Why You Can’t Seem to Put Your Cell Phone Down… And What You Can do About it.


It’s becoming more and more normal.

I see a couple on a date, or a family out to dinner, and one of them is engrossed, captivated…not in person with them, but (you guessed it) in their cell phones.  They are checking email, texting, otherwise disengaged from the real life right in front of them.

It leads me to wonder, “Do I really need to know what today’s Groupon is within an hour of its arrival in my in box?!”

I know.  It feels so responsible to be “on top of” all those emails and messages.  But those who buy that lie, who give in to the siren’s song, wind up “staying on top of” the trivial and neglect the essential.

A Modest Proposal

I’ve got an antidote to the insanity.  It starts with creating for ourselves two very different kinds of “time off”: Non-Porous Time and Porous Time

Think of it like the difference between a rock and a sponge.  The porous sponge is open to everything, absorbing everything around it.  The non-porous rock, keeps everything out.

A little detail…

Non-Porous Time Off is time when we are essentially not reachable, when we don’t respond to emails, when we never answer your cell phone (if it’s an emergency, we can listen to the message and call right back).

Imagine non-porous time off as an appointment with the president.  We wouldn’t be available for interruptions, except in the case of the most dire emergencies (and we sure wouldn’t be checking your cell phone for the latest emails and texts!)

Susan and I, early in our marriage, decided that 6 non-porous slots a week would do much to protect our family.  We started with the three slots of the Sabbath (morning, afternoon, and evening).  We added another 3 non-porous, “presidential” slots at other times during the week.

Like most pastors, my schedule was wacky when my kids were little. But the discipline of those six slots almost every week (without email or meetings or phone calls) protected the relationships we said were most important.

Now Porous Time Off is different. It is time off when we are interruptible, though largely disengaged from work.

Though I might plan to be off during this time, I can be more flexible and interruptible.  There might be a meeting at church, a preparation for the next day that puts me on my computer, or a phone call or two that needs to be returned.

Once I have our 6 non-porous slots scheduled and protected, I (and my family) can flex with those times when I’m home, but interruptible.

More and more people in ministry are beginning to embrace the ancient idea of Sabbath.  But sadly, few seem to include cell phones or emails in the category of “work.”  Most people treat their “Sabbath day” as porous time off.  And failing to make the distinction can have enormous consequences for our family, our ministries and our own health.

One thing I learned from marathon training is the dramatic impact of training rhythmically.  Great runners don’t just run long distances every day.  They include a rhythm of strength training, speed work, different ways of working at different times.

Great leaders do the same thing.  They build rhythm into their lives, treating different times differently.

So try it for yourself this week—start by identifying your porous times off and put your cell phone away.

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