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Drawing Boundaries with Technology

Dog by the water

Tips for taking back some control in your day.

It’s 7:30pm. Dinner has been served and cleared, the dirty dishes loaded into the dishwasher. It’s time to relax. I let my body fall backwards into the grey sectional in our family room. My 2-year-old puppy hops up beside me, resting her chin in my lap. I know what she’s thinking. “Finally, some quality time together.”

I work from home, so my dog is used to having me around most of the day. But in a lot of ways, I’m not really there. We have our separate routines. I sit (or stand) at my desk in the office, typing away on my laptop, while she stares out the bay window in front of me, watching the squirrels run by. Eventually, she’ll move to her spot on the couch in the family room, disappearing for a few hours.

And I disappear too.


Sometimes I get so lost in my work I forget to have lunch. I stare at a screen for the majority of my day. When I finally remember to take a break to eat, or to heat up my coffee in the microwave, I’ll let her into the backyard or take her for a lap around the block.

Then we come back inside, and return to our designated places until dinnertime. This is just a typical day.

When it comes time to cuddle up together on the couch, my smartphone is an arm’s length away. Often, my laptop sits on the coffee table, ready to be called on when needed.

You see, I’ve built my own business around technology. I’m a freelance writer, yes, but I’m also an entrepreneur. I manage social media for small businesses. My phone is constantly buzzing with Twitter and Instagram notifications. I’m very rarely “unplugged” from the online world.

I know my dog recognizes this. She’s so smart, it scares me sometimes. As her chin rests on my lap, I reach for my buzzing phone. I see an important email from a client and I open up my laptop to address it. My dog watches me, growing more annoyed by the minute. Soon, she starts nudging me with her nose. When that doesn’t work, she begins to paw at my hands gently as they hover over the keyboard, wearing her best puppy-eyed look on her face. I’m too distracted to notice. Suddenly, she releases a harsh bark, jolting me out of my techno-trance.

“This is my time,” she tells me.

And she’s right, I know she’s right. Still, I struggle to pull myself away.

Taking Back Control

How often do you check your smartphone in a day?

We’ve become so dependent on our devices, it’s hard to imagine a world without them. Just this past weekend, my husband and I were changing the locks on our front door, when something wasn’t fitting properly. We turned to Google to save us, and there was the answer in a simple instructional YouTube video. How did our ancestors even function without an online search engine in their lives?

We rely on technology every single day. And while this can be wonderful, it can also be dangerous. How do we draw the line?

I’ve started to make certain adjustments in my day to help regain some control over my device use. Here’s what works for me:

1. I avoid checking email first thing in the morning.

I’m still using my laptop and smartphone to do other tasks, but at least I am focusing on my own agenda rather than immediately being distracted by someone else’s. I feel like it sets the tone for my day. It keeps me in control of the work I am doing, allowing me to prioritize on my own terms.

2. I leave my phone at home when I walk the dog.

luschia-couchThis is one of my favourite times of the day. I can finally be fully present, without the distraction of a vibrating pocket urging me to respond. Instead, I walk along the trail in the forest, watching my dog run and leap over fallen branches ahead, a giant smile on her face. This is when I do a lot of my business strategizing. It’s when I come up with new ideas, or a sudden burst of creativity for a client project. The time is all mine, and I love it.

3. I turn my phone on and off at certain times each day.

Unless there is a specific reason to do otherwise, my phone is turned off by 10 p.m. each night and not turned on until 8 a.m. the next morning. The time within those hours is strictly mine.

4. I return calls, emails and text messages on my own schedule.

We live in a world where we expect immediate response. We panic when we can’t reach someone right away. But I don’t want to be accessible at all hours of the day. If you call me, and I am busy doing something else or spending time with someone else, I should not be expected to answer. How annoying is it when you’re spending time with a friend and they’re having a conversation with someone else, completely ignoring you as you sit right next to them? I try to focus on the moment first, and my phone second.

5. I put my phone in another room when I’m doing something important.

My husband and I enjoy cooking dinner together most nights. During this time, I tuck my phone away so I can’t be distracted by its flashing alerts. It’s important for us to have this time together. If you call me at this time, and you’re wondering why I do not pick up, refer to number four in this list.

It’s important to remember we are the ones in control here, not our devices. While it’s helpful to draw our own boundaries, we also have to be mindful of our expectations of others. Give people a window of time to respond to your calls, emails or messages. Unless it is an emergency, it doesn’t need to be addressed immediately. My clients know I will still respond to their emails within a 24-hour timeframe. I’ve learned the clearer I am about setting these boundaries, the more they respect me for having them.

Because the truth is, they get it.

We can all relate to the struggle here. Finding balance is hard, but it is essential. We need to make sure we’re still living our days in the real world, not the digital one we create on a screen.


Charlotte Ottaway

Charlotte is Co-Founder and Managing Editor at The Reply. She is a writer, blogger and amateur photographer with interests in positivity, creative muse, generational differences and the future of work. She has written for Canadian Business, Zoomer Magazine, The Globe and Mail, The Huffington Post Canada and other Canadian publications. At her company, Web of Words, she helps solopreneurs and small business owners create real human connections online through blogging and social media. Better known by family and friends as Carly, she currently resides in Newmarket with her husband and dog-child. To learn more, check out her website at charlotteottaway.com and follow her on Twitter @charlottaway.