Reclaiming My Time


Did you guys see that clip of U.S. Congresswoman Maxine Waters? In it, she asks a direct question of a colleague. His non-response is an attempt to flatter and distract her from the serious issue at hand. She speaks over him, repeating: “reclaiming my time. Reclaiming my time. Reclaiming my time.” It’s awesome.

Across the internet, her words are being held up as a rally point for women and other minority folks to reclaim their time and power from those who would keep them oppressed. The phrase “reclaiming my time” has been stuck in my head since I watched the video, too, and it’s come to have significance for me in a slightly different way (though I’m pretty sure I could make an argument for the overarching forces of capitalism controlling my time.)

I’ve got a smartphone addiction. Who doesn’t, right? How is it that a thing that wasn’t a part of my life four years ago has since become such an enormous part of it? Five years ago, I was proud that I didn’t have a smartphone. When I visited “the big city”, I would shake my head at folks who kept checking their phones. I grumbled under my breath at family gatherings when phones would slip out of pockets, when loved ones would send a quick text in the middle of a conversation or check sports scores or Facebook. And now, I’m that person. And if I’m not actively checking my phone, I’m thinking about it. It’s ridiculous and I’m tired of it.

But in the four years that I’ve had this thing, it’s become indispensable to me. How else would I let my sister know that one of the kids just pooped their pants? How else would I let a friend know I saw a thing that made me think of them? How would I let everyone know I’m sitting on the riverbank in the sun? Is life even happening if I can’t simultaneously document and share it?

An addiction is a behaviour you persist in even though you are aware of the negative consequences. When I’m glued to my phone, I’m less patient with my children. How dare you interrupt my reading this Buzzfeed list of 25 Things Only Kids Who Grew Up in the 90’s Will Understand?! I’ve said it before but when I’m paying attention to my phone and not my kids, they have to try even harder to get my attention, leading to “bad” behaviour, leading to me yelling at them, leading to me getting frustrated and overwhelmed and checking out even more on my phone. Repeat forever.

I also wonder, and think I’ve wondered this here in the past, how much more I’d get done if it weren’t for my smartphone. Yesterday morning I woke up way too early with a sore back, but instead of sitting on the couch scrolling through my Facebook feed, which is what I would usually do, I stretched my back with a few yoga poses, meditated for 15 minutes, wrote in my journal and started reading a new book of poetry. All in an hour! And when I did eventually check Facebook, it was still mostly full of boring and useless information that I don’t actually need.

How many minutes in a day do I spend tending to my phone? What do I miss, what inspiration, what opportunity to just sit quietly and let my brain mull things over? A big part of writing and creativity is just having mental downtime. With my smartphone, I am constantly engaged in something, whether it’s the news cycle or the lives of my friends, acquaintances and favourite internet personalities. I’m missing that critical downtime my mind needs to wander and dream.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t just put my phone down once I’ve accomplished what I first picked it up to do. I can’t just send a text or read one article. Eventually, I find myself seeking out more things to keep myself occupied, visiting blog sites I rarely visit, or checking Instagram’s explore tab. Some days I have so much screen time that I feel, oddly, like the only way to fix it is with more screen time. Like that archaic punishment where your mom catches you smoking and she makes you smoke a whole pack, the idea being it makes you so sick you’ll never do it again. Except I keep doing it. I feel powerless to this fucking thing and I’m so tired of it.

It might be a watering down of the original intent of the message, but I want to reclaim my time and my power from this flashy, sleek, fits-in-my-hand-so-well device. I want to be in control of it, not the other way around. It’s going to mean a lot of self-discipline (not my strong suit). It’s going to mean a pause before I reach for it, and it’s going to mean staying connected to my original intent when I do use it.

What’s your smartphone usage like? Have you got a magic formula for not letting it be the boss of you? Please, tell us your secret in the comments!