I did some light reading on time-use recently and came across some insightful observations from researcher John Robinson. He’s spent the last four decades reviewing thousands of “time journals” from people around the world.
Contrary to what you might think, Robinson argues we have more free time today than when he started keeping records in the ’60s, something The Atlantic corroborates. Only now we choose to fill that free time with overwork or busy-ness instead of proper leisure (e.g. relaxation, hobbies, or adventures) because that’s how many of us validate our existence.
A few highlights from Robinson’s research: People in Spain spend the most time walking (good for them!), Italians and Slovenians spend the most time relaxing (nice!), and Bulgarians (not Americans!) spend the most time watching TV (tsk, tsk). In the United States, people spend more time on computers than any other country, they volunteer more, and they spend the most time taking care of children and the elderly.
I suspect the increase in childcare is partially due to the rise of helicopter parenting. But those are mostly noble uses of American’s time, I believe. That is, of course, if we’re using computers to work smarter, work less, and facilitate really cool offline adventures.—Blake Snow
The story first published to blakesnow.com in 2014
To young, developing minds, social media can be just as harmful as underage drinking, driving, and firearm use. At least that’s what many experts told me while researching Log Off: How to Stay Connected after Disconnecting. Having witnessed the declining mental health and fortitude of children in recent years, I believe it.
But it’s not just children that are suffering and social media isn’t the only unregulated problem. Smartphone, internet, and online gaming use in general can be just as toxic, especially for children and upwards of 50% of American adults (myself included). Continue reading…
Here’s how I explained the idea in chapter 7: “Of all the research I’ve reviewed over the last decade, The Four Burners Theory is the leading cause of dying with regret. The theory argues that an individual’s life can be divided into four quadrants, or “burners,” of a conventional stove: family, friends, health, and work. “In order to be successful you have to cut off one of your burners,” the theory states. “And in order to be really successful you have to cut off two.”
But since publishing the book, I’ve slightly updated the more traditional definition of the four burners. I do this by merging friends and family into a single “social” category, which many people already do, while adding “hobbies,” which is a huge area that humans devote time to. In that way, the updated burners cover all of your bases.
The same gas limits still apply, of course. If you want to be iconic at the expense of others, pick just one and jack up the heat (think: Steve Jobs). If you want to be great, pick only two burners and run ’em hot. If you want to be good, pick three burners and cook moderately. If you want to be well-rounded and multi-dimensional, slow burn all four.
It once occurred to a certain king, that if he always knew the right time to begin everything; if he knew who were the right people to listen to, and whom to avoid; and, above all, if he always knew what was the most important thing to do, he would never fail in anything he might undertake.
And this thought having occurred to him, he had it proclaimed throughout his kingdom that he would give a great reward to any one who would teach him what was the right time for every action, and who were the most necessary people, and how he might know what was the most important thing to do.
Several learned men came to the King, but they all answered his questions differently (e.g. advance planning, multi-tasking, mentoring, high-ranking people, science, warfare, religion).
All the answers being different, the King agreed with none of them, and gave the reward to none. But still wishing to find the right answers to his questions, he decided to consult a hermit, widely renowned for his wisdom. Continue reading…
A businessman was standing at the pier of a small coastal village in Mexico. Just then, a skiff docked with one humble fisherman inside. His boat contained several large yellowfin tuna.
The businessman complimented the fisherman’s catch and asked how long it took to reel them in. “Only a little while,” the fisherman replied. The onlooker then asked why he didn’t stay out longer to catch more fish. The fisherman said he had enough to support his family’s needs. “What do you do with the rest of your time?” the man pressed.
“I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siestas with my wife, stroll the village each evening, sip wine, and play guitar with my amigos,” the fisherman replied. “I live a full life, señor.” Continue reading…
The following was presented last week as part of my book event series
A year after publishing my best-selling book, Log Off: How to Stay Connected after Disconnecting, the most popular question I’m asked is, “How do I get my kids off their phone?” After speaking with many psychologists, researchers, parents, and tech experts, in addition to testing said advice on my own household, I’ve found five convincing answers to this timely and challenging question.
But why are so many people asking this question? The short answer is parents love their kids and know first-hand how addictive said devices can be, especially for developing minds. The long answer involves stark evidence that smartphones: a) complicate childhood, b) increase exposure to bullying and sexual content, c) impair sleep, and d) increase both anxiety and depression.
Because of this, most psychologists, medical experts, and even tech executives recommend delaying or waiting until age 14 for basic voice and texting phones, and then up to 16 for smartphones and/or data plans. “There is no reason that a teenager really needs a smartphone,” says one Silicon Valley psychologist. “They are not taking care of a family, nor are they running a business. Therefore, a basic cellphone should be adequate for their needs.”
When you consider that these devices can be just as powerful as (or more so than) driving a car, it’s no coincidence that the ideal age falls within legal driving range of 14-16 (depending on the state). Nevertheless, the responsibility lies upon parents, guardians, teachers, and our collective villages to teach and instruct children on how to use and get the most from this powerful tools while avoiding the negative heads-down behavior they often cause.
If you’re hoping for a silver bullet to rid your children of their bad phone habits, I cannot help you. But if you looking for proven advice that’s easy to understand but often difficult to master, consider these five effective ways, according to the latest research: Continue reading…
Turkey, ham, presents and Santa are no longer the only staples of the holiday season. Smartphones — and more specifically family members staring wide-eyed at screens around the dinner table — have become a common holiday sight.
Utah author Blake Snow wants to see that change. His book, “Log Off: How to Stay Connected After Disconnecting,” chronicles his divorce from a life in front of screens. Having spent time as a tech blogger and a freelance writer, Snow knows putting the phone down for good isn’t an option in today’s world, but he’s learned to find a balance that allows him to use his phone as a tool rather than allowing it to become a way of life. His book — a “self-help memoir” — aims to help others tackle that seemingly impossible task.
“I want to take advantage of these powerful devices and tools,” he said. “But I want to set boundaries with them, rather than have them hinder or distract me from doing the things I love.”
Snow spoke with The Deseret News to share his best tips for putting down the phone during the holiday season and how to sustain minimal phone usage long after Christmas dinner is over. Continue reading…
As a leading psychologist, Shawn Achor has spent two decades studying happiness. His bona fides include award-winning researcher and teacher at Harvard, best-selling author on positivity, and popular TED lecturer.
So when he speaks you should listen. For instance, Achor asserts our circumstances — including age, race, gender, social status, and wealth — only account for 10% of our happiness. The rest is determined by our genetic baseline for happiness (i.e. optimist vs pessimist) and our individual intentions, including the way we spend our time and the things we ponder.
Obviously, happiness means different things to different people. But there are plenty of standardized things we can do to boost our chances of finding it. Somethings such as knowing oneself, learning how to forgive, and balancing the personal, professional, and social demands on our time can be life-long pursuits.
But other happiness-building attributes are quite easy, Achor argues. In order from least difficult to most difficult, they are as follows: Continue reading…
If you’re reading this, I’m guessing you like money. What does money have to do with offline balance, though?
In my research, everything. Next to fame and sex—which by no coincidence are often facilitated by money—the latter is arguably the most sought after thing in life, particularly (but not exclusively) for male species.
For purposes of this newsletter, however, I won’t preach to you on the ill-guided focus of money or bottomless cup that is greed. Instead, I’ll let smarter people do it for me: Continue reading…
There are a lot of productivity myths. For instance, early birds are more productive, structure kills creativity, adding resources increases output, and more. Although well intentioned, these are all wrong.
So what works? What productivity hypotheses have been tested and proven by science? After sifting through dozens of top search results, reports, and studies, this is what I found. The most convincing, substantiated, and established productivity strategies: Continue reading…
Humans are more distracted now than ever before, at least since we’ve started keeping records. Over the last decade, the average attention span has dwindled from 12 seconds in 2000 to just eight seconds in 2014, according to the U.S. Library of Medicine. The kicker: our eight second attention spans are one second shorter than a goldfish’s. No joke.
Who or what’s to blame for such abhorrent focus? “External stimulation,” says the Library of Medicine. That’s code for mobile internet, apps that vie for our attention, push email, social media alerts, work from anywhere, persistent connectivity, and our enthusiastic adoption of “the internet of things.” In other words, the only person we can blame is ourselves.
What’s a working professional to do then? You have three options, according to popular thinking: fall off the grid, stick with default technology settings for substandard productivity, or my personal favorite, set usage boundaries to upgrade concentration, contributions, and welfare levels.
For those interested in options one or two, this article won’t be any help. But for for those interested in the latter, there’s quite a lot you can do to stay focused in a 24/7 world. After extensive online research, here is the most celebrated and pragmatic advice for doing just that: Continue reading…
“Writing an essay that started with a chicken in my shower turned out to be the most meaningful accomplishment of my life,” says Noelle Hancock. “It’s unfathomable and humbling, having strangers say you inspired them to leave a job, relationship, or place they weren’t happy in—even when others told them it was a terrible idea.”
Five years ago, Hancock left a $95,000 job and the capital of the world to scoop ice cream on the U.S. Virgin Island of Saint John. Why? She didn’t like her increasingly wired and phone-driven life in New York. Four quiet years later, an old friend asked her to state her reasonings in a story for Cosmopolitan. The story blew up. Continue reading…
In recent years, a new ideology has emerged. It is this: work-life balance is impossible; therefore, humanity must embrace work-life blending instead.
I tried work-life blending for six years before we ever called it that. I’m here to tell you it stinks and is largely a pipe dream—nothing more than a new term coined by self-absorbed workaholics to justify their personal regrets, negligence, and imbalances in life.
Smart people don’t make better decisions because they’re smart. They make better decisions, research shows, because they habitually do the following:
1. Remove unimportant decisions. If a decision doesn’t have an impact on your work, relationships, or spirit, then remove it from consideration. For example, many CEOs, heads of states, or creative people wear the same thing every day. Steve Jobs wore blue jeans and a black turtleneck everyday. Mark Zuckerberg only wears blue jeans and a gray t-shirt. Similarly, the leader of the free world only wears blue or gray suits, “Because I have too many other decisions to make,” the president recently told Vanity Fair. “I’m trying to pare down decisions,” he added. “I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing.”
For those of us without a personal chef, deciding what kinds of food to eat is a very important decision. But removing or outsourcing unimportant decisions to other people helps us make more meaningful decisions. One of the ways I achieve this is by removing TV from my life, limiting the number of sportsball games I watch, and restricting the number of news sources I read to only three per day. Doing so introduces more social encounters, analog experiences, and thought-provoking literature into my life, which make me a better writer (instead of regurgitator). Continue reading…
For years, we’ve been planning to build a new house for our growing family. With that decision, we pegged a lot of other things to it, such as a new living room, new places to see, and even a family dog.
“Let’s update the living room after we move,” we told ourselves. “Let’s hold off on that vacation until we’re settled. Let’s wait for a dog until we have our own yard.”
We’ve held that belief for many years with various plans, not just shelter. Wait, wait, wait. When.. when… when… After, after, after. Continue reading…
Half of Americans say they lead “imbalanced” lives, according to a recent survey. I’m not sure if that’s better or worse than what I’ve anecdotally experienced. But it’s worse than other countries.
Of course, finding balance has always been a part of the human condition, at least since the industrial revolution, if not before—many recorded and Biblical accounts acknowledge this. Our imbalance plight accelerated in the ’80s, however, after we entered the information age.
From the short and sweet files: “Man sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”—Dalai Lama XIV
“I really wish I spent more time on my phone,” said no one ever. I doubt anyone will.
And yet, many of us can’t resist the Kavorka of our phones, in times of idleness or activity. What’s a modern human to do?
Don’t worry, Internet denizens. I got you. After five years on a lean, enlivening, and offline-rich phone diet, here are eight things you can do right now to put your phone in check, free yourself from its compulsive clutches, and live in the moment: Continue reading…
“What do you do?” is a question humans often hear. It’s a new acquaintance’s favorite ice breaker because it’s socially acceptable, easy to answer, and easy to process. Doctor. Carpenter. Businessman. Homemaker. Forget and move on.
Problem is, we are so much more than our occupation, even workaholics (although they might not realize it if wholly absorbed by their trade). The better question to ask when meeting new people is this: “What do you like to do?” Asking that will give you a truer glimpse of who someone is, because what we think about and do under no obligation is a better indicator of who we really are.
Americans rank near the bottom in work-life balance because we work more than anyone, that much we know. (Caveat: We don’t work more than we used to, according to decades of research by John Robinson. We just perceive busy-ness as work and fill our free time with it. More on that later.)
But we don’t have to work as much as we do. Quite the opposite, in fact. “Researchers note that productivity rates have risen, which theoretically lets many people be just as comfortable as previous generations while working less. Yet they choose not to,” reports the New York Times. Even visionaries admit as much. “The idea that everyone needs to work frantically is just not true,” says Google CEO Larry Page. “Reducing the workweek is one way to solve the problem.”
I decided to do just that recently in switching from a five to four-day workweek. Like after I quit working nights and weekends, I won’t ever go back (given the choice). In four days, I’ve gotten just as much done as I did in five, because I waste less time now. As the forward-thinking Jason Fried explains, “Constraining time encourages quality time. When you have a compressed workweek, you focus on what’s important.”
So we have evidence that all this snazzy technology lightens our load, increases our productivity, and allows us to work less. And yet we still choose to work more than we need to. Why?! I’ve researched the issue for my book and came away with the following five answers: Continue reading…
I quit social media four years ago. By that I mean I quit Facebook, Twitter*, Google+, LinkedIn and other “social networks” that require the declaration and management of electronic relationships. Since then, my personal and professional lives have been greatly enriched. So much so, I don’t plan to join digital social networks ever again. (More on that here.)
Unless, of course, those networks can enhance my physical relationships. Consider, for example, Google Hangouts, an ad-hoc social network. After reluctantly declining six months of invites, my wife recently convinced me to join. I’m glad I did. It’s allowed me to stay in close touch with extended family without colleagues, associates, admirers, like-minded people, or old high school acquaintances getting in the way. It’s also let me indulge in animated gifs.
But even this endearing network has become a distraction at times. By my own doing, it’s sometimes made me lose sight of the big picture. Continue reading…
Ev Williams believes the internet is “a giant machine designed to give people what they want.” In a speech reported by Wired, the co-inventor of Blogger and Twitter added, “We often think the internet enables us to do new things, but people just want to do the same things.”
For instance, we want to socialize, entertain ourselves, learn, and make work easier. The internet does all four better than any other convenience of the last century.
It does this in two ways, Williams explains. “Big hits on the internet (think Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon) are masters at making things fast and not making people think… But the internet is not a utopian world. It’s like a lot of other technological revolutions.” Continue reading…
I’ve vouched for “email free” nights and weekends for several years now. Work-related email, that is. With proper planning and discipline, I’m convinced 99% of white collar workers would benefit, especially when allowing for no more than 3-4 emergency checks per year. Continue reading…
This edition of the Offline Newsletter is written by an unknown author as told by my father, Brent Snow. As you work to find your digital sweet spot this year, I hope this serves as inspiration.—Blake Snow
There is a story about a billion dollar luxury liner, outfitted with every possible appointment, convenience, necessity, and designed to gratify every decadent demand of its prominent passengers. This floating Taj Mahal, booked solid for months by wealthy citizens and exporters, exhibited a phenomenally delicate profit margin in which time was money. Lots of money. For this great ship to sit idle for even an hour would cost the owners millions of dollars.
As such, every effort had been made to ensure that the ship would operate at peak efficiency. The engine room had as many backup systems and fail-safe mechanisms as an Apollo rocket. No detail had been overlooked in building the most reliable, durable mechanical equipment money could buy. The engine room was staffed by officers, experts, and mechanics from around the world. Each stood vigil in a gleaming white uniform looped with gold braid and brass buttons. Computer systems, draped in matted plastics and steel, lined the walls. Nothing could possibly go wrong. Continue reading…
They didn’t always look that way. Like most smartphone users, I used to set all my alerts to interrupt my life the second anything came in. Voice calls. Emails. Texts. Software alerts. Website comments. RSS updates. (Keep in mind this was before social media, so things have gotten worse.)
These distractions understandably drove my wife crazy because I was, in essence, having an affair with my phone. White lies were told when asked, “Blake, what were you doing?” Often times I’d leave the room – or wherever it was we were vacationing – for “a quickie” to avoid sideways glances that accurately accused me of being elsewhere in thought, priority, and identity.
I did this for a couple of years until it drove me crazy. I had formed a love/hate disorder with my phone. I liked it for the conveniences it did then (and now), but I knew I was unable to have a personal life with my leash-phone around. So I began purposefully leaving it behind on nights and weekends. Continue reading…
I don’t know the scientific name, but I’m one of the lucky creatures that possesses an insatiable curiosity. As such, I use the Internet not only for work-related and entertainment purposes; I use it to satisfy every conceivable whim I encounter within my immediate environment on any given day.
For example, I often ask myself, “I like this song—I wonder where this band is from?” Or, “What other films has this director made?” Within seconds, Wikipedia has the answer. Last week, I overheard someone mention the country of Chad—a mystical place in west Africa. “Why haven’t I ever heard of this place?” I thought to myself. An hour later—thanks to Google—I was entrenched in all things Chad and was prepared to write an introductory discourse on the republic to attentive undergrads.
But as with all things in life, too much of anything is unhealthy. Except for maybe air guitar, chocolate cake, and dancing. But I digress. The trouble is we’ve reached a point with personal technology that it is so accessible, so immediately gratifying, and so demanding that digital indulgence is no longer just affecting information junkies like me. It’s affecting everyone. Continue reading…
When I said last month to ditch your smartphone, I did so with tongue firmly in cheek. I was being provocative.
After all, I own a smartphone. (It’s the kind that half of you love and the other half hate.) But I dumb it down by keeping it on a tight work leash, leaving my text messages on silent, and not subscribing to a data plan.
I also hold most the apps for my phone in contempt. Why? Because the words, “This app has made me a happier person,” has never been uttered. By anyone.
No, no. I can’t stand (most) apps. They’re distracting, fleeting, gimmicky, and largely first world junk. Digital versions of something you’d find at the dollar store. Continue reading…
Editor’s note: The Anti-Technologist is a new column by Blake Snow. It advocates late adoption of consumer technology until proven useful, and dishes advice from Snow’s forthcoming book, Finding Offline Balance in an Online World.
In 2009, I had a radical idea. “What if I canceled my phone’s data plan?” This was undoubtedly a first-world problem—I get it. But for someone who had previously spent 1,300 consecutive days attached to a Blackberry or iPhone from wake until sleep, it mattered.
The catalyst behind the idea: A weeklong trip in a remote Montana cabin with family and friends. No cellphone coverage. No internet. Just a landline, a moose lick, a horseshoe pit, and a river running through it.
Although initially apprehensive about the trip—”How am I suppose to continue my affair with work while on vacation now!?”— I was molded by it within a matter of days. As my wife said at the time, “With no online distractions, the social aspect had dramatically improved.” Continue reading…
I’m convinced that cellular data plans will someday replace the broadband cable lines most of us still use to access the internet. I also think data plans are great for mobile workers, extended-stay vacationers, or anyone else who doesn’t have access to the internet for the entirety of the work day.
I also know, however, that the last four years of my life after quitting my data plan have been irreversibly better than the four previous years in which I subscribed to a plan. The reason I abandoned the portable internet? In short, I did it because I was tired of being on a self-imposed work leash. That and the “always there” internet didn’t mesh well with my indulgent lust for information. So I cut it.
A lot of people I encounter are surprised by this, mostly because the mainstream view incorrectly assumes that staying on an internet-connected smartphone for extended periods lets you get ahead in life (i.e. make more money). It doesn’t. It’s just an illusion. In fact, all-day internetting actually leads to less inspired work, since obsessive users are never able to truly break away, recharge their batteries, and return to work with a hungry mind.
Nevertheless, smartphones are still great, even on dumb plans like mine. Here’s why: Continue reading…