…but the REST OF THE WORLD doesn’t work that way, so people WILL text me about things that need quasi-immediate responses instead of picking up the phone to call me. It all leaves me feeling like I’m perpetually on call, and that’s unsettling.

    I was just thinking about this earlier today – before reading your very timely post – because I’m visiting my parents. Their current home used to be our family (very rustic = no running water/no electricity) cottage. Having running water and electricity is great – we can work from here and there are a lot more conveniences. But the honest truth – it’s only a fraction of the fun it used to be. My kids are still young enough to want to play outside most of the time, but still there are devices everywhere and dings and buzzes and we often work remotely from the lake. So while it’s technically the best of both worlds (flexible work, for example), it means attention is always divided in some capacity and that leads to burnout and just feeling…unsettled. Never feeling fully off and unconnected – and it almost feels like that sensation is virtually impossible to achieve anywhere these days?!


    1. Your last comment – I was talking about this with my husband – he goes on a week long trip to the Boundary Waters in MN every year, and says that is the main appeal of the trip – it is the ONLY place he is truly unconnected. No cell service/wifi anywhere so the ONLY way he will hear anything is through his satellite phone that I forced him to get to check in with me once a day (which is just to say ‘we’re ok’). But if you are not into camping/backpacking, that same experience is really tough to achieve!! I’d love to have a few days of that, but I have no interest in camping 🙂


  6. This is an interesting topic to think about! I love the do not disturb features on the iPhone and I like that other iPhone users will see that I have notifications turned off. I feel that gives me a pass to not respond to things ASAP. Phil says I respond way faster to emails/texts than the average person but it’s just my personality to respond right away. But DND gives me the freedom to ignore my phone. I have DND start at 8pm. No one really needs to call me/text me at that time anyways – whatever it is can wait. I have exceptions set up so calls/texts from my mom or Phil will come through.

    But the blurred lines between work/home has actually been good for me. I have so little flexibility when I was in the office 5 days/week, and everyone else was in the office. Now there is less emphasis on “face time” at work and more of an emphasis on what you are achieving during your work week, whether that is at home or in the office.

    But I am a slave to my phone… I think about leaving it behind when we are out doing things with the boys, but then I won’t be able to take pictures, and taking pictures is so important to me. So I really try to only take my phone out to snap pictures and not to respond to things. But inevitably I will send cute pictures to a group text w/ the grandparents and that is taking my focus away from the kids!


  7. Uff, very timely post, Kae. I feel you on a lot of this (and I am already trying to mitigate by turning notifications off for most things, using the DND feature, etc. But still, I pick up that damn phone WAY TOO OFTEN… the hardest part for me is the blurry lines between things I WANT to use it for (taking pictures, reading, sending messages to far away family/friends) without also being pulled into the constant checking of apps, feeling like I have to respond to non-urgent messages right away and being constantly “distracted” from what I should be focusing on. It’s a real exercise in self-discipline (that I haven’t mastered).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s