How to Hit the Reset Button

This morning when I logged into my email, there was no mail.

More concisely, when I tried to click on anything in my inbox, I got the message, “Mail is taking too long to load. Try again.”

Repeated attempts yielded nothing, until finally, “An unexpected problem has occurred. Performing your action again in a few moments will probably solve the problem. If it persists, we suggest you close this window and re-launch.”

Easier said than done, Big Brother — as if I have a few moments to leisurely await your re-entry!

Our computer culture means that we’re on call 24/7, linked into an endless loop of connection by emails, text messages, voicemails, Facetimes, Skype calls, and IM’s. I stare at some screen or another from sunrise to sundown, and what I see in sharp pixel relief is literally my lifeline — to work, to the village that supports every aspect of my family, and even to my social life.

Meanwhile, I barely can eek out a sentence in real time, but give me 140 characters and an emoticon or two, and I’m pithy, witty, and articulate.

And then there are certain peak times of the year when it feels every single virtual window open. Take, for example, the weeks leading up to summer. In addition to normally scheduled activities, year-end and wrap-up events are being thrown on top. We’re barraged by collections for teachers and coaches and last-ditch fundraising appeals. Summer plans are at a critical, shit-or-get-off-the-pot stage of bookings — camps, flights, rental cars, and hotels.

Part of what needed to be addressed in my inbox were at least a half dozen messages about things I had to send in to school, pack, and otherwise make sure happened today… if not yesterday.

As I wracked my tiny personal computer (aka, my brain), all I could remember is that I meant to buy a bathing suit a month ago when they first went on sale, and fleetingly I realized that window has already shut. In fact, I think I just saw the new fall Uggs on Zappos.

In the midst of it all, my daughter needed to know where we stashed her at-home math book back in September, since there was an abrupt final deadline to turn it back in. Not yet 7:00 a.m., and I’m already in overdrive, desperately trying to retrieve an archived scrap of information.

All I could think was, Sorry. I. Do. Not. Compute.

As I stared at her with blank eyes, I found myself wishing that I could switch on my own pair of Mac-style spinning rainbows of doom. At least she’d have something pretty to look at, besides her slack jawed, stymied mother.

The rest of the day didn’t go much better. Has this every happened to you? Someone asks you a question, and what comes out of your mouth makes no sense at all. Like there’s some scrambled connection, and each attempt at getting to what you’re trying to say makes it that much worse.

So what do you do with a day like this? There are a few things you can try even before it all comes crashing down:

1) Run a malware scan. Anything dragging you down? What’s on your mind that’s driving you to distraction?

2) Defrag. The absence of inbox helped me with this one — I got out ye olde fashioned pen and paper, and made a nice clean list of all I had to do and what could actually wait. A smaller list with lots of cross outs as the day progresses can be exceptionally rewarding.

3) Close windows. Some days also beg you to simplify your life. In my case, I was trying to squeeze in a workout, but I knew that would put me at least 15 minutes behind for the rest of the day, and running late was not really an option. Snap, shut, done. My washboard abs can wait.

4) Get rid of any programs running in the background. This may be easier said than done, since you may not be aware of the existence of such programs (i.e., At 7:02 a.m., your son remembers he needs to bring in fixin’s for an in-class project — you have poster board and enamel paint on hand, don’t you?). If only we had our own personal Task Managers.

5) Scan for errors. This involves slowing down a minute, and making sure everything is done right the first time, just so you don’t have to do double duty later on. Be sure lunches are in backpacks, coffee maker, stove, and oven are turned off, bitch is fed, and no stray permission slips or homework is lying around.

6) Check for conflicts. Before your schedule has you by the balls, take charge and scan for any conflicts. If you find you have to be in two places at the same time (a daily occurrence for me at least), ask for help or (gasp) let your people know they may have to wait until you can get there.

7) Upgrade your memory. While Ginko Baloba might help, it’s a long-term strategy. I set my phone alarm, schedule reminders, and when all else fails, leave a trail of post-it notes on my computer screen.

8) Check for overheating. The more pissed off you are at the data overload, the less likely it is you’ll be able to perform even the easiest of tasks without risking a complete short circuit. Slow down, breathe, and let it go, for goodness sakes!

9) Take a gander at your server. Now that sounds dirty… maybe it is. Or maybe you just need to check to be sure you’re taking care of all the things that the system depends on: your health, physical and mental, first and foremost.

10) When all else fails, restart. It’s true — in life, just like on a computer, sometimes you just gotta reboot your day.

So if you see me slamming shut the lid of my laptop, powering off my phone, and heading outside to plant some flowers, just follow my lead. Sometimes the only button left that you can possibly push is reset.

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