How do we spend our time?

Casey, harvesting salad in the morning

Do you think much about how you spend your time? This seems to be a big topic for discussion and analysis between my friends and I, as we juggle quite a lot of responsibilities and goals in this stage of our life. One friend and I in particular will have long conversations about how we structure our weeks and our days, always working toward what might be the best possible rhythm for balancing work with leisure and everything in between.

But, of course, if there’s just too much all around, then that juggling won’t ever achieve a magic balance. Or, even if there’s just the perception of too much, it can be hard (or impossible!) to ever feel the satisfaction of being done for the day.

I’ve been thinking of this a lot lately from several angles. First, still from the question of how patterns and rhythms to the days — especially as we move toward the start of the school year, I wonder how to best order our days and weeks to accomplish our homeschool goals, social needs, and my work load on the farm. It is possible! I know, because we’ve done it several years before! But, from the standpoint of July (when the farm work seems endless), it’s hard to always trust that a fall rhythm is doable.

But I’ve also been thinking about it in terms of distractions and discipline. What I mean is: I’ve been thinking (again!) about screens and their role in my life. I can plan all day long to have a productive day doing x, y, and then z, but if I get distracted by something bright and shiny on social media, all my plans can be thwarted! I know that I’m not alone in this. It’s a conundrum.

Perhaps for this reason, I love reading books and articles about the latest research and analysis about screen use. How have these technologies changed us as people? This fascinates me! I also find myself perpetually envious of people who take extended “social media breaks” or whatnot. I often feel nostalgic for a world before smartphones, when our networks were based more on real-life interactions. Nostalgia can be distracting and misleading too, of course, but I’m just being honest about how my heart feels some of the time.

Recently I read two books purporting to help readers find a healthy relationship with digital communication technologies: How To Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell, and Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport.

In How to Do Nothing — a book I mentioned in an earlier newsletter as well — Odell herself explores the question of how to resist through several extended essays. Her closest thing to an “answer” is the pursuit of bioregionalism — that is knowledge of and interaction with the specific places where we live. She concludes that we can’t just create a vacuum by cutting ourselves off of social media but we need to replace it with something richer and fuller. She herself enjoys bird watching in her native bioregion, the Bay Area. I love this idea (and fully embrace such pursuits in my own life), but I find it a bit naive to think that pursuing something wonderful, such as bird watching, will be sufficient to reduce a person’s engagement in the so-called “attention economy” of social media notifications and 24-hour news cycle websites, etc. Bright and shiny (or alarming!) things tend to overrule the more everyday, less “in-your-face” world of reality. Alas!

I did enjoy Newport’s take on how to be a “digital minimalist.” He is more interested in creating structures and discipline for oneself, and not surprisingly his approach is reminiscent of Marie Kondo and her popular brand of minimalism! Rather than just trying to “cut back” on our internet use throughout the day, he proposes that we schedule when we use the internet (or check email or social media or whatnot) to limited times. Furthermore, he suggests limiting what forms of such technologies we use to those that have clear benefits for us (rather than just assuming that every new app or social media will be beneficial). So, for one person maybe that means having an Instagram account they check every other day, but no Facebook or Twitter. Or, reading one good aggregate news website once a day rather than checking several websites throughout the day. Either way, he definitely recommends physically cutting back of the types of exposure one regularly has. His advice is akin to suggesting that someone not keeping foods in the house that he is trying to avoid — remove the temptations by deleting unwanted accounts and clearly scheduling use of others.

It’s all great advice! But just the last two days I’ve found myself getting sucked into extended text back-and-forth conversations that bypassed all of those kinds of intentions. There were things that needed to be sorted out; plans to be made; unexpected challenges to be addressed. So there I was, in the piano studio texting to Casey during the kids’ piano lesson; in the fields, texting with a friend; in the kitchen, texting with an acquaintance. From one perspective (such as Cal Newport’s strong thesis that we need lots of uninterrupted time to do good work), those were failure moments. I was definitely interrupting myself each time to respond.

But, again, they were absolutely necessary conversations to have. And, that’s the thing: a lot of what we do via our phones is maintain and build relationships. Not all of it — I know people do a lot of scrolling, and I certainly get sucked into that occasionally (but I highly recommend installing a Facebook feed blocker to anyone who wants to spend less time unintentionally scrolling!). But most of the time that I spend on my phone is time navigating the topsy-turvy world of people and relationships: making plans, changing plans, figuring out challenges, etc.

When any of us sit down to write out our ideal work schedules for business or home, I think it’s so easy to forget all of those relationships. On paper, life can be so productive! No interruptions! But real life is every so much more complicated. Washers break (this happened here this week!). Kids get splinters. People have questions all around. I mean, sooooooo many things happen in daily life that need attention at home, on the farm, in the workplace.

I don’t know to what extent communication technologies have allowed us to increase the pressure of relationship demands (if at all), but for me it’s important to remember not to blame my phone for every distraction that comes along! Or to dream that without it my life would be simpler. I do love to entertain that possibility, but that misses the point that life is complicated. Relationships are complicated.

And wonderful too, of course. Casey and I feel so blessed to live in a thriving community, with friends and family nearby. We love being involved in projects that foster community in real life, even if that involves spending time interacting digitally. It’s really and truly ALL GOOD.

So, when I return to my ideal weekly and daily rhythms with that perspective, it’s easier to see that over all the tidy blocks of time, there are other layers happening all the time too. I can block off three hours for school with the kids in the morning, and I can also realize that some of this time may be simultaneously used to sustain other connections. I can schedule to harvest for the CSA, knowing that I may field questions about another part of our life during that time — and I will still finish the harvest! Is this layered approach to life the “most efficient”? I’m not sure! But does it work? It seems to!

Perspective then can change so much about how we allow ourselves to rest into the reality of juggling many things. Gratitude for our relationships can help us feel content at the end of a full day, even if not every task on the list got completed.

Summer is always a good time for this kind of analysis for me, when the days are literally longer and often very full. May you too find some fresh perspective this summer on the reality of your life — in all its distracting blessings and work and play.

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

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Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Plums
  • Apples
  • Salad mix
  • Green beans
  • Basil – Big bags of basil this week! The plants have been loving the extra heat we’ve had in the last week, so there’s plenty! Pesto time!
  • Beets
  • Zucchini
  • Cucumbers
  • Cauliflower
  • Broccoli
  • Golden chard
  • Potatoes
  • Fresh shallots
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