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What Happens When You Stop Checking Your Email in the Morning

"Instead of me telling my day where it goes, my day was telling me where I was going to go. I wanted to change that."

fatherly logo How I Stay Sane

Welcome to “How I Stay Sane,” a weekly column where real dads talk about the things they do for themselves that help them keep grounded in all the other areas of their life — especially the parenting part. It’s easy to feel strung-out as a parent, but the dads we feature all recognize that, unless they regularly take care of themselves, the parenting part of their life will get a lot harder. The benefits of having that one “thing” are enormous. Just ask Sean Hampton. A 37 year old production supervisor and father of two in Los Angeles, he started going tech-free in the mornings and it completely changed his outlook. 

I came to this realization: If I checked my email in the morning and I was annoyed or upset that this didn’t happen, or this person quit, or something happened overnight, that set the tone of my day. I was problem solving, all day long. Instead of me telling my day where it goes, my day was telling me where I was going to go. I wanted to change that. 

I could start my morning with an email that was great news and I have a great day; or a bad email, and I have a bad day. It’s almost like roulette. I felt like I was waiting for my emotion of the day to come up.

I was also very social-media heavy; I was on all the sites. When I stepped back, it made me realize how much time I was spending in certain places and how much time I wasn’t spending on other things.

So I decided to quit social media altogether and go tech-free first thing in the morning. It was difficult in the beginning. I just had this feeling, like, there was some kind of a problem that had to be solved within 10 minutes of reading the email. It sounds kind of funny, but I had to tell myself I wasn’t in an episode of Mission Impossible. This message would not self-destruct before I read it. Whatever the issue was, if I woke up an hour later, and checked my emails then, that same issue still would be there. It was a matter of teaching myself the reality that challenges only exist when I acknowledge them. That really helped me realize that I had to prioritize myself, because otherwise, I was always going to be responding to everyone else’s worries, not mine.

Once I made that realization, I shifted my morning routine. These days, I wake up at 4:30 in the morning. I spend that first 15-20 minutes doing a morning meditation. After that, I map out my day. I sit down and say: okay, after the gym, I have this on deck, I’ll do x,y, z, do these meetings, take these calls. I get changed, because I go to the gym between 5:30 and 6. And that’s how I start out my day: Waking up, meditating, planning — and legitimately looking forward to doing the things that I’m planning — even if it’s just to get it off my plate. I’m grateful for the chance to be able to solve all my problems.

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If I need information when I get up because I was working late the night before and want to hit the ground running, yes, there are times when I cheat. But it usually has to do with when I’m on a shoot. Those are 14 hour days as it is; those are days that my whole schedule is out of whack.

Honestly, the sensation of going tech free, even for an hour, was akin to withdrawal. The same way if you stop drinking soda, or something like that. It’s that same sort of feeling. It might sound a little sad to say it this way, but the reason that I was able to get through it is that I told myself I needed to make sure that my family gets the time that they deserve. It’s not “I’ll give them the time when I can.” It’s more, “It’s my job to give them a certain amount of time.” If these emails, and my work, is telling me what my day is going to be like, is that going to be fair to my family? Absolutely not. Do I want to have more time with my family? Or do I want to check my email compulsively?

Going tech-free changed the way I measure happiness. I was always fulfilled by my work, and that was great. But when I learned to stop checking my emails that early, and that compulsively, it made me realize I need to take charge of my attention, and what gets my attention.

This hour has made me a better dad. It gives me a better sense of time management. It gives me more time to plan my day better, and make sure that I’m on schedule. And I notice that when I do spend time with my family, it feels way more meaningful. I’m planning more. I’m doing more spontaneous things. We have more memories. We need to squeeze time in. I’ve noticed that I’m not as reactive to things; I handle situations more calmly. My initial default used to be just to go from 0 to 100. That’s what I did. Now, I’m a lot cooler, I’m a lot more dialed down, and a lot more purposeful in everything that I do.