Slowing Down to Sleep

Most of us could probably use a better night’s sleep. With reported increases in stress and general mental health concerns (like anxiety and depression), it is not surprising that our sleep is affected. In my own clinical practice, counselling clients often state that they can’t stop thinking at bedtime and it is hard to slow down their thoughts.

The truth is that our lives have become busier. The expectations on ourselves and from others keeps growing and the general speed of life seems to be only increasing. The insult to this injury is that we are becoming more and more reliant on our tech at all hours of the day. The worst offender being our closest friend, our smartphone, which is most likely no more than a couple of feet away from most of us at all times. So, while our lives may be spinning a little faster than is good for us, our addiction to and poor boundaries around the use of our tech devices is a major reason we are tired all the time.

Fortunately, we can do something about this. While revamping long-term bad habits can take time and the support each of us may need will vary, there are a few straightforward changes you can make today that will set you up better for a good night’s rest.


No screens at least 1 hour before bed.

There are two main reasons for limiting your screentime before bed. The first is to develop a behavioural winding down habit that will get your body used to having regular, ritualistic tasks that will tell it that it will be time to go to sleep soon. Your body is very habit-driven and little cues to tell it that it is time to do quieter things before bed will allow it to start slowing down.

The other reason you should not be looking at screens before bed is that most displays on our devices (including your TV) emit a high degree of blue light. There is a lot of interesting stuff that can be said about this, but the general idea is that all this blue light says “it’s daytime” to your brain and wakes your body up.

Your body also produces melatonin, which helps it to sleep, and melatonin production is suppressed with blue light. So, if you are watching Netflix or reading an ebook right up until you go to sleep, your body will feel like it is daytime…daytime…daytime…NIGHTTIME and not be ready to slow down. (By the way, all this daytime-nighttime talk reminds me of the daytime-nighttime bird. You should check it out. Very funny!)

There are a few science-y workarounds for blue light. One is that some smartphones have a feature that shifts the colour of the display more towards the warmer oranges. At the higher levels of the orange setting, it can affect the look of colours on your display, but you do do not need to shift it that far, nor should it be as much of an issue if you are just reading.


  • I am not sure what is available on other smartphones but the Apple feature is called Night Shift and is found in the Display & Brightness folder of Settings.
  • If you have Windows 10, there is also a Night Light feature you may want to play with.
  • One other laptop app is called Flux. It works the same way as the previous ones but is a third party app you can download for free.

Another anti-blue light support idea is that some people have purchased amber-coloured glasses to wear in the evening. This will filter out all light from the blue end of the spectrum. It will also make everything look yellow. I have heard of people who have tried them and they found it helpful. They would wear them to watch TV in the later evening and found they did not feel as wound up before sleep.


Turn off notifications.

Close the information faucet in the evening. Stop checking email, texts and notifications. There is nothing you can do about these things while you are sleeping and you will be better rested to deal with them in the morning. They will still be there! If you have a lot of notifications enabled on your device, consider turning on a feature to disable this after a certain point in the evening. (Apple has the feature called Downtime.)


Lighten Up the Content.

When you are winding down the physical activity, also start winding down your mental activity. If you want to read (on a device or with physical material), move away from content that is about learning and thinking. Not necessarily mindless, but something that will not put your brain into high gear. Tim Ferris has suggested reading fiction works well for him. It gives your mind a chance to relax and slow down.


There are many ways to slow down before bed. Pick one that speaks to you and try it out. By doing the proper prep work to get yourself ready to sleep, you are setting yourself up to be healthier, have more energy and focus and make the most out of tomorrow.

Sweet sleeps!


Making Email Your Friend Again

What is your relationship like with your email? Do you check and check it throughout the day whenever you are bored or have a break? Do you check it every time you get a notification of a new message? Do you get stressed seeing how many unread messages are in your inbox? Many of us fall into at least some of these categories and none of them are helpful to your health. You deserve better… let’s do something about it.

What’s the Problem?

Though this is a topic worthy of a fuller discussion another day, it is important to know that multitasking is a myth. Our brains can, at best, do one mechanical (ingrained) task and one task that requires thinking at a time. When we are trying to work on a thinking task, any distraction pulls our attention out of this work and has us search out what it is to assess what to do with it. For general, background noise, some of us can get good at tuning things out, but the more attention that is required to work on the thinking task at hand, the more disruptive the interruption can be. It may take a bit of time to get back into focus and get work started again. Multiply this by repeated distractions and work can become quite untenable.

The dings, pop up messages and whatnot of email notifications are there to tell us that we have something new to look at and deal with in our inbox. And if decades of psychology have taught us anything, it is that we really like new things, and the unknown potential of what that new email could be can be quite irresistible. So, the fact that we are trying to get stuff done on a task that requires focussed attention and that there is the potential for an email to arrive at any time and notify us, which is super addictively stimulating, this is just a problem waiting to happen. Not only will every email notification break your flow of work, but the mere knowledge that there is a chance for an exciting distraction can also be enough to make it hard to stay on task. You might find that you start looking to see if something new is waiting for you.

What research is uncovering

The detrimental effects that this kind of repeated distraction is not mere conjecture or pop psychology babble. There is a growing body of research that points in the direction that when we have poor boundaries around when we check email, we can get more stressed and even start to exhibit inattention symptoms similar to ADHD. Comparing one group that was allowed to check their email as often as they wanted to one that only checked it three times per day, psychologists  Kostadin Kushlev and Elizabeth Dunn found that the group with no limits was significantly more stressed than the other.

There has been much more researched and written about this, but the point is clear: when we leave ourselves open to doing everything, we end up doing nothing. Our work productivity then looks more like a car spinning its wheels, which adds to frustration and stress.

What to do about it

The solution is pretty easy to say but may be harder to do: set limits on checking your email. Like any habit, if you are used to checking your email often it might take some time to get used to doing it differently. It is not overblown to refer to these behaviours as “addictions”. Like with all substance use and behavioural addictions, one will go through a period of withdrawal when they remove the object of addiction. So, be patient and easy on yourself. Your new habits of good boundaries and increased focus will start to feel more natural.

Here are a few tips to help you forge a healthier relationship with your email:

Set fixed times to check your email.

Instead of the take-it-as-it-comes approach, decide when you will make some time to dedicate to going through your email inbox. One recommendation is that if you are not willing to spend fifteen minutes processing and replying to email, then you should not do it at all. Try checking in the morning, at lunch and in the late afternoon or evening for a week and see how that experiment feels. You can check your email more or less frequently than that, but the point is to only do it at fixed times and for a predetermined duration. In other words, turn it into a task, not a distraction.

Turn off your email notifications.

Once you have a routine for when to check your mail, you need to turn off the tap of notifications. If you go into the settings on your smartphone, tablet or computer, you will find options to do this. You may even want to turn off the badge that shows the number of unread emails to further reduce any distractions and stress. Don’t worry, your email will be there when you check it. You are not stopping checking your email, you are just delaying the gratification of checking it willy-nilly and giving yourself dedicated time to spend on it.

Set up a mindful work environment to keep your focus.

I wrote much more thoroughly about this in a previous post, but the gist of it is to create a working space that is conducive to keeping you focused on the task you want to complete. If you set up a dedicated workspace that you only use for such tasks, you will also have the additional benefit of having your mind behaviourally get used to “shifting gears” to get ready to do that particular task you do in this space. This environmental and behavioural cue will make it easier to get and stay into the working mode you want to get things done.

Our technology has made it too easy for us to access pretty much any information we want anytime we want. This extreme freedom has led us to believe that we should be able to have access to everything, anytime, anywhere. This just is not healthy and our poor minds just can’t do it. Thinking that we can or should just leads to overload and stress and ultimately leaves us disengaged from the world around us and the other people we share it with.

Everything that was just said about email equally applies to texting and social media. Feel free to experiment with some new, healthier boundaries with your technology and see how you feel.

Now, turn off your device and go outside for a walk…

by Kurt Frost

A Mindful Work Set-up to Get More Done With Less Stress

Getting work done can be a challenge. Maybe you are working on an important project. Your bookkeeping might be piling up or taxes need to be completed. You might even just want to catch up on your email or have some reading you want to get done. All of these tasks need your focused attention to complete.  Without a plan, monkey mind will creep in and you may “wake up” to your behaviour in 45 min wondering how you got onto searching through Amazon or getting up for yet another snack.

Lucky for you, there are some straightforward ways to organize your environment, technology and yourself to supercharge your working focus. Nothing is foolproof – you can always undermine your work if you are not disciplined – but this mindful workflow may help you get some more traction in getting more of what you want to be done each day.

Focussed work starts with good boundaries

If you want to really focus on a task, commit to doing it in as many ways as you can.

  • Schedule time on your calendar for this task and make sure you don’t have other tasks or appointments that will conflict with your mindful work session.
  • Make your personal commitment to work a public commitment by telling work colleagues and family that you are going to be working. Let them know for how long you will be unavailable and to not disturb you during this time.

Make your working environment match your mindful work intention

We tend to resonate with our environment. I mean this in a very practical sense. If you are in a scattered, chaotic environment, you will struggle to not be distracted. Conversely, a simple, quiet environment removes external distractions and allows the mind to focus more on the task at hand. (This is the same recommendation, by the way, that is made to set up an area to meditate in.) Keep these ideas in mind when setting up an area to work in:

  • Find a quiet room or area away from visual distractions and interruptions from others.
  • If possible, close the door or use headphones or earmuffs to block outside noise.
  • If you have that door, put a do not disturb sign on it.
  • Unplug or mute your phone.

Set up your mindful workspace

Now that you have a mindful environment to work in, you need to do the same for your immediate workspace:

  • Arrange all of the tools you will need for the job around you…and NOTHING more.
  • Prepare your workspace ahead of time, like the night before, so you can get started working immediately.
  • If this task is one that you do on a regular basis, consider making a project kit or workflow to be ready for each time you work on that specific project. This means putting all of the tools for that project in one place, like a box or a drawer (even if you have to buy a duplicate item to have on hand, like a pen or scissors). This will save you spending precious work time searching for all of your stuff when you want to get started.
  • Make any final washroom trips, get a glass of water or drink of your choice and grab anything else that you need to work.

Mindful-ize your tech

If technology is involved in your work, get your laptop or smartphone into a state so it can be helpful to your mindful work and not be a distraction waiting to happen.

  • Put your device into do not disturb mode or turn off notifications. You don’t need new emails, texts or social media posts vying for your attention.
  • Close any programs that are not needed for the task at hand. You do not need visual temptations or unforeseen distractions. (There are many apps available that turn off access to specific websites or apps that you might want to look into.)

(For more info about how to mindfully use your smartphone, check out this previous blog post.)

There are always more things to help keep you focussed

  • Set a timer 20 or 30 minutes and then stretch your legs for a few minutes before starting another working block. You can set the timer for longer than that, but do not have work sessions for longer than 50 minutes, as it is hard for adults to generally focus for longer than that.
  • Place a blank notepad with a pen beside you to write down any thoughts or ideas that come to you while you are working. This is an important tool because instead of diverging from your work to look into that thought or using up precious mental real estate trying to remember it, you can just jot down a quick reminder on the notepad and then return to work confident that you have captured it for later.
  • Play non-distracting music to help you stay in the groove. Generally, it is recommended to stick to instrumental music, without a catchy melody, so you don’t have new, exciting info for your mind to attend to. Alternately, you can stream white noise or a brainwave focusing “binaural beats”.

Not all tasks need the same level of focus and mindful support. Take from these suggestions the ones that you think will help you most and try them out. Add your own focussing tools to really make this mindful workflow your own. Most of all, make mindful working a priority for yourself. There are always important things that you want to get done. If you don’t make the time to do them and give yourself the supports to help you follow them through to the end, your mind will just slip off to the next shiny object and another opportunity will be lost. You deserve better than that. So, make mindfulness part of your workflow and add a little more satisfaction to your day.

by Kurt Frost

3 Tips to Use Your Smartphone More Mindfully

By Kurt Frost

Our smartphones are often seen as a distraction or a necessary evil to keep in touch with our larger world or as a fun escape. Rarely do we treat these devices as mindfulness tools. This is exactly what yours can be if you take some time to consider how you can use it with your health and well being in mind. With some tweaks to the layout, settings and apps you download, along with some mindful re-commitment to your working relationship with it, your smartphone can be a great asset to keeping your focused and calm. We could all use a little more of that!

Below are a few tips to get you started on the path to mindful smartphone mastery. I will post more going forward, so keep checking back.

Decide what you want to use your phone for.

Though your smartphone is really just a mini computer, you really shouldn’t try to use it for all of your tasks. Some things are much better done on a tablet or laptop. Instead of using it as an everything device, think about what activities your smartphone can uniquely do the best for you.

If social media is a black hole you can get sucked into repeatedly throughout the day, consider only accessing those sites via your laptop. You can always add these apps back again later if you decide you cannot live without them. Just don’t sell short any opportunity to make your smartphone more mindfully in line with the things that matter most to you throughout the day.

Liberally use do not disturb to keep your focus.

If you always keep your ringer and notifications on, then you are basically telling your smartphone, and everyone else, that you are available all of the time, at a second’s notice. This contributes to feeling more stressed. Turn on the do not disturb mode on your device when you are having important conversations with others or doing deep work.

If you want to make a more radical, mindful move, try keeping your smartphone in do not disturb as a default and then mindfully check it throughout the day for messages and notifications. You can always turn it off if you are waiting for an important call, but the point is that you can choose how to consume the information from your smartphone and not be at its mercy when it has something new to give you.

Use reminders to keep yourself on track.

Every smartphone has some version of a reminders app. Add several reminders to the beginning, end and throughout your day to gently bring your attention back to where you want it. For example, you can add a reminder to do a short meditation in the morning or evening or to stop for a few deep breaths during a chronically stressful part of your day. Don’t rely on your brain to keep track of all of this for you. It will only add to your busyness and stress.

For more enhanced features, like being able to easily set hourly reminders or get mindful messages randomly sent to you throughout the day, there are multitudes of other apps you can download.

If you liked these tips, please email and let me know. If you have any questions or specific things you would like to know more about using your smartphone more mindfully, send that off to me too.

You may also wish to add your email using the link below to sign up for the newsletter for the Mindful Smartphone series. In it, I will not only post the latest blog posts but occasionally share new content and updates on my work to help you use your technology more mindfully.