For any of us with children, this is the question that will quite possibly define our generation as parents. Are we putting our children’s future in harm’s way? Or will the amount of time they spend in front of screens of any size play no significant part in how their lives turn out?
Looking forward, that’s a very hard question to answer. Obviously, there are many factors that play into whether or not someone’s life is successful. And there are many different definitions of success. But there are a few things I remind myself of whenever I ponder this area of our family’s life.
Look to my own behaviours. Whether or not we come to a definitive answer in our culture about “how much is too much”, I can help my children by honestly evaluating how I’m spending my own time. Remember, our children are often a reflection of ourselves. If you see something you don’t like, you're likely the one who needs to make a change.
Establish better defaults. I don’t simply mean that you train yourself to pick up a book instead of your phone every time you have a spare minute (although that’s a good thing to do). But when I preach this to myself, it’s my way of remembering that my motives are important. Am I picking up my phone in order to check something I care about? This gets me to asking what do I care about. Is my default motivation entertainment and pleasure? Or do I feel a broader purpose for my life? Hopefully, the answer to the last one is yes. Then I can start to ask what am I doing right now to achieve that broader purpose? What defaults can I build to get myself moving down that road?
The dose makes the poison. Old adages can be cliché … but often they make a lot of sense. I don’t believe that 30–60 minutes of screen time for my children is a problem provided that there is balance and useful pursuits through the rest of the day. But if I see them spending the rest of the day wandering around not accomplishing much of anything, spending all their time talking or thinking about the screen related activity — that’s when I start to worry.
Creation trumps consumption. Cameron Moll shared recently how they're family had to go back to the "contract" when consumption started to take first place. That's the same for our home, but we also add an emphasis that being creative away from the screen should get as much attention as being creative with a screen.
I don’t have all the answers here. But I think about this a lot. And we talk about it with them. A lot. Even if we don’t get it right, they know our worries, our own struggles, and what we value.
I haven’t used this service, but I sure appreciate the thinking behind it. The team at Doist (the creators of Todoist) noticed how Slack was changing how they worked:
When our remote team started using Slack three years ago, we experienced the subtle but real impact that design has on behavior. From its free-flowing chat channels to its one-line-at-a-time message composers, everything about Slack was designed to keep you communicating with your team in real-time, all the time. (It’s not surprising that the team behind Slack originally designed game apps).
What I loved about this post was their process. They identified how they thought a team communication tool should support their team values. Reading the post, it reminded me a lot of the things the Basecamp team talked about when creating Basecamp 3.
As someone working on a remote team, I greatly appreciate companies that are focused on making this aspect of our work better. To enable us to do our best work, rather than take away from it.
I recommend following the Doist team on Medium. They have a lot of stuff related to their own products, yes. But they also post just plain good stuff (like this post on being a remote working parent). When you find a company that has a great approach to work and running a team, it's almost as good as finding a great personal site.----
I enjoyed this article quite a bit. The author liked the habits of thinkers of old and tries to do the same thing, but rather than a daily routine (in the morning), he does it once per week. He takes 2 hours to do nothing but think.
I like that idea. A lot.
In the evening, I remove all possible distractions, especially electronics like my phone and my laptop, and I basically lock myself in a room to question my work and my lifestyle with a pen and a notebook.
2 hours is a long time, and some of it will feel unproductive and not all of it will be structured, but I have a few general things that I almost always start off with to set me in motion.
Lately, I’ve tried to introduce a little boredom into my life by revamping my morning routine. Instead of turning off the alarm on my phone (which pulls me right into notifications and Instagram), I’ve now switched to an analog bedside alarm.
After turning off the alarm, I purposely avoid all electronics (TV, laptop, phone, etc.) for the first hour of the day. I shower, then take the dog to the local coffee shop, leaving my phone at home. Once I have my coffee (or tea, depending on the day) I just sit, letting myself daydream and wake up slowly for about 30 minutes.
After reading it, I thought it sounded great. But how could I achieve something like this in my own life? With kids, the town we live in, and our location (far from all coffee shops), this routine would not exactly work. But are there other ways to achieve the same net effect?
I spent one morning just giving myself this time to think on things. I spend a lot of mornings reading my Bible, praying, then moving on to studying, writing, or just getting ready for work. Oh, and reading online. So I took one morning and just sat and thought about stuff. It would end in reading my Bible, but I gave myself the entire 90 minutes to just slowly get ready for the day.
But I was still open to other ideas on how to have a time like this. As regularly as possible. It would be hard, obviously, as I do not have a great deal of margin when it comes to my time in this stage of my life.
However, taking a 2 hour block of time each week sounds a lot more doable.
Once he shared that he’d be building this course, I finally took the time to dig into the features in Ulysses that have been peripheral to my usage. The biggest gap was my lack of understanding of the different methods for adding to your primary content. There are four content types to consider:
The Ulysses team cover these in a coupleposts. But neither of those sit down and list out a direct comparison of these items, nor state the best scenario for using each. Different from the last 3, notes are not stored inline, but in the attachments pane. They’re document-centric and give you a place to store thoughts about a sheet as a whole.
The last 3 are inline and serve related-yet-different purposes. Comments (and comment blocks) allow you to add your thoughts about a line or section of text. They’re great in that they stand out and do not count towards you word/character totals. As well, should you export your content, the comments are not included.
Footnotes and annotations are last and are the most similar. Both allow you to add ancillary information to a piece of text. I'll likely start using notes more often, but footnotes and annotations are overkill and not applicable to the kinds of writing I do.
Short story long, it’s been nice to get a better feel for Ulysses and what’s possible with it. If you haven’t yet, check out Learn Ulysses from Shawn and crew.
Living with Anxiety
We don’t talk enough about mental illness. I say that in terms of society in general, as well to myself and the various social circles I’m a part of.
But it is getting better.
Many workplaces seem to be putting more emphasis on mental health. It’s more acceptable to take sick days for a mental break instead of a physical one. People are talking about it more openly. Counselling and therapy seems to carry less stigma.
I want to be a part of this change. Our family has been impacted by anxiety. My wife suffers from a general anxiety disorder. One of our children developed OCD this past year, which is an attempt to manage anxiety. And I myself have struggled with anxiety in past years.
My family’s stories are their own to share, but I’m happy to talk about my own.
What’s your foundation?
It started when I was running Fusion Ads. On the day that Michael and I heard that Twitter had purchased Atebits (the company of Loren Brichter, the developer behind Tweetie), the viability of our business came into question for the first time. Where I had a (somewhat naive) confidence before, I now worried about the impact of this change and the solidity of our business as a whole.
And although Fusion ran fine for the next 18 months until we sold it, my confidence was never the same. And anxiety was a new experience for me.
I was blessed not to suffer with more extreme symptoms, but my struggles manifested in some physical ways. Many nights, I struggled to fall asleep. I could go to bed exhausted from a day of hard work and raising 4 kids, only to almost drift off when — wham! A surge of adrenaline would courses through my veins. Some random thought about money would pop into my head and my mind would start to race. After some time, this process could start to play out during the day as well.
Looking back, I realize I was blessed that my symptoms were limited to a sour stomach and a racing heart. But it’s the mental side of anxiety that is hard to manage.
When someone has a broken leg, we would never tell them they just need to “shake it off”. But that is exactly the mentality we often take towards mental health. “You just need to change how you think about this” and similar statements are the kind of backwards thinking that can add so much stress to a home dealing with mental illness.
I’m not an expert in any way on this topic. But as someone who has fought some battles, please here this:
You cannot solve mental health issues with logic
Trying to explain to someone with OCD that their rituals do not make sense is at best a waste of time. At worst, it’s hurtful and compounds the issue. When dealing with anxiety, the sufferer is already aware it doesn’t make sense. That’s part of what makes it so hard to deal with.
Instead, let’s recognize that this broken world that suffers from the curse of sin is affected at the molecular level. If you are in the process of dying from the moment you're born, things can (and will) go wrong with your body and mind. Let’s get comfortable with the aspects of mental health issues and go about helping our friends and loved ones heal. The same way we would if they had cancer.
Blessing From Suffering
My anxiety still comes up from time to time. But I learned to manage it back in 2010-11. And I did so by changing how I think, to dig underneath the thoughts that would bring the adrenaline, the acid, and the sweaty palms.
My business is frail and I’m a failure! Ok, Chris … what’s the worst thing that can happen if your business fails? People will look down on me! Will they? All of them? And why are you so concerned about your reputation? It’s how I value myself. I don’t want to go back to being unknown!
On and on it goes. You have to dig deep to understand yourself, where your fears and insecurities truly lie.
Thankfully, I have a saviour who redeemed me so I don’t have to be a slave to thoughts like this. And who enables me to be transformed by the renewing of my mind. But I have to guard against this thinking every day. I can still be blindsided by negative thoughts that trigger a cycle of wrong thinking. That cause me to fear the future, rather than rest in the assurance that my future could be no more secure.
This article paints a scary picture. As a father of 4 young ones for whom “screen time” is a highlight of each day, I have a lot of trepidation on the entire topic. It’s a longer read, but the essence of it is that despite being safer during the teen years than most generations before them, teens today have a higher rate of mental illness.
I found the article well written, with the author eschewing the need to wax nostalgic:
To those of us who fondly recall a more analog adolescence, this may seem foreign and troubling. The aim of generational study, however, is not to succumb to nostalgia for the way things used to be; it’s to understand how they are now.
But even just a skim through the article will leave one feeling a little scared when understanding how things are now.
One of the ironies of iGen life is that despite spending far more time under the same roof as their parents, today’s teens can hardly be said to be closer to their mothers and fathers than their predecessors were.
I see the danger of this in my own home. It’s why we focus on a specific time set aside for screen use. And it’s why we have a family computer in a central location (rather than a child’s bedroom).
But I sometime succumb to the fear that these are just stopgap measures in a battle that cannot be won. Heck, I’m losing the battle myself — how can my children do better?
Related: Dave Caolo shares how his own home has changed thanks to our devices and constant connection.