Sometime in 2014, I read Brigid Schulte's Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time and was struck by this passage comparing the culture of work in America with that in Denmark:
"Most Danes don't feel obligated to check their smartphones and e-mail after hours. In fact, they say, people who put in long hours and constantly check e-mail after hours are seen not as ideal worker warriors, as in America, but as inefficient."
The passage struck me for a few reasons. For starters, I was reading it on my smartphone, after hours. Granted, it was leisure reading, but I'd been thinking in that period precisely about the tyranny of email and about why it's so difficult to adopt strategies to resist its allure.
I was pretty convinced that the short emails I managed to send off while in line at the supermarket or after a child's night waking at 3 a.m. weren't making me much more efficient. And they certainly weren't making me happier. Yet I'd find myself reaching, yet again, for the smartphone somewhere on my person, with its promise of new email messages just a finger swipe away.
Part of the challenge in resisting email, I realized in reading Schulte's book, came from my implicit assumptions about the values reflected in being constantly available to my students and colleagues and others. Being potentially available all the time made me feel responsible, dedicated and effective. It didn't make me feel inefficient, as the Danish perspective above would imply. Yet, surely it would be better — and I recognized it would be better — to enjoy a little more sleep or my children's nocturnal company at 3 a.m., without guilt or distractions, and to plunge into work, without guilt or distractions, during designated work times.
Hence my resolution for 2015: to be smarter about my smartphone. If I change the way I think about its use, will it be enough to change my behavior? And will it improve both my work and my well-being?
I don't know. But I do know that next time I check my email at 3 a.m., I'll tell myself it's a symptom of inefficiency — and not a sign of dedication.
Tania Lombrozo is a psychology professor at the University of California, Berkeley. She writes about psychology, cognitive science and philosophy, with occasional forays into parenting and veganism. You can keep up with more of what she is thinking on Twitter: @TaniaLombrozo