Go to It! Control the ‘Cubicle in Your Pocket’

To wrap up our month-long look at Happier at Home, our September Book of the Month, Lisa tries Gretchen Rubin’s strategies for not letting work rule your life. —BBL Editor

Gretchen Rubin begins her chapter on Time with the following quote: “One lives in the naïve notion that later there will be more room than in the entire past.” It’s true. I’m constantly putting things off or rushing from one place to the next with the hurried notion that when I finish what I’m doing, I’ll get somewhere. Or time will slow down. But then another item appears on the to-do list. Rubin wanted to escape the perpetual cycle of rushing from task to task; instead she wanted to cultivate an atmosphere of unhurriedness. She thought: How can I control the cubicle in my pocket?

Rubin views the cubicle in her pocket as a relentless call to work. There will always be another email, text, link to send, tweet to post, etc. I think of the cubicle in my pocket as just that: the endless need to respond to something. Rubin decided to face the cubicle in her pocket. She realized: “I knew I shouldn’t really blame technology. The real problem wasn’t the switch on my computer, but the switch inside my mind.” Here are Rubin’s rules for controlling the cubicle in her pocket:

1. When with family, put away phone, iPad and laptop.
I really love this rule. I applied it to family and friends, especially when at dinner. Have you ever been out with someone who puts her phone on the dinner table and constantly checks it throughout the meal? That is a major pet peeve of mine, and I try as hard as I can to resist using my gadgets while socializing with friends or family. This rule reminded me to silence the phone and stay focused on the moment.

2. Don’t check email or talk on the phone when traveling from one place to another, whether by foot, bus, subway or taxi (or car, I would add).
I wasn’t sure I agreed with this at first. I usually use my subway commute time to catch up on emails, return phone calls and make mental to-do lists. Rubin used to do the same thing. Then she realized that many of her important ideas came to her during those loose moments. So I tried cutting out my own “commuting communication,” and not only did I find my mind meandering to different thoughts, I also felt much more relaxed as I traveled from place to place. A quick walk to grab lunch became a time to actually relax and let my mind wander for a bit. When I returned to work, I was much more focused and refreshed.

3. Find a quiet place to work—outside of the home.
Rubin escapes the endless stream of email, Facebook, Twitter and phone calls by retreating to the library to work. She is able to focus solely on her writing while tucked away in a cozy place. I applied that rule to my email inbox at work. I created a rule to focus and get things done: When I need to write an article, tackle a project, or read a long article, I turn off my email (both Outlook and Gmail). I find that I can complete projects in half the amount of time.

4. Don’t check email at bedtime.
Rubin didn’t have to tempt me with this one! I’ve long been opposed to checking email (both from my computer and cell phone) right before bedtime. The light from the screen makes it harder to fall asleep, and the stimulation from reading messages makes it harder to calm down. Instead, I sip a cup of tea and read a book before turning out the lights.

6. If possible, try to tackle heavy work in the morning.
Rubin reminded me that most people work at peak efficiency a few hours after they wake up, for a period of about four hours. Although I’m most definitely not a morning person, I agree with this rule. It’s easier to tackle a project in the calm hours of the morning when my mind is feeling sharp after a cup (or two) of coffee. Plus, I find I’m also more productive in the afternoon knowing that I’ve had a productive morning.

I’ve applied these rules to my life and can feel that sense of hurriedness and anxiety slip away. So, Go To It: start controlling the cubicle in your pocket! Have you tried any of Rubin’s rules? What works for you?

For more about Gretchen Rubin and her books, visit happiness-project.com.

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Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin
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