Life without screens Part 1

Spent Friday 18th January working on projects and living life without screens.  I should probably define screens a little more.  I watched the news and a film on TV.  I used my phone for calls, texts, listening to music and taking photo’s.  When I say life without screens, I really mean the internet, which for me is defined by screens. Even when I switched my ‘Smart’ TV on, I almost had social TV injected into my eyeballs.  Thankfully the ‘Smart’ TV isn’t that smart, and it’s most common feature called ‘not being smart at all’ worked perfectly.

I’ve had a daily scaffold that I’ve implemented on and off for a few years, it looks a little like this:

Get up, ride bike/run, eat, check calendar for the stuff that has to happen today, do something non email, check emails.

I also have some other ‘rules’.  I only respond to email after 2pm.

This structure has been in place, and, like most structures after time, it needs a bit of re-structuring, as it’s no longer supporting me in the way I want it too.  It is no longer possible for me to keep to this the majority of the time.  It’s great in theory, but in practice, it’s not working.

Going right back to the reason for having any kind of structure, it started with the reading of a blog post by Merlin Man, which led onto the reading of a book by David Allen, which led to lots of big changes in how I do stuff.  It’s also led to the business I now spend 4 days a week working on, People Who Do.  4 days a week is hard to keep to, my fifth working day has been assigned to 2 other projects, Stanley James Press, a design company I work on with Emily, and learning how to make good photo’s, something I’ve been trying to do for a long time.

The normal working week looked like this: Mon-Thursday: People Who Do, some work in Brighton, some in London.  A mixture of client work, designing new tools and projects, and admin business stuff. Friday: Stanley James Press or photo stuff - only, I am so drained by the first 4 days of the week, some of them long days, that I haven’t been putting what I want to put into this stuff.  What I have been doing, is catching up on more People Who Do stuff and procrastinating, and I have the perfect tools for being an expert in procrastinating.  I have a brain, hands, eyes and they connect to the internet via my iPhone, iPad and other electronic devices.  Like a sedative drug, they are the thing I turn to when drained.  I often kid myself these things are useful, that I’m learning something, finding out about what’s going on in the world, with my friends and family.  It’s become very obvious to me the one thing I am not doing is doing and making - 2 things that are very important to me.

It would be far to simple for me to blame all of this on screens and the internet.  These things help with so much in my personal and work life, that it would be hard to see how we could do what we do without them.  But, like all great things, you are going to get sore if you keep playing with them, no-body wants chafing on their internet.

The new structure is pretty simple.  It looks a little like the old one, as in, I will attempt to start my day with non email/internet stuff where possible.  I am going to remove the rule about responding to emails after 2.  It hasn’t really been in use for months, despite being mentioned in my signature.  I don’t think I have any clients, friends or other that expects me to respond to emails straight away.  They all know to call me if it’s urgent.  They all know that I have a system in place that means their email will get the attention it deserves, but, at the right time, not when I’m in the middle of something else.

The biggest change to the structure is the Friday without screens.  I thought I’d start with an extreme and see how it went.  I had to plan for the day, as the things I wanted to do entailed responding to a couple of emails, so I printed them out and hand wrote notes on what to reply with.  I also printed out my calendar for the day and some other project stuff I needed.  I picked a book to read, “How to think like a great graphic designer”.  In the end my day looked like this:

6:30am Woke up - Read book in bed for an hour

7:30am Showered, dressed, walked to coffee shop, read book, eat breakfast, made notes from book

8:30am Walked in the snow listening to Berberian Sound Studio (perfect soundtrack for snow walk), took photo’s

10am Worked on Photo project ideas and drafted response to potential collaborators

11:30am Planned potential ideas for non screen Friday’s

12pm Watched Cartier Bresson Documentary

1pm Lunch with Emily

2pm Train to countryside for snow walk and photograph making

5pm Rode 17 miles on bike

6pm Watched news on TV

Relaxed, eat dinner, watched a film, slept

I had some thoughts throughout the day, mainly that there were some things I wanted to order from an online photography store, and was frustrated my self imposed rule wouldn’t allow that.  But, it wasn’t an emergency, it could wait.  I also wanted to track the snow, but, then I realised it was better to track the snow outside, playing and walking in it.  The one thing that didn’t bother me at all was email.  At no point did I think to myself “What if someone/thing important is sitting in my inbox”.  I really wish I could get some of my clients to move into this mindset, but I know it’s not a simple thing, and I try hard to understand the things that block this kind of thinking.

My concern is that at some point, someone is going to call me on a Friday and say “Curtis, I just sent you that super important document that needs reviewing by 5 or else we won’t get that bit of business”.  This is where it’s important to manage expectations with as many people as possible.  I need to let my business partners know I am working in this way, I need to let clients know about this new structure.  And if they don’t respect it or understand it, it might mean changing some relationships.

I also had some thoughts on how this structure can be implemented on a daily basis, not just talked about, actually made to work.  It almost seems easier doing a whole day compared to imposing timed screen/non screen times into everyday.  These thoughts are not fully formed yet, but I imagine getting rid of some technology, splitting some days into modes of work.

What did I get out of it on a creative level?  I read more, long form content, not just twitters.  I focused on somethings that are really important to me.  I had some space to think.  This is going to sound a bit hippyish, but, I felt like I was more connected to myself, in tuned with what I was doing and what I wanted to achieve with my day.  I’m really looking forward to next Friday.