Switch Off.

Switch off and focus

Tuesday, 5pm, bath time.

I’m going toe to toe with my toddler Louie, and losing. Badly.

“Oh come on! You brush your teeth for your mother every single night! If she comes in here and finds you haven’t done your teeth, we’re both in trouble.”

But it was no use. The more I pleaded, the tighter he gritted his teeth.

I knew what he wanted.

So I reluctantly pulled out my iPhone and fired up the ‘Nurdle Durdle’ app — brought to you by those caring bastards from the big pharma drug pusher GlaxoSmithKline.

The Nurdle Durdle app is specifically designed for tots. It has a cute tube of toothpaste singing a catchy jingle about the benefits of brushing your teeth (with, err, Macleans). Kids can even win points for brushing. It’s horrible.

Yes, I’m corralling my kid into consumerism but — bugger it — it works. As soon as the song started (low enough for Liz not to hear), Louie grabbed the toothbrush out of my hand and started brushing and dancing along — his eyes transfixed on the screen.

There’s a special place in hell for fathers like me.

I imagine, high up in his heavenly corporate box, Apple founder Steve Jobs is laughing. Surprisingly, the black-skivvied one was actually a low-tech dad. When a journalist from the New York Times asked how his kids liked the iPad, he replied: “They haven’t used it. We limit how much technology our kids use at home.”

As one of the forefathers of modern technology, Jobs realised the internet was a revolution that would transform our lives, giving us access to an untold amount of information and entertainment (and cats … LOL!). Yet he also foresaw that his devices were like crack cocaine for our concentration.

Today, a growing body of scientific research suggests that our hyperconnected ‘always on’ life is rewiring our brains by delivering us a squirt of dopamine every time we tweet, get a message or flick on Facey. Ultimately, it hinders our ability to converse, concentrate, contemplate and solve complex problems.

I’m as guilty of it as anyone: my wife and I have a foursome in bed each night: Flick. Flick. Scroll. Scroll.

At least we’re normal. The next time you’re out in public, take a look at how many people are staring blankly at their phones. (Today, you really can ‘dance like nobody’s watching’ … because they’re not, they’re checking their phones.)

Steve Jobs’ Killer App

For all the amazing tech innovations that help us do more, the ultimate killer app is still within us. To do truly meaningful things with your life you need to concentrate deeply on the task at hand, whether that be creating a new product, investing, or raising your kids.

Steve Jobs’ biographer, Walter Isaacson, wrote that throughout his career Jobs practised Zen meditation — the process of shutting out external noise so you can focus on clearing your mind and strengthening your thoughts. The billionaire found it gave such a boost to his creativity, concentration and productivity that he encouraged his employees to devote time to it each day.

The Great Disconnect: Less Work, More Money, More Happiness

As a young couple running a small business, we don’t get a lot of Zen (or zzz’s for that matter). Truth be told, our life feels like it’s hanging together with sticky-tape most of the time. Yet we’re fighting back in three ways:

First, we’re strictly limiting our hours of work.

Years ago, the promise was that an iPhone allowed you to have your office in your pocket — so you could work from anywhere! Now we know that means you’ll end up working everywhere.

So, to guard against burnout, our staff work from 8:00am to 5:00pm. No ifs, no buts, and no overtime. Come five o’clock, it’s family and friends time. Not only do we get more done during the day, but it’s a real competitive advantage when it comes to recruiting the best people.

Second, we’re taking back the bedroom.

You use your iPhone as an alarm clock, don’t you?
I do too (well, until this week). The problem was that it was the last thing I looked at before I drifted off to sleep, and the first thing I checked when I woke up. It was robbing me of my relaxation and my energy.

Thankfully, I’ve found a solution (in my nana’s home of all places): an alarm clock that sits on my bedside table. My phone charges on silent in the kitchen, and now I sleep peacefully — until a random piece of Lego gets shoved up my nose.

The third and most important thing we’re doing to reclaim our focus is admittedly a little Wild West. Just like the OK Corral, as you enter our house, there’s a Tupperware box where you lay down your (digital) guns until after dinner.

When Walter Isaacson was writing the biography, he often had dinner with the Jobs family. “Every evening Steve made a point of having dinner at the big long table in their kitchen, discussing books and history and a variety of things. No one ever pulled out an iPad or computer. The kids did not seem addicted at all to devices.”

Again, Jobs was on the money. A comprehensive, 16-year-long study by the University of Michigan discovered that the amount of time kids spent eating meals at home was the single biggest predictor of academic achievement. Not only that, it found that shared family mealtime was more influential than studying, attending religious services or playing sports.

All of our plans may seem a little technophobic, but my wife and I are willing to swim against the technological tide: after all, we will soon be doubling our portfolio (yes, it’s official). In other words, we have another cute little tax deduction on the way.
No time to Nurdle Durdle.

Tread Your Own Path!