I hear the song that serves as my alarm start to play. I climb out of bed and scurry into the next room to turn it off. It’s 5:20 a.m. and still dark. I go through the usual Tuesday routine — brush my teeth, take a quick shower, get dressed and blend a smoothie. I drive to the usual coffee shop. I find my usual table and grab the usual coffee. I’m here to write. The early bird found the worm again.
But none of this usual routine matters if I don’t do one last thing: put my phone in airplane mode. I have learned that nothing derails my creative aspirations more quickly than “the buzz.” The distraction of my phone can leave me flailing at the surface of my thought processes while creative treasures lie undiscovered on the ocean floor.
Ever been there? I’m not talking only to “creatives” — writers, artists, graphic designers. Made in the image of a creative God, we all have unique abilities and talents that flow out of us, and we’re all susceptible to this technological energy drain.
There’s been lots of talk about how phones are damaging our relationships and numbing our brains, but what about our creativity? From my observations, a silent ingenuity assassin sits in our pocket just waiting for us to pick it up. If we don’t pay attention to how much our phones are controlling us, we may find ourselves living shallow lives focused on a lot of stuff that doesn’t matter.
Out of the Shallows
The pace of life in our society is crazy. Frantic is the status quo. During a typical day I can find myself running five minutes late to every meeting, skipping lunch, barely taking bathroom breaks and trying to squeeze in one last email as I walk through my front door. Add social media to that, and we can find ourselves perpetually wading through ankle-deep waters of interaction. We may be physically present, but we are emotionally distant as we stare into our devices. There is always one more person to connect with, app to check or email to answer.
All this is happening at the expense of our creativity. Cal Newport exposes this epidemic in his brilliant book “Deep Work.” He states that “depth will become increasingly rare and therefore increasingly valuable.”Cal Newport, “Deep Work” (New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2016), p.71.
We are losing our ability to relate deeply with people and ideas. Our culture increasingly values deep, creative work. Freelancers are flooding our economy with lots of talent but no boss looking over their shoulder.
In order to think deeply and produce fresh ideas, we need time and focus, but we lack both. Newport says, “To produce your peak level you need to work for extended periods with full concentration on a single task free from distraction.”Ibid., p. 44.
For me, three undisturbed hours of writing every week allows me to keep up with the articles and books I want to write. Want to keep producing fresh ideas in your life and in your career? You need a game plan.
Stop Leaking Creativity
If you’ve ever gotten serious about your finances, you’ve probably taken an audit of where your dollars are going. The money is usually leaking through “twenty-dollar holes” in your budget, not flooding through thousand-dollar gashes. Our creative energy works the same way.
To eliminate the “twenty-dollar holes” allowing your creativity to leak out, take an audit of your time. Where is your attention and focus going throughout the week? Are you spending some of your best energy glued to the computer in the palm of your hand? If so, find strategies to minimize technology use in non-critical areas so you can give your best energy to things you care most deeply about and those which require creativity.
As I have regular conversations with people about our phone addictions, everyone agrees we have a problem. But few people are taking practical steps to plug the creative leaks. Here are a few things I’ve tried that may work for you, too.
Commit to limiting phone usage.
If you’re spending too much time on your phone, think about the things you might be missing out on — greater creativity, better relationships, more relaxing free time. Write down your reasons for limiting your screen time and make a pledge to unplug, whether that’s a certain day each week or a few phone-free hours a day.
Discover the joy of airplane mode.
Whether you’re wrapped up in a project at work or just wanting some quiet time to gather your thoughts, slide your phone into airplane mode. You have the power. Others can wait a few hours to get ahold of you.
Avoid checking your phone the first or last hour of the day.
If you start your day by checking your email or social media, you may end up distracted or weighed down by all you have to do for the day. Try waiting at least an hour before engaging in screen time. Do the same before you go to bed by cutting yourself off from your phone sixty minutes before you turn in.
Ending your day checking email, social media or sports scores on your phone isn’t a good idea, either. Phones have been proven to stimulate the brain in a similar way to caffeine. For better sleep, you may even want to put your phone in another room at night. “The buzz” evokes curiosity and can wake up your brain just as you’re dozing off.
Avoid checking work email at home.
Separate your email into different accounts on your phone — personal and work. Check work email during work hours and personal email the other hours of the day. An email from your mom is very different than an email from your boss.
Disable your notifications.
Go into your settings and disable your notifications. Seriously. When you glance down in a meeting to check the time, you don’t need to know three people liked your photo. It’s not worth losing your focus.
Leave your phone in your back seat while driving.
Many of us are guilty of checking our phones every quarter of a mile. Look around at stop lights, and you’ll see people taking one last peek at their phone before speeding up. First of all, it’s terrifying that nearly everyone on the road is thinking about his or her phone. Second, driving can be one of the best times to think about new ideas and unwind from stress at work or relationship dynamics.
Download a phone-limiting app.
There are several apps on the market such as ScreenTime, BreakFree and unGlue to help you stop your smartphone addiction. A friend of mine who downloaded one of these apps for a few bucks realized he was signing on to his phone over 60 times per day! His goal is to cut that in half.
Proverbs 4:7 says, “The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight.” Those with practical wisdom will excel. If you possess it, you’ll go to new heights and accomplish great things using the technology around you instead of being controlled by it. Without wisdom, the phone in your pocket can steal your creativity, your energy and your passion.
Our phones are crowding our most important spaces, but it’s never too late to reclaim the God-given creativity each of us possesses. You have a choice. Fight for it.
Copyright 2017 Alan Briggs. All rights reserved.