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Practicing Grace in the Digital Age

During CDT’s Tech Talk, Sarah Kaufman of the Washington Post shared a simple yet challenging piece of advice for how to live more gracefully: slow down. Kaufman, the author of The Art of Grace, has made it her mission to bring more grace into the world, viewing grace as a way to make ourselves and those around us feel more at ease. Well, in the always on, constantly connected world this is no easy task.

How many times a day do you check your email or messaging apps? How often do you try to cram in a call while you are walking somewhere? Does your calendar have you booked in 15-minute increments? These are all byproducts of technology supposedly making our lives easier and more efficient, but has also made our lives more stressful and complex.

So how can we slow down in our increasingly digital world and still embrace the technology so many of us love? I thought I’d take a crack at suggesting a few simple ways. Most are somewhat obvious, but try doing them – it will take practice.

  • Take a few email breaks each day. Try not checking your email for a few one-hour stretches each day. Yes, put that phone or laptop out of reach. Even those of us with jobs that force us to be constantly connected can take at least one hour-long break during the workday. And everyone can definitely take a break during dinner.
  • Lose the headphones on your commute. Whatever way you get to work, whether it’s the bus, walking, riding a bike, or driving, try doing it without distraction. Yes, I love listening to music on my walk to work too, but on days when I forget the headphones I notice so much more. This includes people, sights, and even random acts of kindness.
  • Pause before replying to that angry tweet. I’ve suggested in the past that we unfollow the mean people, but sometimes even nice people have mean moments online. When they do, perhaps take a moment to reflect before responding or commenting on a mean tweet. Typically, responses just lead to even more ugliness.
  • Take a technology free walk. Much like my walk to work without headphones, this is a great way to explore, notice life around you, and appreciate beauty in every day things.
  • Have breakfast before checking your phone. Instead of rolling out of bed and immediately grabbing your phone, make yourself a cup of coffee or go work out before connecting. Let you body and mind wake up before dealing with work or personal to-dos.
  • Schedule time between meetings and appointments. Before and after most meetings add a 15-minute space to either prepare for or debrief from a meeting or appointment. This will help you be more graceful in whatever situation comes next.

The hardest ones of these for me have been taking email breaks and not checking my phone the moment I wake up. I project the former on my team, too often expecting instant responses, and I can’t count the number of times checking my phone first thing has led to a less than graceful morning. I’m working on it though. I’d love to hear more ideas for how to slow down and live more gracefully in the digital age – we can all benefit from a more civil, graceful digital community.