Many of my friends who read this blog tell me they are working to model good technology habits to their children. For them I recommend the book The Common Rule, by Justin Early. I discovered this book because it was referenced in Cal Newport’s book Digital Minimalism. As it turns out Justin is a corporate lawyer who lives in my home town of Richmond, VA. Some of my readers probably even know him.
Before becoming a lawyer Justin was a missionary in China. As a result the book is heavy on biblical references. The Common Rule’s subtitle is Habits of Purpose for an Age of Distraction. It does a great job of teaching habits that will help you live a life of deep purpose instead of shallow distraction.
The book is a collection of four daily practices and four weekly practices that will help you to live with purpose. I recommend you read the entire book. Full disclosure, I am currently only one third of the way through listening to the book using the Hoopla app to get it free from my library. Here are a few highlights of the book that already make me recommend it.
One of the suggested fail habits is to have a meal with other people at least once a day. If you’re single and live alone perhaps this meal is lunch with coworkers. Having a set time to eat with people will create an environment where the meal, and time together, becomes a priority instead of an afterthought. Eating dinner together as a family, phone free, shows your kids that family time is a priority for your family because that’s what you make time for.
He also discusses the trap of multitasking. Our smart phones create an environment where it is easy to do two or more things at once. But just because you can do things doesn’t mean you should. The brain can’t concentrate on two things at once. How often do you have to ask people to repeat what they said because you were reading something on your phone? The lesson here is that single tasking shows you care. Not having your phone out at dinner or while talking to your kids shows them the time with them is most important to you and you care what they have to say enough to be fully present and listen.
The book even suggests turning your phone off, or at least setting it to do not disturb, in the evenings. When my kids were younger I only saw them from 5:30, when I got home, until 7:00 when they went to bed. If you only see your kids for 90 minutes a day, make them your top priority for that short time. Set your phone to automatically go on do not disturb. Train people that might call with an emergency to call you twice if it really is an emergency. Your phone likely has a feature that will allow the second call through when on do not disturb mode.
In addition to turning off your phone, the book suggests having a place in your home where you store your phones instead of keeping them in your pocket. Just like you have a place where you keep your keys, set up a charging station and store your phones in a set location. You can even ask friends to store their phones there when they visit. This may even encourage them to start the habit in their home.
In the later sections of weekly habits, which I haven’t actually read yet, the book talks about making time each week to talk with a friend for one hour or more. This is closely related to last weeks post on calling a friend instead of scrolling on your phone.
It also recommends limiting your media consumption to 4 hours a week. You can use the remaining time to interact with friends and loved ones, workout, practice a hobby, learn a language or musical instrument, or read. For tips on how to set your phone to help you with this read this previous post.
The final chapter of the book suggests having a weekly technology sabbath. This is actually a common idea listed in books about technology addiction. Giving yourself a day off from technology will allow you to experience how life feels when you are not bombarded by constant interruptions from people, or worse your apps. Perhaps you make Sundays device free in your family from sunup to sundown? Give your family a day to be fully present with each other. You might be surprised by the things you find you enjoy doing together and the conversations that result.
Here’s a crazy idea, make a second day of the week where you have a technology sabbath at work. Remember email free Friday’s? These were popular for two reasons. One, it reduced the number of interruptions coming in through your inbox. Second, it taught people how to have two way conversations again at work. The face to face interaction helps build stronger working relationships, saves time versus writing an email, and improves communication. I discussed similar topics in this post