On maintaining a phone vacation

Let’s talk about the last day of vacation.

It always strikes me as a little bit bananas and Twilight Zone-y that the second you step back into life at home, the magic of vacation starts to fade. That last day feels like snapping a glow stick. It’s so bright at first that you can hardly believe it’ll ever dim, but then, within hours, it starts to lose its luster. By the next morning, the glow is completely gone and replaced with something that appears to be old Gatorade.

This is why we buy ugly, overpriced items from gift shops—sweatshirts and mugs and magnets and little toys that light up and dance. We want something tangible to hold onto once the experience itself is over. It makes sense. I’m not hating on souvenirs—my 100 Year Anniversary Packers sweatshirt will arrive in the mail sometime this week. But I do think we can do a better job at keeping a little bit of that vacation spirit alive year-round.

Vacation is an experience and a mindset, but it’s also a behavior.

The experience part can’t be recreated. I’m not going to sit on my sidewalk this morning at 9:30am eating a free popsicle and waiting for professional football players to ride down the street on a kid’s bike, for example. The mindset part can’t be completely recreated, either. I can’t go dark on all forms of work-related communication this week. That’s a great way for a remote employee to go on the permanent vacation known as unemployment. And the majority of my vacation behaviors—walking around the stadium every morning, spending the day frolicking on a football field, eating my body weight in cheese curds—can’t be adopted in regular life.

But I think there is one critical vacation-based behavior that can be replicated. It’s easy and practical. And it never fails to give me that same glow-y feeling of freedom.

I can put my phone down.

This, I’ve come to realize, is one of the best parts of vacation for me. It’s also my favorite part of flying and of international travel. I love being separated from my phone—and I’m not even that attached to it! Jaclyn, one of my best friends from high school, has probably spoken to my voicemail message more often than we’ve actually spoken on the phone.

But even with less-than-average usage, I still feel the gravitational pull. I don’t even realize how often I mindlessly pick up my phone until the second or third day of vacation, when my first thought in any length of downtime is not related to checking Slack, checking Instagram, returning texts, or looking up some piece of information I don’t actually need to know. Instead of reaching for my phone, I just… sit. And after a few days of no notifications and no scrolling, I start to feel profoundly relaxed. My brain suddenly has room to process instead of constantly consuming.

This is critical for all humans, but perhaps especially for people who do creative work.

Nothing good comes from constant consumption. At some point, it stops being productive and starts being a loop that keeps your brain in perpetual motion—and it takes time to get out of that loop. I’ve noticed this more and more. I’ll go out on the porch and think, “There’s not much going on back here today,” because I haven’t stopped long enough to actually notice anything. And then I’ll sit there for more than five seconds and see a bumblebee collecting pollen from the flowers, a hummingbird zooming past, a dozen different birds singing in nearby trees, a bunny discretely camouflaged by tall grass. It was all there for the noticing, but it’s hard to notice when your brain is bombarded with a never-ending stream of new information.

So I’m going to set some phone rules to see if it helps as much in real life as it does in vacation. I’ll respond to texts and personal emails in the morning before work, over lunch, and right after work (with obvious exceptions being made on occasion, because life). I’ll leave my phone in the office after work to keep it completely out of sight in the evening. And I think Instagram will be relegated to the weekend for awhile, just as a test.

It’s not the same as the full freedom of vacation, of course. But I think it could be a piece of that freedom. And until I can go back to the world of sidewalk popsicles and plastic necklaces and stadium laps, I’ll take it.

(And combine it with my new sweatshirt whenever I need a little extra boost.)

Good Things

Soundtrack for this post: Crooked Smile, 5 Year Plan, All the Above (it’s a rap week, apparently)

“Will Reagan Orange” is what I’ve been calling it, but his actual new album is called Vacancy, and it was fully released on Friday.

The Packers Pro Shop is having a clearance sale. You know, just in case anyone else would like some Packers-related souvenirs.

Jordy came home!

Season 2 of In the Dark was infuriating and humbling and hopeful. It made a great companion for the 14-hour drive back.

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  • I have had some success with distancing myself from the constant barrage of “I must check all the things all the time.” As with all things, actual mileage may vary and some settling of contents will occur.

    1. Turn off all of the notifications you can on your phone. I left exceptions for the methods used by people who I want to be able to reach me right away — text messaging for most of my immediate family (with a different ringtone) and one email account.

    2. Relegate work communication to your work laptop, and close that laptop at 5 PM (or whenever your designated EOD/COB time is — and you have one of those, right?). I did leave my work email and Slack connected on my phone, but I turned off the notifications. These concessions were only because of my occasionally mobile nature during the business day, and it takes an intentional act to open those apps and use them — a last resort of sorts.

    3. Install the “Inbox When Ready” plugin for your work Gmail account on your laptop (https://inboxwhenready.org). Set your inbox to be hidden from you except during your designated email times. Communicate your designated email times in your email signature so that people aren’t outraged when you don’t respond immediately.

    I have yet to figure out a good approach to social media. I have made progress; removing the notifications goes a long way. Still, it’s so easy to just pop open Instagram and scroll. Part of what I’ve tried to do is use my casual phone time for reading online articles, and when I really want to do something mindless, play a simple game like 2048 or solitaire — something that doesn’t have constant incentives to keep you hooked. I’d love to just leave the social media platforms altogether, but I have the excuse of needing to stay informed on how they are working for professional reasons.

    • As our good friend Joel Worrall would say, “Word.” 🙂

      This was thorough and helpful! Thank you! And also encouraging, as I’m in the midst of implementing similar ideas. Disabling notifications is a big one—as is stashing my cell phone out of sight as often as possible. When I don’t see it, I’m less likely to veer into thoughts about work/emails/texts/have-to’s-and-should’s. Just its absence alone promotes calm. I’m also a fan of regulating different forms of technology for different types of work/life. I don’t do this often enough, but always find that it helps with boundaries of all kinds.

  • Yes, yes, 100 times yes. When I’m out of town visiting friends, my parents, on vacation, etc. I put away the phone and don’t even have an urge to look at it. I crave that same thing during the normal day to day, but find it so hard to actually achieve. It’s SO worth trying though! I have at least one friend who is notoriously hard to get ahold of because she doesn’t keep her phone on her most of the time. Instead of being frustrated, I find myself saying, “Good for you…” and then I want to leave my phone on the counter too, and walk away. The saddest part for me is that I’m starting to have a hard time even remembering what days were totally like before we were attached to our phones all the time! A good reminder to strive not just for “balance” but for far more “real life” and way less “phone life”… 🙂

    • Yes, Karen! I’m with you 100%! I think it’s a gradual thing—and one I failed at repeatedly this past week, even though I did have less active screen time (thank you, Apple reports) than usual. A work in progress for all of us, but certainly a worthwhile one! 🙂