Your Phone IS calling…

Last week I heard a brief segment on NPR about the distracting pull of our smart phones. The statement didn’t surprise me since it validates my own and other’s observed behaviors.

The bane of modern life…

The bane of modern life…

After all, it seems intuitive- the mere presence of our phones beckons us to keep checking it. Not only when we have a beep, ring or tone that alerts us to a new notification but even when it is silent. We check and double check thinking that we must “See if something is going on.” “Did we miss a text?” and even thinking, “It must be broken since I didn’t get anything.”

After hearing the story, I commented to my husband, “No one sits by their land line and keeps picking it up to see if there is someone on the other end.” Of course as I was speaking I was reminded of comedy skits where that is exactly what happens. The protagonist is waiting for an important call and sits by the phone. Every once in a while she will pick up the phone to see if someone is there. In the real old skits, the person on the other line is usually the telephone operator who will patiently explain that no one has called. (For those who aren’t familiar, back in the day- there were party lines. No such thing as direct calling. One had to speak to the operator. “Operator, get me ‘AMherst 355’ and the operator would connect you. Sometimes you had to wait to be connected and so the operator would ring you back with the connection.)

These social scientists realized that even though their phones were parked beside them and not making any noise, they still felt compelled to check them to ensure that they hadn’t missed a call.

I started thinking about my own practice with the cell phone. I, too am guilty of checking the phone for truly no reason. Although in fairness to me, I have missed calls. Either because I put my phone on silent and forgotten to return it to sound when I was expecting a call. Or it is deep in the bowels of my purse and I cannot hear it ringing or if I do, it takes me forever to unearth it. Just when I do the ring stops.

I find that having the phone next to me while working is distracting. I find myself checking to see messages and emails which is exactly what they discovered in their rudimentary experiment. The closer in proximity a smart phone was to a person, the more likely and the more frequent he would look at the phone.

Of course, time management suggests that one batches emails and phone calls at various times during the day. That is an admirable plan. One in which I try to adhere. Still, over the last fifteen years, because of caring for aging parents, I found that I needed to have the phone close. It would never fail that the times that I would forget my phone, have it charging in another room or have it on silence, would be the one time that I would receive an important phone call about their care.

There is something about out of sight, out of mind though that I find appealing. In some ways, by not having the phone in eye shot, it gives me permission to not be burdened by the information through the various forms of communication. For truly, if I analyze the information that I am reading, most of it is not that time sensitive.

It also gives me permission to really concentrate at the task on hand. I can control when I look and when I respond to various messages. It allows me to feel that I accomplished something rather than being harried and beholden to a text, email or message that doesn’t move me closer to completing the task.

I am also giving myself permission to analyze my time this week. I have started keeping track of my days: what I have done with each hour or so. I am looking for patterns of productivity and misuse. Is there something that seems to be taking larger chunks of my time? What is it? And why is it? Is there margin in my schedule? Times of down time? Time for self-care? For care of others? How many times am I checking my phone?

If you wonder where your time is going, you might want to try a time study. You can use your day planner, or just a sheet of paper. [ Of course, the irony of a time tracker app on one’s phone isn’t wasted on me! It is tempting to suggest it though. ] Or, you can download templates. Click here to download either an excel or word time sheet.

I am just using a piece of paper. For each day, I group my time into either hourly sections or into the amount of time it takes me to do an activity. (e.g. tennis= 2 1/2 hours with playing and traveling to and from time.) So far I haven’t found any patterns but I have realized that my days are packed. No wonder I fall asleep so quickly.

What about you? What is your relationship with your phone? Do you keep it in sight during your waking hours? What do you do about meal times? Meetings? I have heard that by putting the phone on the table for meetings or meals is the equivalent of setting other people at the table. Do you want them there or not?

If You Have the Time.... Do It

I know that I have written about time management in many posts.  But it seems to be a topic that all of us need reminding.  Or rather, a reminder for me. As is typical of life, situations have occurred which underscore the adage, "practice what you preach"!

When I first started in my nursing career, I learned pretty quickly that if there was time to do something "extra"  in my duties, e.g. straightening up a patient's room where medical supplies were kept, then do it right then.  If not, some crisis or urgent matter would soon occur and that opportunity would be lost. 

In my home life I have had similar situations.  If there is time and opportunity to work on a home project, I need to do it.  If not, then it seems as if I will never get back to it.  One day I had some time to work on a simple fixing of a kitchen screen. (Remove the molding around the wood, pull the screen a little tighter., staple in place,reattach the molding and touch up paint on the molding strip.)  Not a big deal. I just didn't feel like doing that project then.  No apparent reason.  I had all the materials and tools I needed.  I had the time and I knew what to do. I just didn't do it.  That was three years ago.  

I have done it with relationships.  Times when all I needed to do was to send a card, an email or a quick phone call.   And I didn't do it.  I just didn't feel like it.  The opportunity of building or cementing a relationship was lost and it is difficult to capture that time again.  

It has happened with my work schedule.  In this new endeavor of writing my time is spent differently than my previous 9-5 job.  I still have a schedule for writing and gathering information and research, but there is some internal and external flexibility.  However, just when I think I have some "extra" time it is quickly taken by urgent demands of family.  

I think of all the time I have wasted.  Sure, I do not think time with others in relationship is wasted but I have wasted it in other ways- "research" on internet, youtube videos, etc.

 I could've been using my time more wisely and judiciously.  

Past history that it is, I should've realized that I always get pulled into situations that will take me from what I am currently doing and I need to be prepared for that.

I would've been prepared for the distractions if I would've done what I intended at the time when it occurred.

Just like I am kicking myself for not saving more money (see post Finances 101- February 22, 2017) I am kicking myself for not using my time more wisely, for not doing what I intended to do and getting waylaid with frivolous, non-productive work.   

What about you?  Do you ever feel that you have missed opportunities?  Times when you could've, should've, would've done things but you didn't?  And now,  you can't go back? What have you learned? Acceptance of things not done?  Guilt over those things hanging over your head?  Plans to change that behavior? 

I need to (re)learn- if there is time to do it.


Ash Wednesday

In the Christian tradition, Ash Wednesday starts the beginning of forty days before Easter (not counting Sundays). It is a time of remembrance and repentance; self-denial, moderation, fasting, and the forsaking of sinful activities and habits.  It is during this time we are called to remember our sin and prepare for the coming Christ.  The ashes (burnt ashes from the previous year's palms from Palm Sunday) are placed on the forehead, "Remember you are dust and to dust shall you return." in the sign of a cross. (Reminder of the redeemed future with God through Christ.)

I’ve always liked the time divisions in the Christian calendar.  Whether you are a Christian or not, there is something manageable about the forty days.   It is enough time to accomplish something but short enough time to offer variety.

It seems as if forty days are a good chunk of time to accomplish something.  I notice this every time I get my hair cut.  My hairdresser always makes sure that I schedule my next hair cut before I leave the one I am having.  I go every eight weeks.  Many times as I leave I think, “Oh, by then I hope to have accomplished thus and such...”  Sometimes I hit the mark.  Other times I need to reevaluate.  Regardless, I feel that the time is doable.  I don’t get overwhelmed. 

Traditionally  the time of Lent (Ash Wednesday- Maundy Thursday) is usually a time of giving up and sacrifice as a symbol of Christ’s sacrifice for us.  The sacrifice is usually one of tangible pleasure- certain foods or activities. 

But what about a sacrifice of time?  Giving up your time in one activity in order to take time for another activity?  For the secular world, forty days is a doable amount to sustain a new habit. What new habits do you want in your life?  Can you commit to practicing it over the next forty days? 


  • Giving up looking at Facebook in order to visit with a friend- a relational habit
  • Giving up running out to “pick up something to eat” (which always takes longer than you think) in order to plan menus for sit down dinners at home- a healthy eating and financial habit
  • Giving up watching Netflix for reading a book suggested from a book club-an intellectual habit
  • Giving up watching the news on television in order to listen to a different news source on the internet/radio-an intellectual habit
  • Giving up your personal gym time for scheduled walking with a friend-a relational and financial habit

What about you?  How do you treat the Lenten season?  Do you give up or take on something for Lent?  Have you ever thought about forty days as a good chunk of time to try something new? 

It's About Time

Lately with all the busy-ness of my life, I haven't had a chance to tackle any of my winter project lists.  The other day I thought I need to get on it and so I set the timer for 15  minutes and knocked off one item on the list. 

I know that I have talked about timers before but they really are helpful.  It gives you permission for a specific time to do whatever you need to get done.  And it gives you permission to stop what you are doing and to move on to something else. 

In January's issue of Real Simple, they had an article of things to do if you have 5 minutes, or an hour  or one weekend. The idea is that you have a go-to place of things that can be accomplished when you find you have a little extra time.  You are able to work towards a goal yet not have to a large chunk of time in order to complete it.  

I keep lists on my desk of things that take approximately fifteen minutes or less.  Whenever I get a little block of time, I try and check off one of those items.

For example:

  • straighten out a couple of dresser drawers
  • sew on a button from my mending  pile
  • organize a pantry shelf
  • sort out linen closet
  • sort out hall closet
  • weed a garden bed
  • return a phone call
  • send out an email
  • get out tools for larger project

What about you?  Do you have a never ending "to- do" list?  Do you ever wonder when and if you will get around to it?  Have you ever used a timer to accomplish a smaller list?  Can you break down your long "to-do" list into fifteen or thirty minute projects?  Will you give yourself permission to work on a project for that amount of time and when the timer dings, you put it aside? 

If you have never used a timer before I would challenge you to try it.  It's about time. 

Time Spent

I can't say that things are settled or "back to normal" in our household following the death of my mom.  We are still reeling with the reality of her not being with us.  But we are trying to figure it out.

I am having difficulty getting my schedule together.  Initially in the first few days we were in emergency mode; things scheduled or planned had to be postponed.  The focus was on my dad and what needed to be done.  Part of that scheduling was dictated by how my dad felt- did he need one of us to stay over, spend the day with him, etc?  He is still very raw with his grief but he is wanting to have some space and time alone which we want to give him.

I try to contact or see him every day.  But looking forward I am noticing that I have a week coming up where I won't be able to see him for about five days and I am feeling anxious about it.  How can I rearrange things to be there?   How did these things creep in when I was trying to have an open schedule? 

I think part of it happened because I don't have a set time on the calendar for my visits with my dad.  I know that eventually we will but for now we are still in the "this is new territory for us" and "we shall see how each day goes" mode.  When my mom was alive, I would see the folks at least every other week for scheduled outings.  We would also check in with one another every three days or so. 

It reminds me that if we don't schedule regular time with one another, it does not happen.  Oh sure, we can have the spontaneous, "Hey, what are you doing for lunch today?"  gathering but generally we don't.  They say nature abhors a vacuum.  I think in our modern culture, schedules abhor a blank space. We will spend our time in a variety of unproductive ways that don't accomplish our overall plans if we are not diligent and intentional about how we spend out time. 

I have noticed that if things are not purposely planned, we end up with a "full schedule" of activities that just appear. If we want to spend time with someone it is generally with any "leftover" time.  It is almost if we think if I have time after I do such and such, then I will visit.  Truthfully, when does that really happen? 

I have also noticed that many approach our time with God the same way.  Only when we have time "left over" we might pray or read the Bible.  Lately I have changed my daily schedule in that reading the Bible and praying is the first thing that I do upon waking.  Once I do that, it seems as if the rest of my day falls into place.  It is doing the first thing, the important thing- first.

Going forward with my dad, I know that once we have a set schedule, ie. visits every Monday, then I can fill in the rest of my time with the activities and obligations that I need and want to do.  When I intentionally have a regular plan with our visits, the rest will fall into place.  Plus I will have the added benefit of knowing that I did the important thing first. 

What about you?  Do you find your time being spent in ways which aren't productive?  Do you find that you can never schedule time to see and visit the people with whom you want?  Have you ever spent your time first scheduling the important items and then filling in with other activities?  How did that go?   Does your time get spent without your input or do you spend your time wisely?  How is your time spent? 


Do the Hard Thing First

Over the weekend we went bicycling around town.  My husband wanted to show me and our home-for-spring-break son a new bicycle path.  It was a lot of fun and as always, we get to see our city in a different light when riding on the back of a bike.

The twenty mile trip was a large loop- heading south from our home, then turning west, heading north and then east back to home.  When we traverse east and west we have to navigate a fairly large hill. There is no way round.   The only choice is which way round: either a very long, fairly gradual uphill climb or a shorter, steeper version.  The guys opted for the shorter, steeper version and did very well climbing it.  I climbed it too but not on the bicycle.  My bike and I had a nice walk  up the hill.

We have done a similar route in the past, but it doesn't include traversing this large hill.  When we do the flatter version, about 2 miles from our home I am ready to return.  I am tired and have had it.  Today, when we came to the same area where I usually am fatigued I thought this is no problem.  After traversing those other hills, this is a piece of cake.   I had done the hard cycling already and so when I came to an area that was difficult but not as difficult as what I had just done,  I was prepared and could do it.

In time management circles they always suggest that one does the hard task, the task that you keep putting off, first. Yesterday I definitely saw why that is.

  1. You get it out of the way.  When you know something is inevitable I find the anticipation is worse than the actuality.
  2. It makes everything that comes afterward so much easier. It puts things in perspective; everything after the hard task seems like a piece of cake even if in the past that "piece of cake" experience was once the hard thing.
  3. You experience  such a relief. There is a collective sigh that one can move on to something else. 

What about you?  Do you have to accomplish something difficult that you keep delaying?  Is it something for work or is it personal?  Is it weighing on your mind?  Why not try and scratch that activity off your to-do list by tackling it first thing in the morning?  Commit to getting the hard thing done first and you may experience a lightness of being the rest of the day.  What do you have to lose?



Ever have the battle between two voices in your head?  This is not the schizophrenic, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" type of voices but just the little things we tell ourselves that generally trip us up.  They are the voices of two differing opinions.

For instance, I have either the Nike "Just Do It"  or Scarlett O'Hara's voice "tomorrow is another day", clammering in my head especially when I have tasks that I am not too keen on beginning. 

In my immediate family this head battle appears to be played out especially in the realm of straightening and putting away household items.  There is the battery operated bicycle reflector that hasn't quite made it to the basement for a fresh battery.  There are the piles of extra Christmas cards that are making the room rounds.  There is the bag of to-be-recycled wine corks that are on their way to their final destination (back to the wine store) yet has somehow moved from kitchen to basement to bedroom.  

Scarlett's mindset is winning.  

In 2016 I plan on being more determined to finish what I start, when I start it.

Many years ago when I worked on a very busy and stressful oncology floor in the hospital I learned that if I had time to do some task, e.g. straighten a room for the next admission, I better do it when I thought about it.  If not, the time and thought would be long gone due to the next pressing event taking its place.  When I didn't accomplish something when I thought about it, I would regret the time lost.

So many times I have not felt like straightening up only to have someone stop by unexpected or I am asked about an item at the bottom of one of my floating piles.  Either way  I am caught unawares and realize that had I only taken care of what I needed to do at the time it needed to be done, I wouldn't feel frazzled.

I have heard that one of the Montessori school program tenets  is to encourage children to learn how to pick up after themselves.  If a preschooler gets out another toy, he/she has to put away the first toy with which he/she was playing.  

Clean up after yourself as you go along.  Not a bad philosophy.

Some time management/organizing gurus suggest taking fifteen minutes each day to put away miscellaneous and stray items.  Keep a basket on each floor of your home.  Anything that is found during the day that is not in its normal place and needs to be returned to its "home" is placed in the basket.  At a specific time during the day (before dinner or bedtime) take fifteen minutes to return the items to its proper location.  

Next time I will unlock the basement door, open it and put the recycling into its container rather than walking past the pile of papers on the floor by the door.  All it takes is a few extra seconds to be done and finished.  Why, I don't do it at the time, I have no idea.

What about you?  Any small, niggling tasks that you tell yourself "tomorrow is another day" and you will start tomorrow?  How long has that conversation been exchanged?  What is preventing you?  Is the task overwhelming?  Would doing one small thing get you started?  Are you too tired to start? 

What refrains are playing through your head?