How would you rate your current relationship with texting on a scale of 1 to 10?
A 1 means you really need to improve how you use this tool. A 10 means you’re using the tool in a way that works very well for you, and other people who text you understand and respect your boundaries.
I feel that I have a healthy relationship with text messaging. It’s generally not a distraction, I use it effectively, and my approach works well for me. Boundary issues are uncommon and easily fixed.
So let me share some tips regarding how I use it. See if any of this helps you reassess your own relationship with texting.
- Define your desired relationship with texting in advance. Instead of addressing issues only in a reactive bottom-up matter, get clear about the role you want this tool to play in your life. What are the justifiable and intelligent use cases for it? What uses would be distracting and should be considered out of bounds? I encourage you to write up your own personal list of do’s and don’ts for the tool.
- Look at problems behaviorally. Texting is a set of behaviors. If your behaviors are aligned with your intentions, you’ll likely have a healthy relationship with this tool. If you’re not happy with your relationship with this tool, look at your behaviors: what you typed and when. Call out the mistakes you made. Identify exactly what you should have done instead? Example:
- I initially responded with, “Nice to hear from you.” That was a mistake. I didn’t want to get into a conversation at that time.
- I should have replied with, “Busy with a project. No texting today please. Thanks for understanding.”
- Better yet, I should have left notifications turned off and my phone in the other room.
- Make permanent changes. Review some of your recently texted conversations. Which ones were worthwhile and intelligent uses of the tool, where you used it in the right way and at the right time? Which conversations were distracting or problematic in any way for you? For the problematic ones, state the problem in the most general terms. Then solve that problem permanently with a change in your commitment regarding what you consider fair use of the tool versus off limits.
- Accept conflict. Your relationship with this tool may not align with how everyone else wants you to use this tool. Decide which is more important: satisfying someone else’s demands and expectations… or having a healthy and productive relationship with the tools and people in your life? If you want the latter, you’ll need to define and enforce boundaries. When someone can’t or won’t respect your boundaries, add them to your blocklist.
- Finish conversations. How many perpetually open conversations are you having via text messaging? Ideally it’s zero. Open a conversation, have the conversation, and close the conversation. Every conversation that’s left open is an open loop that can distract you. Finish listening to what needs to be heard, and finish saying what needs to be said. Close the loop, and end the conversation. When you’ve closed it, say to yourself, “This is done.”
- Build a repertoire of conversation closers. Here are a few:
- Time to get back to work.
- Bye for now.
- Glad we figured this out.
- Glad to be of help.
- Dinner time for me.
- Keep your phone outside of your workspace. If your phone is your primary texting device, and if your work doesn’t primarily involve texting, leave your phone elsewhere while working. I leave mine in the kitchen while I work in my home office.
- Respond on your schedule. If you always respond to people immediately when they text you, you’ll train them to expect that. If this works for you, great. But if not, just respond when it’s convenient. I often don’t reply to texts for a day or two.
- Have the conversations you want. If you don’t want to be having a texting conversation, end it. Say a deliberate yes to the invitations you want. Note that you don’t need anyone’s permission to end a conversation. If you end the conversation on your side, it’s over. If the person keeps peppering you with texts afterwards, ask yourself if you ever want anyone using texting with you in that way. If not, warn them if you’d like, turn on “Do not disturb” for a few hours, and consider the blocklist as a backstop if necessary.
- Educate people on your preferences. It’s up to you to train people to learn how and why they can text you. If you don’t make adjustments, they’ll likely assume their communication habits are okay. If anything is not okay with you, let the other person know. Don’t blame them. Just specifically share how you’d like them to modify their behaviors. Invite them to commit to that change. Some examples:
- Don’t text me about typos in articles. Always email or use the contact form on my website for that.
- Don’t expect an immediate reply from texting. I’m not an immediate reply kind of guy.
- Text me when you’re about 5 minutes away.
- Text me after you finish going through Customs.
- Don’t text me memes.
- Don’t text me bad jokes. Only good ones. 🙂
- Practice better texting. For any habits you need to adjust, do a practice texting session by yourself. Use any notes app, and type predictable lines from the other person and your desired responses. Even a few minutes of solo practice can help your brain correct bad habits. Teach your brain how you want it to respond in situations where you need to adjust your behavior.
- Play is fine, but watch for boundary issues. It’s fine to text playfully when you and the other person are in the mood for it. Same goes for sexy exchanges if they’re consensual. Just consider if you’re engaging for pleasure-based reasons or as a way of distracting yourself from something else you should be doing instead. Playfulness can build stronger relationships, but it can also damage relationships if you overdo it.
- Trust your instincts. If something feels off to you, it’s off. Sometimes it’s good to verbalize your feelings aloud, like “I don’t want to have this conversation right now” or “I should ask if this is a good time to discuss this first.” Practice acting in alignment with your instincts.
How is your current relationship with text messaging working for you? This type of tool will probably be around for many more years, so it’s wise to make this a healthy and positive relationship. When this relationship isn’t working well, it becomes an added source of stress. When this relationship is working well, it can add meaningful value and connection to your life.