I’d be enjoying a leisurely game of hide and seek with my daughter at 7 a.m. or zoning out to Watch What Happens Live at 10:30 at night, and it would happen: My body would tense up, my eyes would reflexively close in exasperation, and I'd always (always, always, always) get up and check my phone. It was the ding that sounded every time a new work email came in — ding! — and it had become the Pavlovian soundtrack of my life.
Maybe for a non-compulsive person with nary a trace of OCD, having email on their phone could be a great thing; a little heads up that there’s a special treat waiting in your inbox. But for someone who is incapable of relaxing until the last dish in the sink has been washed, dried, and put away, it proved to pretty much be the worst trigger I could ask for.
What if I missed something? How could I got to bed at night full-well knowing there were work-related messages in my inbox? What if my boss had something really, really important to tell me? So went the worries.
I'd come to loathe that ding on my phone, which only sounded for work-related emails. But it had become a weird, dysfunctional piece of me. I'd occasionally think about what my life would be like without it — more peaceful, I surmised? — but, still, I couldn't turn it off. It was the boyfriend I knew was wrong for me, but just couldn't quit.
My house is certainly clean, and I’m one of the more organized people I know. But you know what? I’m freakin’ exhausted, dude. I actually turned down a barbecue invitation not that long ago, because I felt that "clean floors" and "organize closets" had been on my to-do list much longer than they had any business being.
I loved my job writing for a popular website from the very first day I started. But when I made the decision a little over two years ago to add my work email to my iPhone — ding! — everything changed. By no one’s fault but my own, it took on the form of a 24/7 gig, as if I were the CEO of Super Important Stuff, Incorporated, instead of a 9 to 5 kind of deal, like it had always been. I still immensely enjoyed the work I was doing, and the amazing team I was doing it with, but I was literally incapable of turning it off, regardless of what time it was, and regardless of whether or not there was anything that actually needed immediate attention.
Usually, when the emails came in at odd times, they weren’t urgent — they were group messages; things I was CCed on that I didn’t really need to be CCed on; a non-pressing request — but I couldn’t resist peering into my inbox as if therein lied the winning lottery numbers.
My rationale — not just for email, but for life — had always been that the more I can get done today, the less I’ll have to do tomorrow. I was simply preparing. Except — and I was incapable of realizing this at the time — it never quite worked out that way. Tending to a few emails the night before rarely made the following day quicker, easier, or less stressful. In fact, the only thing it did was make it more difficult for me to fall asleep since I was in "work mode." And instead of waking up peacefully the next morning, my eyes would shoot open and my mind would immediately be flooded with whatever email I was looking at the night before.
When I found out I was pregnant with my second child, I slowly started to realize that I was irritated/unhappy/stressed out more than I wasn't — and that it had unabashedly seeped into my home life.
I was having a really difficult time leaving work stresses at work, and it was affecting my parenting, my relationship with my husband, and my general well-being. I felt like I had to make a decision, and after I maniacally screamed STOOOP! at the top of my lungs to my 2-year-old for pulling on the drapes (and then immediately broke down in hysterics), I knew what I had to do: It was time to leave my job.
For the first week that I was gone, the emails continued to trickle in. And although I didn’t have the knee-jerk reaction of feeling like I immediately needed to deal with them, I still checked them not too long after they came in. I knew they likely weren't for me, but I couldn't quit cold turkey. Everything was still so fresh, and despite the fact that I felt lighter, "work" still wasn't out of my system. How could I relax, knowing that my almost-defunct inbox still had messages in it?!
But then, on the seventh day, there was rest. The ding! stopped completely. Radio silence. I tried logging into my work email — DENIED! I was officially out of the system, and officially free to cut the cord with my phone; something I soon realized I should have done long ago.
It hasn’t been all that long since I left my job, but I have had a mini-epiphany since quitting — and it has more to do with myself than any job I’ll ever have: I need to calm the f*ck down. Not everything needs immediate attention. In fact, few things, save for a burning house, or I dunno, an extra terrestrial invasion, do. The to-do lists (that we usually give ourselves) will never be 100 percent checked off. We will all die with shit to do.
Getting rid of the ding on my phone made me realize, in a roundabout way, that over the past few years I’ve put fun and/or relaxation on hold too many times. I’ve felt like I could only take a nap on a Saturday if the laundry was folded and the errands run. I rarely sat down at night to mindless TV and a bowl of ice cream until each and every email was tended to, or at the very least, looked at. Has living this way made things easier? Not really.
My house is certainly clean, and I’m one of the more organized people I know. But you know what? I’m freakin’ exhausted, dude. I actually turned down a barbecue invitation not that long ago, because I felt that "clean floors" and "organize closets" had been on my to-do list much longer than they had any business being. Gross.
When the dinging stopped, I realized I will always have stuff to do, because I’m the one demanding things of myself. No, I’m not a completely changed woman, but I’m making an effort to put leisure first more often.
Last Sunday, I sat down to watch The Leftovers, fully-aware that there were crumbs on my countertop and a load of wet laundry sitting in the washer. Did it make me a little twitchy? Yeah, at first. But I was able to enjoy the show, and Monday was no less stressful or busy than it would have been had I wiped the counter and switched the laundry.
As I'm slowly learning, life is full of dings, and always will be. I guess it's just a matter of not making them, well, life.