Perhaps I’m confessing too much, but I often try to avoid making decisions late at night. Ever since my college days, I’ve struggled to disconnect from my day, to stop working, and to just make good choices in general.
When I’m tired, I need routines and plans to be set in place. I need a good book to help me settle down along with a simple bedtime routine.
This could explain why I plowed through Richard Rohr’s, Thomas Merton’s, Henri Nouwen’s, and Martin Laird’s writings about contemplation so rapidly. I just needed the routine of reading something that could capture my attention, and each of those authors hooked me right away.
Adding my smartphone to the mix in the evening was terrible for my sleep until I chose some blocks and reminders to help me make better choices. For instance, the Freedom app on my phone blocks the internet so I can’t look up anything. That’s great news for me since I could spend the night looking through home improvement sites now that we’re buying a home!
I set up the Freedom app in a moment of strength, when I was sharp and aware of my basic need for sleep. Once bedtime hits, I feel the pull to start doing research into, well, anything. But at 9 pm the Freedom app shuts down my internet access on my phone’s browser.
There are a few times when Freedom has a bug and doesn’t set up the block on time. Those are usually the nights when I want to look up “just one more thing…”
And even on my computer, I could always work on just one more thing. In that case, Freedom kicks on at 9:30 pm, saving me from working too late into the night but giving myself a bit of wiggle room if I have an urgent deadline to meet.
Similar blocks set up in moments of clarity, intention, and determination help me with social media. For instance, I use the Self Control 2 app to block all social media sites on my computer while still allowing general internet access for my work. One of my favorite tricks is to restart my computer at the end of my work day and to then set up a long social media block into the next day.
For instance, if I end my workday at 5 pm, I may set up my block for 20 hours. That still leaves me the entire afternoon on the next day for social media use if I need it, but then I don’t have to think about it before bed time or in the morning when I’m most likely to be productive.
The Self Control 2 timer runs all night while my computer sleeps and reminds me first thing in the morning that social media is off limits.
Since using this strategy, I have never missed any important messages or events. I always have plenty of time on social media, and my attention isn’t fragmented in the morning hours when I’m most productive at work or most receptive for spiritual practices.
Even better, my work and spiritual practices aren’t disrupted by what I read on social media at the start of the day. I think we underestimate just how distracted, unsettled, or worried we can become through what we see on social media.
I recognize that we all have different goals, requirements, and challenges before us with technology use. The overall principle I follow is to set up my boundaries when I’m best capable of making good decisions.
Honestly, when I’m a bit ashamed of wasting time on a website or app, I may be the most motivated to make a change! We’re all different, so we all need to sort out which boundaries help us remain emotionally, spiritually, and relationally healthy.
I remember scrolling through Instagram one night for far too long and then resolving to delete it when I realized just how late it was. I have not put the app back on my phone since.
Just as you don’t want to force yourself to make decisions about eating ice scream when you have a freezer stacked with quarts of your favorite flavors and your belly is rumbling, you don’t want to force yourself to make decisions about phone use when your will is weakest.
The good news is that our computers, smartphones, and even social media (on occasion) can be used productively to help ourselves and others. If we sort out our boundaries sooner than later, we can preserve all of those good uses without losing out in the other vitally important areas of our lives.