My good friend, who is also a master craftsman, built a fence for our new tiny backyard. I could not believe how much space we had once the boundaries were visible. My friend said, “Once you define a space it becomes useful.”
The concept of boundaries is hard to explain, hard to learn and hard to clarify, so my little ears perked up at his educated observation. When we do not have clear boundaries for work, for play, for me, for you, for beginnings and for endings, we aren’t really sure how to use our space. We only have a vague sense of what to give, what to keep, what to share, what to finish or what to start.
Over the past few decades, the concept of emotional boundaries has revolutionized the realm of psychology. With the interconnectedness of all of our lives, physical and mental boundaries are the new challenge of our generation. I am especially sensitive to this because of the two teenagers who live in my house. The texts, group messages, updated snapchats and whatever else was invented yesterday NEVER STOPS. We have a goal (or I have a dream?) that our rooms will be a sacred space. That we can put our heads on the pillow and be with our own thoughts for just a little while. This isn’t something we’ve ever had to be intentional about before.
Cal Newport has a shutdown ritual that he performs at the end of every work day. It could also be employed to create a boundary between your virtual life and your real life. If you think that your virtual life is your real life, I get it. We would not be able to make a living without our virtual life. What I am distinguishing here is the work/play/connection that happens in a separate portal from your reality-the people you are with, the food you need to cook or eat, the bathroom break you need to take, your workout, your shower…the physical and emotional needs of being a human. You can’t change a baby’s diaper with an app, or connect those tiny places in their brains by rocking them to sleep with an educational show on Netflix. Human connection, human touch, meeting human needs and having those needs met is still just as essential as it’s ever been.
Now, back to that shutdown ritual. Hopefully, you can design a personalized version for yourself. Here is what our pal, Cal, does:
1. Take a final look at my email/inbox to see if anything requires an urgent response before the day ends.
2. Transfer any new tasks that are on my mind or were scribbled down earlier in the day into my official task list.
3. Skim every task in the list and look at the next few days on my calendar to take notice of upcoming deadlines or appointments.
4. Make a rough plan for the next day.
5. Once the plan is created, I say, “Shutdown complete.”
(From Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport)
When we are flooded with incomplete tasks, never ending text threads, another breaking story popping up like infinite kleenex, we give over our focus to what someone else has said we should think about. Most importantly we forget to think for ourselves, we forget to dream, we forget how to use what belongs to us.
The great irony is that technology has opened up a world of opportunity for us which is often impossible to access because of the world technology has opened up to us. Sometimes, when I want to use the magical world wide web, I will use my husband’s computer or my daughter’s phone so that I can choose what to explore without the distractions of my personal devises.
Consider creating some shut down rituals for yourself and start brainstorming again about what you want to do with this freshly defined space.
Do you want to make music?
Do you want to become an expert in sea turtles?
Do you want to take a photography class?
Do you want to explore your neighborhood?
Do you want to host a gathering?
Do you want to read a classic novel? A mystery? A memoir?
Do you want to write a letter?
Do you want to visit your grandmother?
Do you want to make sun tea?
You have more room in your life than you think you do. I promise.