How to Be Less Available and Reclaim Your Life

Pete Ross

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“I just feel like I need a break from my life. Every day, my phone doesn’t stop ringing. The other day when I was driving home, I was on the phone the entire time. I just need to be able to take like, a year off to get my life together.”

We’re always told that our network is everything, but what happens when it gets too much, to the point that it’s a liability instead of an asset? Being the introverted type who is ambitious in both my job and outside activities, hearing the above from a friend of mine was a totally foreign concept. Apart from the fact that I have a very small circle of close friends, I’m not one to be available all the time. If I’m busy with something and I get a phone call, I’ll let it go through to voicemail. They can wait.

The extroverted types don’t seem to be able to do that. I’ll be over at my parents for a family dinner every once in a while, and the phone will ring. Immediately my mum will jump up to get it. Why? They know they’re calling at the time people have dinner (which I consider a social faux pas, bordering on rude), your family is here with you and if it’s really an emergency, they’ll call back. What’s the rush?

Considering this phenomenon, it got me thinking, what advice will I give to my friend who feels this constant sense of overload and obligation, who just wants some free time to himself? In line with how I coach athletes, the last thing I’m going to suggest to him is some kind of radical change. Apart from the fact that he likely won’t be able to follow through, it will probably cause him issues with his network of friends and family.

With that in mind, here are some suggestions to the extroverts overwhelmed by obligations, from an introvert who steers clear of them.

Rule 1: don’t tell anyone that you’re doing any of this

Telling people invites conflict and issues where there don’t need to be any. All of these tips are subtle enough that people won’t really notice, leaving you with a sense of relief that getting your freedom back doesn’t mean arguments. The essence of what we’re trying to do is to simply make you less available.

The problem with being an available person who always picks up the phone is that people are always calling you! It doesn’t matter if it’s a life or death matter or something that’s completely unimportant, their first instinct is to pick up the phone, which inevitably leads to you losing time in unnecessary conversation.

It’s like that old saying “if you need something done, give it to a busy person.”

If you always pick up the phone anytime it rings, people are just going to keep calling you.

Turn your phone off for an hour each day

Even half an hour if that’s all you can bring yourself to begin with. This hour can be whenever you most need it to be — whether it’s your commute home, dinner time, after dinner, whenever. That time when you really just don’t want to talk to anyone. Turning it off means that you’re not going to be tempted to look at messages, or see who might be calling you, or getting anxious over how many voicemails you might be getting. Turn it off completely, and revel in the freedom. If anyone asks, you can make a number of excuses:

  • I just needed an hour off, it’s been a stressful day
  • I had an appointment and I couldn’t take calls
  • Was working on something and needed no distractions
  • I’ve been on a call (the best one, because it’s impossible to distinguish between someone’s phone being off and them being tied up on a call)

Turn off your voicemail

Because it’s really no use turning off your phone if when you turn it back on, you have to wade through a dozen voicemails. That’s just going to make your hour of no phone time stressful as hell, which is totally counterproductive. A work phone is obviously a different story, but on your personal phone, voicemail is an archaic and redundant function when people can just text you. The great thing about turning voicemail off is that if it’s really important, people will send you a text anyway.

Don’t return calls unless you need to

Someone called you during your hour of phone off time and didn’t leave a text? Don’t call them back, or at least wait until you feel like doing it, regardless of whether that feels like a few hours or a few days. If it was that important, they would have said something. If you do leave it and they call again in a few days asking why you didn’t call them back, tell them they didn’t leave a text so you assumed it wasn’t important. That’s going to filter out the “I just called to tell / ask you x” vs the people who really need to get a hold of you. This also means that people will start leaving you text messages more often, which can be responded to at your leisure and take less than a minute of your life.

Turn off notifications on messenger

That little ping is quite the nuisance, and it’s designed that way. It’s designed to make your brain want to check it as soon as you hear that sound go off. Turn it off! That way, you’re only looking at your messages when you want to, and you’re no longer a slave to the attention engineers at Facebook.

Remember, the world isn’t going to end because you don’t pick up the phone

If you’re a highly available extrovert, I bet your stomach leaped into your throat at the thought of doing a couple of those. You likely panicked at the thought of what might happen if you turn your phone and voicemail off — all the things that could happen that you might miss! People might get annoyed at you!

Trust me, it’ll be far less dramatic than that. Seriously, you can turn your phone off for an hour, the world isn’t going to end. People will go back to whatever they were doing before they picked up the phone to call you. If it wasn’t important, they’ll probably just forget about it entirely. If it is, they’ll call back.

Seriously, just give it a shot, because making yourself so available to others that it’s turning your life into an exhausted state of being isn’t any way to live.

Most importantly, keep in mind that your phone is meant to be a tool - not a slave master holding you in its thrall. Take back control, even if it starts with just half an hour a day. You can build up from there to the point you feel you’ve reached a nice equilibrium.

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I write about career, performance, psychology, self development and business humour. I'm an author, former national competitor in judo and strongman and a former military instructor.

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