If mornings are the toughest part of the day … if you feel agitated before you even get out the door … if you’ve had a heavy heart and can’t explain why, I am going to encourage you to make one small change in your morning routine: Resist the urge to reach for the phone.
Starting your day by checking the phone is like flipping a switch from peace to productivity … from loving nurturer to grumpy manager … from present to absent. Reaching for the phone takes you out of your cozy pajamas-clad world and catapults you into the fast-paced, information overloaded world. Once your mind leaves your loved ones and fixates on all the things you need to do, it’s hard to come back—so hard to come back. Scrolling, clicking, and responding sneakily rob you of the precious minutes you need to get out the door on time—and then everyone is yelling. I know these things because checking the phone was how I began my day—or perhaps I should say sabotaged my day—for several years.
Things are different now. And I attribute an overall improvement in my home environment and personal wellbeing to one small change: Reaching for meaningful things rather than the phone to start my day.
I recently shared this morning habit at a recent Q&A before a book signing for Hands Free Life. Honestly I had no idea this piece of information would offer such a light bulb moment for so many. But as I saw the resolve on the faces before me, I knew change was coming for many families—effective immediately.
I wasn’t surprised when someone in attendance posted the following message on social media later that next day: “Day #1 of #HandsFreeLife went well. Anytime I’d go for my phone for a quick check, I’d laugh as I caught myself about to break my new habit. You see, I made a decision that before the kids go to school and after they get off the bus, I will turn my phone to ‘airplane mode’ and be fully present. We had a fantastic day together. We were calm and respectful to one another. We learned something new about each other. I intend to continue this new and very important habit. We all benefit when we become more present.”
Later in the week the woman reported having time to listen to her 3-year-old child “read” a book, as well as time for her to read her older child’s library book aloud. In the past, there wouldn’t have been time for such connections in the morning. With her decision to wait to check technology, she suddenly had more time … more patience … more love. She is now on Day 6 and the whole family is reaping unexpected benefits due to her new habit.
When I saw the impact this solitary change was having on this woman’s life, the following revelation came to mind:
When we pick up the phone to start our day, we get farther from the life we want to live. Information, messages, and demands take us away from what matters to us and shifts it to what matters to everyone else.
But by not reaching for the phone first thing in the morning, we get closer to the live we want to live—a life of meaning, knowing our people, caring for ourselves, and engaging in actions that could become our legacy when we're gone.
Because technology is so engrained in our lives, it’s easy to forget there are other options in the morning besides reaching for the phone. But come tomorrow morning, we don’t have to do what we yesterday. Come tomorrow morning, we don’t have to do what 80% of the population does upon rising. Come tomorrow morning, we can do something way more fulfilling.
I’ve estimated that the initial phone check costs three to ten minutes. In that same amount of time, we can do something that will positively influence the rest of the day and possibly our lives. Simply by reaching for something besides the phone when we rise, we can cultivate more connection, more meaning, and more joy. Let’s look at some practical options …
Instead of reaching for the phone when you rise, reach for love.
- Reach for your loved one’s hand beneath the covers. Start a morning ritual of saying, “I love waking up next to you.”
- Open your arms for a hug. Be the last to let go.
- Quietly creep into your children’s room and watch them sleep for a moment. Notice the peace settled on their faces. Listen to their breathing. Listen to your own breathing.
- Write a note to put in your child’s or loved one’s lunchbox or notebook. My friend Garth shows you one each day on his page, Napkin Notes.
Instead of reaching for the phone when you rise, care for yourself.
- Stick a motivational quote on your mirror. Read it aloud every morning, plus the one you put up the day before.
- Pour a pitcher of water and set it in the fridge. Aim to drink it all by the end of the day.
- Make yourself a salad for later so you can guarantee you will fill your body with some goodness. (Love these Mason jar salads).
- Do some gentle stretches while thinking of ten things you are grateful for.
Instead of reaching for the phone first thing in the morning, renew your soul.
- Go for a short walk or simply step outside and notice one miracle in nature.
- Read the Bible or daily devotional book. My friends Shauna and Patti have written two of my favorite daily inspiration books.
- Do a mindfulness exercise using connective silence like the one my friend Lisa suggests. Her children are benefiting greatly from this quick but powerful morning ritual.
- Hold your pet and gently stroke his or her fur.
Instead of reaching for the phone when you rise, do something you’ve been putting off.
- Dedicate a few minutes to the book you’ve been wanting to write or the art you’ve been yearning to create. Just imagine what you’ll have in one year if you create a little bit each day.
- Dedicate a few minutes to exercise. Put in a video if you can’t leave the house. Just imagine how you will feel if you do a ten-minute video every day for six weeks.
- Make a list of all the health check ups you have been avoiding. Jot down the contact information and put it on a check off list. Just imagine the relief you will feel once you get that mammogram, colonoscopy, skin check, dentist cleaning, or health screening taken care of.
- Take control of your life by setting a mindful intention for the day. My friend Kerry writes some very powerful ones on her page that always inspire me.
Instead of reaching for the phone when you rise, make the world better.
- Make a little fall garden on your porch like my friend Kaitlin did on the balcony of her apartment.
- Retrieve the newspaper for your elderly neighbor.
- Make muffins for your family to give local firefighters, teachers, service workers or homeless people.
- Send a note of encouragement to someone who has suffered loss, is having a birthday, or has just been on your mind. There’s something about seeing a handwritten note in the mailbox that lifts a spirit. May that goodness come back to you.
And if you still feel you must start your day with the phone, just do one thing before you grab it. As soon as you open your eyes, say to yourself:
Today is a new day. I am thankful I have been given this gift. My goal is to get out of bed and greet myself and my family with love. Love is how I will start this day.
Some people may already have a list of excuses as to why they must start their day with their phone. They might say, “Because of _________, I need to see what I missed during the night. It only takes a few minutes.” But this is not just about the few minutes it takes to check your phone in the morning. This is about how one single action negatively impacts the morning, the rest of the day, and potentially your life.
Mornings can be about not missing our digital connections or they can be about not missing our soul connections. Let us choose the latter. Let us not miss our lives.
My writing on the topics of distraction and human connection, as well as my new book, Hands Free Life, continue to connect me to incredibly inspiring and wise people in the field of improving our day, our relationships, and our lives. Here are two incredible opportunities for getting closer to the person and parent you want to be:
- The host of the Great Parenting Show, Jacqueline Green has made it her life’s work to bring parents the best educators on the planet. Her show covers a wide variety of parenting-related issues, all designed to make parenting easier and more enjoyable. I’m excited to announce that I am one of the 24 experts on the fall series! Sign up to hear me & the other free expert interviews that are happening now as part of the fall Great Parenting Show season! Live interviews are every Tuesday and Thursdays at 10am PT, 1 pm ET. Replays are aired for no-cost from Friday until Sunday at midnight LA time. Sign up here to get access.
- Recently I had the opportunity to be interviewed by John O’Leary of Rising Strong. John works with hundreds of organizations and thousands of people to transform daily challenges into opportunities for growth. Each day John empowers thousands of individuals around the world to lead fuller, more significant lives. John has become a huge advocate for the Hands Free approach to life and experienced some pretty profound revelations and changes since reading Hands Free Life. You can listen to our Live Inspired podcast interview here.
Thank you all so much for being part of The Hands Free Revolution Community. If you have had a chance to read Hands Free Life, I would be grateful if you could leave a brief review on Amazon or Goodreads. The reviews have been phenomenal and have been a tremendous help to the success of the book!
Even this morning, I reached for the phone, and even this morning, I told myself not to. Isn’t it an odd and powerful allure?
Thank you for your words, and for the kind reminder that I should look a little longer at my balcony garden, especially in the early morning hours.
This morning we heard geese honk at us as they flew over our apartment and I listened with Eliot. What wonder surrounds us if we just listen and look.
Love you so!
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you, Kaitlin, for your honesty & your inspiration. “What wonder surrounds us if we just listen and look.” So powerful & so true. Love you dearly, my friend.
Randomly, I did not grab my phone this morning and instead decided to switch it up by connecting with my 2 year old before getting the baby dressed. That small change in order of operations of our day has made a huge difference in how smoothly the morning it went. Rather than consider what would make my day easier, I thought about the 2 year old and what he needed most. That small step made things 100 percent easier. It’s amazing how small shifts can have a big change.
Theresa Fonseca says
This may not be relevant, but every time I read one of your articles (at least once a day), not only do I drink in your words, but I marvel at the accompanying photographs. I love how the pictures don’t focus on PEOPLE (faces), but on the moment (WHAT is happening, not TO WHOM). I love that whole concept, and delight in the lives I see happening in those photos.
Rachel Stafford says
Hi Theresa, thank you so much for noticing this and taking the time to comment on this. When I began my blog, I purposefully took pictures of hands or the interaction because I wanted the photos to be as much my brand as the words that I write. About 2 years into it, I handed the camera to Natalie. She became the photographer from then on. And when Natalie is in the photos, my younger child gets to be the photographer. I think children have an eye for seeing what is most important and getting in low to capture the moment from a unique vantage point. I cannot wait to tell them your compliment along with the one that was just left on the FB page about the photos being “real” and not filtered. Love, Rachel
This is extremely powerful for me, because I am always tempted to reach for my phone to check on work and other little details. I believe it all can wait. It can wait until I spend some quality time with my husband and my 2 year old son. Thank you for this reminder.
I looooooove this! Love when routines stick instantly. We have replace with a book. Thank you!!!
I have a teenager and morning time is not his favorite talk time. Actually, I am newly separated from his father whom I was married to for 21 years so communication with my son has been strained a lot lately. However, we have dinner together every night. A couple of weeks ago I made the new rule that neither of us would have our phones at the dinner table. Wow! What a difference it has made! There was some resistance the first night but after that I believe he even realized that we needed our “talk groove” back. Our relationship has grown by leaps and bounds in just a couple of weeks. I love listening about his day, teachers that he likes or dislikes, kids on his football team or in his classes, or just talking about things that we want for our future. Everyone should take time to have moments of a digital free world and appreciate what life in the real world has to offer.
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you, Hope! What a powerful contribution & confirmation that we must protect these sacred spaces so connections can be established and re-established again and again. I wish you continued renewal and peace in your life.
Roy Robbins says
Rachel, despite being a pastor, my go-to in the morning is my phone and email. You are so right, it exchanges peace for productivity, and I am so weary from that. Thank you for the reminder that we CAN change. I have forwarded your email to my Facebook page, now I need to heed your advice. Blessings to you.
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you, Roy! I so appreciate your honesty and determination to put peace & connection back into the sacred morning pocket of time. Let me know how it’s going soon!
I do not have a smart phone, so this isn’t a problem for me. But, checking my email is, so thank you for the reminder.
Bonnie Jean says
I think this is an amazing idea. Recently, as I have been reading your book Hands Free Life…
I have decided to only check the phone three times a day.
Unless there is an emergency going on… I do not check texts, emails, or even answer the phone. I screen calls just in case of emergency.
It is amazing how little I miss in terms of the phone and technology.
In fact, due to the recent lack of decent television programming… I am seriously considering giving up TV and just watching videos of movies that I already have, or buy or rent.
I use the library a lot more and save money too.
I really do not like technology. I am a paper person, send real cards person, talk on the phone or visit in person… not a text/email/facebook/twitter … do not even have accounts except for email. And would happily give that up.
All of this technology has not made us communicate better… in fact, I believe we are more alone and distant than ever before.
A skype does not a visit make. It should only be a last resort, like if the person is in the military or lives halfway around the world.
A text or email is not a conversation or a letter or a card… just not the same.
My children are in their early twenties. We did not have this stuff when they were little. We had a land line. Always worked. No charging and cost a whole lot less. We had basic cable only because in our area we could not get any channels without it. We did not have a computer. We read books. The entire Chronicles of Narnia series. My boys drew pictures of what they thought Narnia and its inhabitants looked like. I have them in scrapbooks. They cannot be deleted like the instant photos today. They are in a safe tote that would go out the door with me in case of fire or flood.
They grew up creating things… indoors and outdoors … they have imaginations and are creative to this day. They can print and write (in cursive) because I taught them. I believe that being able to write your own name … have a Signature … is important. They had the vocabulary of a 15 year old or higher at age 4. They knew and understood words from 3 languages (not a lot but some things). They were not any smarter than anyone else… I just did not want technology in their lives until it had to be. I could see what was happening to others around me. And it is a million times worse now.
So I love what you are doing… I bought your book because I sensed I might find a kindred spirit. Although we are of different generations… we have many things in common. Real connections are important. They do not come on wires or gigabytes (whatever they are).
Yes, my sons do have technology… but they can also carry on a conversation or write a card or letter. And I have a better relationship with them I think, because we talk face to face or on the phone when apart… not text or email. Texting is for things like …Can you pick me up from work now ? Or… I am coming home for Christmas… when can I call you to talk about it ?
Thank you for your books.
Kerry Foreman says
Rachel!! I love these self care exercises. For some reason, these aren’t drilled into us as children in our world. Self care is so important and you outline that perfectly here!! I am humbled that you mentioned my page, grounded in your piece! Intentions help us all move forward……your writing continues to inspire me my friend!
My entire morning was derailed when a text came in that took my attention away from helping my daughter get ready for school. What resulted was frustration, yelling, and crying. Now, a few hours later while she is still in school, I read this very simple email you have sent and it is a HUGE reminder. My priority is my daughter and husband. I want to wake up with love for my family (and myself) and you help me remember this with your easy-to-follow behavior awakening tips to bring my intentions into action. Thank you. My phone will stay in airplane mode until it’s almost time for carpool (in case any last minute changes are needed). When I pick up my dumpling up at the bus today I will go into airplane mode again. Thank you for reaching us all and building a supportive online community.
Love to you and your family.
Love your posts
Trish Duncan says
It’s been awhile since I’ve written in the comments although I wanted you to know you’re still making a difference in my everyday (and my daughter!) …. all these years later. I’m so grateful I found (& followed) you in your Hands Free Revolution when I did. I got very precious years with my daughter that I may have been absent for, had I not understood what it meant to unplug to be present in a time of growing technology. Now my daughter is of the age where technology is luring her… although due to my own hands free practice – she’s far more aware of the impact and I find I don’t have to “convince” her to join me in hands free time. ~ Although I still have the sign she put on the screen of my computer years ago, if she needs the reminder – I’ll tape it to her iPad! Haha.
I’m trilled your book is out and I look forward to getting it! Congratulations! And thank you for the difference you make for us all.
Celebrating hands free,
Monika Celly says
I have made it a habit not to chk my phone first thing in the morning.Its been more than a year. I dont trust myself , so I keep it in another room/different floor. That ways I dont get to see my phone till I have my breakfast after being done with my early morning rituals . I believe that our kids are watching us all the time. We need to be good role models. Hence I avoid using my phone when they are around. Its really easy if we want to stick to this habit. My kids know when we are all together, no cellphones/ technology unless its really urgent ( when we are out and need to make a call/ text ). Im a blogger, and Im on internet when kids are in bed which is right now :))
You have explained it very nicely. Just reaffirmed my beliefs as far as technology is concerned. Thanks a bunch !
Lynn Atherton says
A recent widow and grandmother of two, I find you blog uplifting to me – both personally and as a “grammy”. Being a grandmother – being a widow – they are defining moments that take you to places you have not been before. In this digital age though I use it – it can and often does lead to distraction rather than connection. I do not have a I-Phone or its equivalent. I do have a laptop and a Kindle.
In this past year I have found being alone that the electronics are dominating my life though I have read books – real books not e-books – more than ever before. I like others have shared use the library much more than before. Living in limited space with no room for a library – I once had eleven bookcases filled with the books my husband and I had accumulated in forty-six years of marriage. Those went with the large house. The library has become a constant destination and I can pass a day or a weekend without leaving the apartment.
But all is not “perfect” as the world would have us believe we should be – cumlatively three generations must contend with this – mine, my son and his wife and my grandchildren’s. The cycle needs to be broken for happier healthier lives – living instead of doing.
Not knowing much about your blog or books but having read some from your blog as my son’s wife likes something on Facebook as well as looking at the prints and plaques available from you, I would substitute “grammy” in places where another pronoun is used for I too believe we can become distracted by media of all kinds.
In addition to what you have written I do not know if you have talked about television but in honesty it is what my generation had to deal with as my son was growing up. As a widow it becomes the company of the husband who is no longer there but….It is equally as insidious in its work as it pulls one away from loved ones and others to enrich my world.
So I ask you to consider in your blog or future books that you consider the generation of your parents or grandchildren for technology impacts us just as it impacts you and your children.
A friend twenty-five years ago observed when her husband’s parents started to walk the world that most at sometime much face….through illness or aging the loss of abilities and skills of daily life. In a discussion about automobiles specifically a new car for the aging parents she observed that as cars became more sophisticated some of the new bells and whistles were now beyond the skills of her husband’s parents. In that twenty-five years I have witnessed that truth over and over again and sadly I am getting nearer to that point we were talking about regarding the parents. It is now me who must consider how much technology I can handle.
As you write to the moms out there about hands free living others are writing to my generation about re-inventing ourselves in light of today’s world with it stresses and anxieties. You too are addressing those issues. Thank you…a fan. Lynn Atherton
I did it!!! When my alarm went off on my phone this morning, I turned it off and resisted the urge to pick it up again until we walked out the door for school. And even then, it went straight in my purse. What an amazing morning. I have been missing so much connection time. I even had time to make the kids oatmeal for breakfast. They were over the moon. Thank you.
Rachel Stafford says
WOW! Misty, thank you so much for updating me with this JOYFUL news. I am excited and hopeful for you and for each of us who chooses to start their day with LOVING connection not DIGITAL connection. So grateful you told me this. Love, Rachel
Amy Hagerup says
Powerful advice and oh so good. Checking my phone does put me into a business mode because of texts or emails I may receive that demand an answer. I want to get better at not checking my phone until after my devotions.
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you, Amy. I appreciate your comment and your aspiration. Let me know how it goes!
After I got over feeling righteous because I never reach for my phone in the morning…(I’m an introvert and the phone represents energy drain for me). I realized that the first thing I think about is all I need to DO, I look at dishes, things needing to be picked up, my to-do list. I have been struggling with productivity over peace or connection. Your lists are amazing and I am thinking of stretching and gratitude plus coffee!
Rachel Stafford says
I love this, Annie! Thank you for pointing out that this list can be used to add more meaning to anyone’s life — and that although our distractions might be different than the one mentioned here, they can still can be a problem! Please let me know how your new way of thinking goes!
Who checks their phone that early anyway? 9am is early enough and not even then at a weekend ….
My go-to in the morning before the kids wake is whatever crochet project I’m working on. It’s hard to accomplish much when they’re awake as they want to help or be taught or start their own, but in the 30 minutes before they’re up I can get at least a few rows done – which helps me, my project and puts me in a nice frame of mind when the boys wake.
Ann Peitsch says
I do not have a “smartphone”, but I do have an IPad…..same problem, electronic interference in life. I use up valuable time on it. Thanks for the ideas…….starting now!
I have been trying to do this and have been able to hold off for about 20 minutes. After reading your article I told myself I wasn’t going to pick it up today until I had spent time with each of my kids (I have 4 and we homeschool). It was amazing how easily I was able to get focused on them when my head wasn’t running with everything I had seen on my phone that morning. It was also awesome not to check my phone every 5 minutes during that time but instead really focus on getting present! Thank you for this article and everything else you do! You are awesome!
Rachel Stafford says
I love to hear this, Bryanna! Thank you!
Though it’s so important to be a hands free mama and be fully there for your children, it’s also important to be a hands free daddy fully there for your children AND your wife– and vice versa, of course!
Maureen @ The Capable Student says
My husband and I use an old fashioned alarm and the devices stay downstairs. It is amazing how much more peaceful it feels not even having the phone in the room with us.
As a magazine editor my phone is my life but recently I have started to feel serious guilt about my screen time and I have cut of phone time from 5 -8 every day. This is such a good tip. I am going to not check my phone till 7am its at least an hour
This is a terrific post. I would love to be able to print this list of suggestions to have at hand to distract me from the phone temptation. Is there a way to print it without all the photos and headers? When I go to print it says it will be 29 pages! thanks for sharing.
Rachel Stafford says
Hi Jaclyn – Thank you! I think the reason it is going to be 29 pages is because of all the comments. You could choose “page range” before you print and just select 1-4 to get the first few pages only, not the comments. Here is one more idea (although I don’t typically share this because it removes my name from my work), you can cut and paste the content into a word doc and print it.
April Perry says
I adore you, Rachel! What a beautiful post. Thank you for your consistent voice that helps families worldwide to more fully enjoy their loved ones.
These past few months have been some of the most stressful in my life. I’m growing more than I thought possible, and I have never felt more stretched. However, THIS is the time in my life when I don’t want to give up being present with my children.
Thank you for the reminder and for your goodness.
Alex Abrahams says
Hello, I’m so glad I found your blog… I love your philosophy. This post really resonated with me. I’m going to try hands free living starting tomorrow morning!
Tynea Lewis says
Thank you for this wonderful challenge. I have seen how my day’s focus is made with those first moment decisions.
Laurie Stone says
Great suggestion. I’ve started a new rule. I can’t pick up my cell phone before 9:00 a.m. As soon as I pick up that phone, its a different way of thinking. Its about emails and to-do lists and Facebook. Already I feel better. Now I just have to get over my addiction to Words with Friends.
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you, Laurie! I love to hear how it’s going! Thank you for inspiring others with your commitment!
Laurie Stone says
What a great metaphor, Rachel. I love the idea of the windows of our lives and what we place there for other people to see. Your children are lucky to have such a wise, caring Mom.
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