So enter ‘Hands Free Life: 9 Habits for Overcoming Distraction, Living Better and Loving More’ a new book by Rachel Macy Stafford, which serves as a guide to us, the weary masses. Part memoir, part better-living roadmap, Stafford weaves together insights from her once hyper-busy schedule to call readers to a richer life that is less “productive,” but way more meaningful.
The “hands free revolution,” she describes was born when Stafford, a working mom of two, realized that she was always rushing from family obligation to professional opportunity, without any time in between to connect to loved ones or have a quiet moment to herself. People would ask her, ”Rachel, how do you do it all?” and upon further reflection, Stafford says she found the answer to be “extremely painful.” She says the truth was, “I could do it all because I missed out on life.”
As someone who makes her living in part by engaging with the hundreds of thousands of followers of her popular blog, Stafford is far from a technophobe. But she is a voice in the digital wilderness, calling modern Americans to find ways to put technology and our high-pressure culture, in its proper place in our lives.
Want to join her revolution? Here’s what to make time for—and what to start to eliminate from your life:
[Related: How to live a better life while actually spending less]
What to make time for:
1. Pockets of time to connect: “I know I can’t possibly cherish every moment,” she acknowledges in the book. Instead, ask yourself “How do I realistically live life now to avoid the pain of regret later?” One way? Take Stafford’s example of creating sacred pockets of time to eliminate distraction and commit to being fully present with loved ones. “I simply thought about the times of the day when I was in the presence of my loved ones,” she explains in an interview. For her family, that means committing to 30-60 minute chunks of time without distraction, four times a day: From first thing in the morning until her children to go school, then again when they arrive home, at dinnertime, and finally for bedtime, she explains, “I am present and available. . . it’s our big connection time as a family.”
2. Once you find those new opportunities to connect, get vulnerable. It’s not enough (though it’s great) to just be present. Take the time to articulate your feelings to others. “I will not assume [my loved ones] know how I feel,” she writes. If you’re struggling with how to do it, Stafford suggests a script: “Today I will set aside my insecurities and ask my spouse, child, parent or loved one if I can hold them close. I will listen to their heartbeat, breathe in their scent, and tell them how much I love them. There will be obstacles and challenges that will interfere in carrying out these moments of connection, but I will not let the distractions of my life stop me from investing in what matters most—at least not today.”
3. Develop rituals that convey deeper connection and meaning. We’re not talking elaborate habits, but micro ones. It’s the way a mother chooses to listen to a child’s explanation of the “many reasons she chose the pink shoes instead of the red ones,” Stafford writes. It’s the habit of regularly writing a note to a far away loved one, or creating a shared ritual to mark achievements or milestones. These little rituals then become the glue that keeps loved ones together.
4. Embrace “unproductive times” to help you find your center. Creative hobbies. Exercise. Alone time without guilt. “Make time to play,” Stafford writes. “If the voice of productivity tells me I am wasting time, I will say, ‘On the contrary! I am stopping to momentarily hold time!’ And then I will knit, bake, garden, woodwork, paint, sculpt, dance or sing until I am completely lost in a moment and my soul is refreshed.” Find your source of joyful release, and be happily “unproductive.”
What to say no to:
1. Letting technology rule your life. Stafford explains that she came to realize that she felt most overwhelmed or stressed when her smartphones notifications popped up. “I realized that my phone was ruling my actions and my thoughts, and that was a red flag for me,” she explains. By turning off notifications and developing smartphone-free zones, you can start to turn technology from something that rules your life to something that enhances it.
2. The pressure to do more at work or in the community. Whether from internal pressure or external expectation, we can easily becoming trapped in a cycle of never-ending to-do lists and obligations. There’s nothing wrong with running the PTA, or coaching soccer, volunteering at church or taking on a new project at work, but if the extra obligations are sucking all of the fun out of daily life, you might need to scale back. “When I was starting to scale back on all the commitments and distractions in my life, I realized there was internal distraction that was really preventing me from living in the moment and finding joy.” See? Less = more.
3. The internal voices that bully us and tell us we’re not doing enough. Stafford explains that she realized “a lot of times the pressure was coming from me. I was telling myself, ‘I don’t look good enough to go out.’ I figured out that I was the one that was pushing me to work harder, work more, get skinnier. That little voice was a bully in my head.” Want to stop those voices? Try Stafford’s trick: Telling those voices to go away. “‘Stop — only love today!’ became the song in my head when I found myself being critical of myself or my family. It really changed the environment of my home because I was not being so hard on my self and my family.”
Only love today. That, we have time for.
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