What happened when I stopped wearing my Apple Watch for a week

Here’s what you need to know to put this in context. I write while my daughter’s at school. Because I typically write from home or from a location close to home, I’m the first responder if stuff comes up at school.

This means I write with one eye on the phone at all times. A few years ago, I complained to my husband that it was really hard for me to concentrate with part of my mind always worried about missing a phone call from our daughter or her school.

At the time, technology didn’t exist to address this issue. I had to keep the phone in sight so I wouldn’t miss a call. That meant peeking at it whenever it beeped or buzzed or dinged to make sure that whatever that notification was, it didn’t affect my daughter.

My husband remembered this conversation, and one Mother’s Day he gave me an Apple Watch.

At first, having an Apple Watch was fabulous.

To be fair, that fabulous stage lasted about two years.

When the Apple Watch first came out, I read a lot of reviews bemoaning its limited abilities. But all I wanted from the Watch was for it to keep me from missing calls from my daughter’s school, so I could feel free to focus on my writing. And it did that very well. I didn’t miss any calls or texts, except the ones it was ok to.

I also appreciated the cheery reminders from the Watch’s activity tracker to stand every hour or take that brisk 7-minute walk which would close my exercise circle for the day.

As I began using my Apple Watch for more things, its helpfulness decreased. 

After a while, I began sending my calendar notifications to the Watch. Then I decided that since I was using my Watch to keep me focused on work, it made sense to have my task manager send alerts to it as well.

Then it occurred to me that it would be really useful to get weather updates too, so that I could know whether to take an umbrella with me when I left to pick up my daughter.

About a year ago, I got into the habit of always enabling the Watch component of whatever new iPhone app I downloaded, so that I could see whether those alerts would be useful to me as well. Some were, some weren’t. I began spending a lot of time calibrating the notification settings on my iPhone and Watch.

That’s when it all began falling apart.

Just as I settled into a task, something on my Watch would ding to pull me out of it.

All these distractions took a toll on my stamina. If I wrote for 45 minutes without my Watch distracting me, I felt exhausted. I couldn’t read a book for more than 10 minutes without pausing to check the news. I even lost the ability to watch TV without also monitoring Twitter or playing a Match-3 game on my iPhone.

Earlier this year, my Watch, perhaps noticing how stressed out I was becoming over all these alerts, began advising me to breathe. Take a minute. Just breathe.

Spoiler alert: I ignored it.

At first I fought the distractions by leaving my phone in another room and limiting the applications that were allowed to talk to me through my Watch. 

That helped, but not a lot. The dings were still happening. My Watch was still forcing me to choose at random moments whether to address whatever it was dinging about or simply ignore it.

Things I decided to address, I often still needed my phone for, which meant getting up and going to the room where I’d stashed it. Sure, I could technically talk into my Watch to respond to a text or take a call from my daughter’s school, but that felt weird. I preferred to just use the phone.

Meanwhile, I was becoming increasingly cranky about my inability to hold a simple conversation without being interrupted, to say nothing of the lost productivity during my work day.

Last Friday, I left my Watch on my nightstand instead of putting it on in the morning.

At the same time, I continued to treat my smartphone like a landline — at least while I was home. Instead of using my Watch as a filter, I turned my ringer on so that I could hear if a call came through, but otherwise I ignored it.

That first day, I really missed knowing what time it was. So over the weekend, I dug up one of my old analog watches and took it to a jeweler to get a new battery for it.

This week, I realized I missing knowing how many steps I’d taken in a day. Before I had an Apple Watch, I had a Fitbit. I put the Fitbit away after a while, because the Watch was tracking my steps adequately and wearing one step tracker at a time seemed sufficient. But once I realized I missed knowing my step count, I dug out the Fitbit, charged it, and began wearing it again.

After a week of Watchlessness, I wish I could say my productivity has soared. It hasn’t.

But I have been a lot more present in whatever it is I am doing at the time, and that has been really helpful.

As I had allowed myself to become more distracted by my Watch and iPhone, I had forgotten about all lovely little details that a more mindful life offers.  Having them back has been pretty great.

I’m immersed in the books I’m reading in a way I haven’t been for a couple of years, so reading is more enjoyable. And I’m able to sustain it for longer.

While I haven’t made much headway in my work-in-progress, I have been writing in my journal more, which is a step in the right direction.

I’ve been practicing piano more, too. Learning new songs has been a lot easier this week. I’m not distracted by the taps and flickering notifications on my Watch, so instead I’m noticing musical patterns in the pieces I’m playing, which makes them a lot easier to learn. That cuts down on my frustration, which makes playing piano fun again.

I’m even enjoying TV more because I’m actually watching it, and not just listening to it while I do something else. I’m not missing the nuances as much. I’m getting the jokes the first time, people–all of the jokes–even the ones that rely on body language. The entire experience is richer. Watching TV this week feels more like something I’m doing by choice, and less like something I’m doing to mark time until I can call it a day and go to bed.

Sure, I still have my cranky moments and my productivity isn’t what I wish it were yet, but my baseline mood is better. I’m spiraling into sadness less.

Not bad for the first week.

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About Shala Howell

I spent two decades helping companies like Bell Labs, Juniper Networks, and a genetic testing company that was later acquired by CVS translate some of the world’s most complicated concepts into actionable, understandable English. Now I'm working on a much harder problem -- fostering children’s curiosity and engagement in the scientific, artistic, and linguistic world that surrounds them. The first book in my Caterpickles Parenting Series, What’s That, Mom?, focuses on how to use public art to nurture children’s curiosity in the world around them. My next book, Did Dinosaurs Have Belly Buttons?, is currently planned for release in 2018. In the meantime, you can find me blogging about life with a very curious Ten-Year-Old at Caterpickles.com, chatting about books and the writing life at BostonWriters.blog, and tweeting about books, writing, science, & things that make me smile at @shalahowell.
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