Why I don’t use email or social media before noon


For many years, I would wake myself up — squinting in the dark, one eye open and one eye closed— to the blue-white glare of my iPhone screen. It was my daily dose of morning mundanity. Some familiar reactions that followed: irritation at a hysterical client email (should I respond immediately?), worry at my (then) boss’s email tone (I must respond immediately!), mild interest in some jeans I can’t afford, an enticing job posting, or engagement / world-travel / celebratory photos posted by high school acquaintances I haven’t spoken to in years (what am I doing with my life?

Occasionally, there’d be a long message from someone I love, a one-word text from my mother (Hi, she writes, no punctuation), or a nature photo on Instagram that sets a calm mood for my day. 

But mostly, checking my phone right after waking up is me trying to satiate two cravings: a need for consumption (of interesting tidbits of information), and a need for some small token of validation (to say, yes, Kening, you exist). And anything, really, will do. 

Why is this a problem?

I’m a strong adherent to the idea that what we do in the first thirty minutes after waking up affects how we frame the rest of the day. This tendency to lie in bed and scroll through my feeds distressed me for a few reasons: 

  1. Mindlessness:
    I was acting from a place of compulsion and craving, not deliberate intention. Scrolling through my phone wasn’t making me happier, better at my work, more fulfilled in my relationships, or grounded in my goals. It was mindless. I wasn’t in control of myself; I was just following my cravings.

  2. Distraction:
    I was easily distracted and less productive all morning. Any ambitions or deep work I wanted to do was derailed by the sound of my phone vibrating. It didn’t matter if I had just refreshed my inbox 2 minutes ago - I would do it again, and again.

  3. Mental clutter:
    Consuming information took away from my ability to create. Instead of approaching my creative work with a clear headspace, my mind felt foggy after having half-absorbed promotional emails, details about other people’s lives, and things that didn’t matter to my day.

Making a rule: no email / social media in the AM 

In January 2015, when I was really struggling with the whole having-a-day-job-while-doing-creative-work, this rule I set for myself really changed the game: No email or social media before 10 am, when I physically arrived in the office. Anxious clients, coworkers, and my boss would have to wait until my official work day started to get a reply from me. 

After I quit my job and started working for myself, I pushed that time back to 12 pm. Some days I slip - and on those days, I feel noticeably icky and sticky and distracted. Here are my main reasons for keeping my resolve: 

Making space

The initial point of this rule is to help with my creative productivity, but more importantly, it’s given me a greater sense of self-control and groundedness. My energy is directed, rather than dispersed, restless, floating. On the weekends, instead of waking up to the details of everyone else’s Friday nights, I turn towards myself, my partner, and the people I hold dear. Yes, I would say, deliberate ignorance is bliss

The morning matters

There is something very special about your mind in the moments right after waking up. In that transition between sleep and wake is a liminal, dreamlike space. Your mind is like a vessel - or perhaps an embryo; unformed, slowly stretching itself into the day. What we give our attention to first thing in the morning is a reminder of what is most important in our lives. The rituals of the early morning have potential to become something sacred - dare I say, like a prayer?

Being a active user of technology

I don’t think email or social media in itself is problematic (well, besides the fact that it is intentionally designed to be addictive, and our attention makes companies cash), but I think it’s crucial for us to be active agents in how we use it. Otherwise, you feel controlled by technology, instead of the other way around. Social media is no longer your tool; you are its tool. When you live a life driven by notifications, you’re swimming in a feeling of anxious anticipation - and it never ends. 

Curbing compulsion and anxiety

A lot of the anxiety that social media and email brings stems from a fear of missing out on something important, or a need for instantaneous gratification, validation, and attention. I’m bothered by this need I feel bubbling inside of me; it makes me feel weak and… well, needy. For me, using hard and fast rules is the easiest way to curb it. 

Practical suggestions for making this happen 

Maybe, you protest, that your colleagues / bosses / clients / friends / family expect you to reply within the hour, or thirty minutes, or ten minutes. But if it’s time-sensitive, they can pick up the phone to call you. For most professions, there are very few true emergencies that need to be addressed while you’re still in your PJs. Most of them are in your head. The challenge here is communicating and changing other people’s expectations - but if your reward is the ability to live life on your own time, then I’d say that it’s worth it. 

If you want to try this, here are a few suggestions: 

  1. Select a realistic time that’s a clear transitional moment.
    To make this more effective, I’d say, pick a time that coincides with a change in location, workspace, or type of work. For instance: 9 or 10 am for when you arrive in the office, or 12 pm for when you’ve finished intensive morning work, and are ready to break for lunch. You may have to experiment here to see what's realistic.

  2. Disable all email/social media notifications and schedule sleep mode.
    I don’t get any notifications on my phone, except text messages and phone calls: as in, only when my friends and family are speaking directly to me. On my computer, I don't get email notifications, and I have Do Not Disturb mode scheduled until 1pm each day.

  3. Prepare what you need the night before.
    Before going to bed, I make sure to quit out of my mail client on my computer, and exit out of all distracting browser windows. Don’t give yourself an excuse to open your inbox, because it’ll lead to 30 minutes of distraction — just seeing the emails puts a cognitive load on your brain, not to mention you’ll exert willpower trying to curb your attention.

  4. Before bed, put your phone in another room (or hide it in a dresser) and use a real alarm clock.
    Having your phone be the first thing you touch after you wake up makes it too easy to revert to old habits. I haven’t found an alarm clock I liked, so I use my iPad, which only works because it’s not something I’m in the habit of using for email or social media.

  5. Replace your phone-checking with another habit.
    Instead of checking your email and social media accounts after waking up, replace it with something that’s equally engaging and perhaps more satisfying— like listening to music, reading from a book, or taking a walk outside. Work on building a morning routine.

  6. Practice feeling disinterested.
    If I’m feeling particularly antsy and eager to distract myself with Facebook one day, I’ll take a moment to practice feeling disinterested. It's mostly an exercise in imagination; asking oneself: how would I feel if I was uninterested in this? A few moments later, the urge will subside. The space remains, and I fill it with other things.

It is remarkable how much space and spare time opens up once you eliminate the compulsion to fill it with social media or email-checking. It is like finding loose change in your couches— it adds up.

This No Email or Social Before Noon rule has been crucial to the way I work and live. Depending on your profession and the way you interact with technology, you might think this kind of rule is unrealistic or overly rigid. My suggestion is to see what could be realistic (if you wake up at 7 am, to refrain from checking until 8 am), and to also give yourself flexibility to break the rule.

But my suggestion is this: pay attention to how you feel on those days relative to the others. The more important part is breaking the reflex (wake up --> check phone), and claiming back your right to an undisturbed morning. 

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