How Ditching Technology Helped Me Get Things Done

Work-Life Balance on 04.27.11
Contributor bio | twitter

Photo Credit: Katie Morton

When I had my baby and went on maternity leave, my new existence initially felt off-kilter, like I was missing a limb. For my whole adult life, I'd sat at a desk with a keyboard and a monitor for a minimum of five days a week in the fluorescent-lit offices of large, brand name global corporations. I struck big deals with slick negotiations, I managed global technical and editorial teams and I orchestrated some fairly complicated operations in my day. I was like, kind of a big deal, I thought.

I felt lucky to be employed in such a comfortable way, and I didn't understand how anyone could be satisfied differently. Oddly, the one thing of my old life I'd missed while on maternity leave was the familiar stance of sitting in front of a computer all day.

I anticipated my return to work as if it would solve everything and life would return to normal. The house would be neat and I would be well-rested and everything and everyone would be back on schedule, tucked neatly within the realm of calendars and obligations.

It would just have to work out that way for me, because women work and they have babies, and they have to function in an orderly manner, right? Isn't that the way working moms exist, comfortably on schedule, well-organized, methodical and tidy and relaxed and happy?

Ha ha ha. I know. That whole charade. I'd like to know who started that rumor. It's something, isn't it?

And then, less than a month after I returned to work from maternity leave, I was laid off.

Life Is Messy

Even though I had a baby girl to take care of, every day when I woke up I was haunted by this feeling that I should be doing something. By the looks of our living quarters, I'm sure my husband was haunted by the feeling that I should be doing something.

I used to think that constant computer usage was my destiny. So even after being laid off, I would find myself mysteriously drawn to the computer in between feedings and diaper changes. I couldn't even tell you what I was doing. My friends would assure you that I wasn't keeping in touch, and my blog would say the same.

A few months later, between giggles and snuggles with my cutie patootie baby cakes, I realized that rotting in front of a machine wasn't my destiny; it was a bad habit. I am now well aware that there's more to life than plopping my butt in front of a screen every waking moment of every day.

Time for Life to Catch Up With Reality

Epiphanies aside, I'm skilled at organizing myself digitally. Pen and paper? Not so much. My office persona had used an online calendar for everything. I kept my to-do lists and schedules in Word format, Excel spreadsheets and Google docs. Grocery lists, packing lists, housekeeping schedules - all were kept on my computer.

Then we had an internet outage, which meant no computer to seize my time and attention. I had no choice but to begin keeping my to-do list the old fashioned way: on paper. I stuck to my list and systematically checked off the items as I completed them. I was suddenly more productive than ever.

Recently I found a list I'd written on paper during this tubeless period. I transcribed it here verbatim:

What I accomplished today with no internet
1.       Established March goals
2.       Sterilized the fridge
3.       Wrote a blog post. *irony
4.       Went to the gym

It made me realize that post lay-off, I had been floundering around in front of a computer, hanging onto a digital way of life that no longer applied to me. When our internet connection was healthy, I would pull up my to-do list and immediately become distracted by email, Facebook, the weather, The Onion, you name it. Completing the items on my list was a crap shoot, depending on how gripping the internet was that day.

Once I finally came to terms with the fact that my current life is very much an analog existence, it was time to organize myself offline. I repurposed an old work notebook and found the first clean page. Since then, I've begun the nightly ritual of sitting down with my notebook before bed and penning the next day's list.

Old Habits Die Hard

I still fall off the wagon some days when I loll in front of the computer and have a hard time getting things done. I've realized that the solution is to continually return to my paper to-do list. When an item calls for computer use, I set a timer for an appropriate amount of time to keep myself on task.

I'm hoping to morph my paper organization system into something more cohesive and masterful than a simple daily list. In the meantime, announcing to myself that my real life occurs, not on a computer or on paper -- but on my living room floor -- is revolutionary enough for me.

Katie Morton is the founder of The Monarch Company. Get a FREE copy of her eBook, 10 Steps to a Blissful You, to get started on developing extraordinary willpower for life.

Top Articles on Work-Life Balance
How to Balance Work and Home Life
Why Is Work-Life Balance So Hard to Achieve?
Figuring out Work-Life Balance When Casual Friday Just Isn't Enough