The Question

I was talking to a girlfriend (hey hey, Voxer) last week about email discipline, specifically the art of not “checking in” throughout the day. It’s a slippery slope: you hop on your phone to peek at the weather, and then you find yourself “checking in” on Instagram, Twitter, your email account. You click on that Buzzfeed article with a cat and a hedgehog performing a piano duet to ‘Islands in the Sun’ (I made this up but it likely exists) and – boom – you’ve lost twenty minutes of your day.

It’s distracting at best.
And something else entirely at worst.

Years ago, Ken and I were on a double date with good friends. We chatted excitedly over one another, planning an upcoming trip. We’ll split groceries, sure, you want to bring a blender? I’ll cover gas. Can you even believe it’s in less than a week?!

But my friend stopped talking as she pulled her phone out from under the white linen tablecloth.

You guys. I just got an email, she said. I lost a client to another bid. 

We didn’t talk about vacation plans for the rest of the night. We didn’t talk about much of anything. My friend silently pushed pasta around her plate as we attempted to cheer her up, as we asked questions, as we tried to let her process it all, to let her feel sad or angry or disappointed.

I think I just want to go home, she’d said.

Whenever my mother-in-law calls with a topic that requires more than a quick response, she’ll ask a question: Is this a good time?

It’s a question of kindness, a clear sign of respect for someone’s time.

It’s a courtesy that I’ve begun offering myself.

Before I check Instagram, is this a good time?
Before I check Twitter, is this a good time?
Before I check my email, is this a good time?

Am I in a proper state of mind to receive good news, or bad news, or something between? Is this a good time for me to exercise self control, to weed out the sales and offers and enticements landing in my inbox? Is this a good time for me to respond to a seemingly aggressive comment with grace and curiosity? Is this a good time for me to react to what is required of me in a way that reflects character and judgment?

The answer, often, is no.

It is nearly impossible to do this in a distracted state, under the table of an Italian restaurant, or in the grocery store parking lot, or waiting, engine stalled, passing minutes in the carpool lane.

My friend used to talk about that dinner, about how a single email had ruined the whole date. We laugh about it now, but only so much.

I’m not an advocate for rigid, taut rules and grand sweeping expectations. For some of us, a disappointing email is just that: a disappointment. We move on. We rejoin the dinner table. We laugh along, we make plans, we tell ourselves we’ll react to the disappointment later.

For others, the disappointment lingers, and we’re no longer in the mood for bacon-wrapped dates or double dates. We’re no longer in the mood for much of anything at all.

An email interrupted our life.
And we allowed it to.

Last week, my mother-in-law called.

Is this a good time?

We were headed out the door for a Chinese lesson, and I was finishing a grocery list while looking for the (always-missing) pacifier.

You know, can I call you right back? I say. We’re hitting the road in a sec.

Sure! she says. It can totally wait.

It almost always can.



  • I still am trying to navigate this as well… and while I haven’t figured out the best solution I think it’s good to give it some thought and be more intentional about when and why I check the things I do. I like your approach and thoughts on this! Thanks for sharing!

    • Oh I’m with you – there’s never a clear solution, is there? Intent is often everything in my book. :)

  • Love this, you’re so right. Checking in with social media and checking out of whatever’s happening in the real world can almost always wait, and it should. I’m working on saying not now, but it’s tough. At the minute I’m using the forest app just to help teach myself to leave my phone alone and not pick it up allllll the time. Thanks for the lovely post!

    – Natalie

    • It’s very tough, isn’t it? And thank you for introducing me to Forest! What a great concept!

  • Thank you for this! As encouraging and inspiring as social media can be, it’s so easy to let it suck away my time and energy and focus! Your tip to ask ourselves “Is this a good time?” Is really all about mindfulness. One of the best areas we can all grow in, I think! Thanks for the reminder:)

  • Good points Erin! I used to check my phone email first thing in weekdays (not a mood booster!)

    Now I check it after I drop off my children to school when I pull into my garage. I’m more at peace and ready for the world. Doesn’t always happen but I do strive for that little balance when able.

    Will now check out this forest app that was mentioned! Hope scout and bee are well:)

  • This is the most perfect post for me right now. Learning the art of working from home, being self-employed and having clients constantly emailing, calling or texting me. Such a good reminder to pause before acting so that my actions are intentional and not habitual. Thank you for that!

  • Last week I told my husband I want to be as important as his phone, I want to be worth putting off that text message to “this guy I haven’t talked to in a month” because I’m worth the 10 seconds it would take to kiss hello after work. He got it, and I also became very aware of when I’m distracted (phone, shopping list, dinner prep, blah blah blah) by things that can wait for the 10 seconds, 1 minute, 30 minutes plus to be with the people I love. Like many things, it’s about choices and awareness. “Is this a good time” will be part of my mental vocab going forward!

    • oh i love this, jamie!!! being aware of our habits is so so important, yes? i’ve been working on this one, as well. sometimes you just gotta take yourself off auto pilot and think about what you’re doing, you know? :)

  • “Is this a good time?”

    I offer this little courtesy to friends and loved ones ALL the time. I want to offer the same courtesy to myself. I tried it today after reading your post and it really did help me keep first things first.

    Thanks for passing on this bit of wisdom!

  • Love this post. It’s one thing to construct the problem, which I am increasingly conscious of. But, thank you for a *solution* — Your question/mantra “Is this a good time?” is such a centering and intentional way of reframing the moment with purpose. Thank you!

  • What a lovely thought!I already hate when people check their phone while they’re talking to me or vice versa, it’s so disrespectful. Sometimes I wish there was no internet, I think our lives would be so much fuller.

    On an unrelated note, just a quick point about the site layout. I’m on a macbook and I’m not sure this is how it’s meant to display as I’m seeing the photo on the left and then the text on the right in like a pretty narrow column. That’s not what particularly bothers me, it’s the really really small type – I had to zoom in to more than twice the size not to strain my eyesight. Just a thought.

    Have a lovely day.

    • Oh no; thank you for letting me know! I’ll do some digging to see if I can fix!!! :) Thank you, Kat!

  • A little story of mine, one day I was in public transport and there was notification from a whatsapp group chat. I checked it and replied immediately, then it suddenly became long conversation. Later I realized that I was already blocks away from my stop. If only at that time I asked my self “Is this a good time?”, but from now I will ask that question before checking my phone.

    • Oh, I can so relate. I’m often checking on something that I think will take two seconds, and four minutes later I’ve wasted that precious time. The good news is that it gets so much easier the more often we ask ourselves that question! There’s hope after all. ;) Thank you for sharing your sweet story, Nana!

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